Key Matchup: Favre vs. his legacy

If Brett Favre can handle the hype of his return to Lambeau Field, the Vikings have a good chance of beating the Packers again. If Bad Brett, a persona that hasn't reared its head in 2009, tries to do too much, it will favor the Packers.


When we did the Matchup to Watch in the first meeting between the Vikings and Packers, we had Jared Allen against the makeshift offensive line of the Packers. That proved to be a matchup domination, as Allen recorded 4.5 sacks and scored a safety in the end zone on Aaron Rodgers. But that was then and this is now. As you likely would expect, the return of Brett Favre to the hallowed grounds in which he had so many memorable moments makes his battle against his own legacy this week's matchup to watch.

The circus atmosphere of Favre's return has been two years in the making. When he announced his retirement in January 2008, most people took him seriously. One major exception was then-Vikings safety Darren Sharper, who said fans should wait until July or August before closing the book on Favre's career. Sure enough, he wanted to return. However, the Packers had gone through their OTA and minicamp process with Rodgers running the show and were moving forward without their Hall of Fame QB. When he had a change of heart and wanted to come back, the Packers first tried to buy him off with an eight-figure personal services contract – which many interpreted as the Packers trying to pay Favre not to play. When he pushed the issue, to avoid a potential locker room divide at training camp, Favre was promptly traded to the Jets. Packers G.M. Ted Thompson moved Favre out of the conference so there would be no chance he could come back to Green Bay and hurt his former team. He was so concerned about that prospect that he put a poison pill in the trade that said if the Jets traded Favre to the Vikings, it would cost them three first-round picks – something no team in the current era of the NFL would agree to.

Fast forward a year. Favre is released by the Jets and signed with the Vikings and the inconceivable happened – he beat the Packers in the Metrodome. During that game, Thompson was sitting one seat down from the Viking Update contingent and, on about a half-dozen occasions during the game, was mocked by fans in the stands for letting Favre go. It wasn't a pleasant night for Uncle Ted.

As surreal as those moments seemed, it will be ratcheted up a notch higher when Favre makes his return to Lambeau Field. He was beloved by Packers fans in the same way they idolized Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Paul Hornung. He was a member of their families and was treated with reverence rarely seen between fans and athletes. Favre has made it clear that mistakes were made on both sides and that, if he had it to do over again, he might have handled the situation differently. But what is past is prologue and Sunday will usher in a moment most fans thought they would never see – Favre in Lambeau trying to beat the Packers.

One of the things current and former teammates and coaches have said about Favre is that, while he has typically played very well in big-game situations, he has had a habit of coming out a little too wired up early. The adrenaline gets pumping and, like a boxer, he looks for an early knockout. At times, it has cost him and, as great as Favre has been, he has also been known to have big games with three, four or five interceptions. When he's good, he's very good. But at times, when he starts off bad, things tend to snowball on him.

There is going to be a Super Bowl atmosphere at Lambeau Field Sunday and Favre is going into unfamiliar territory for a player with 18-plus years of NFL experience. Of all the defenses he has seen, of all the great plays he has made, of all the memories he has created, he has never played at Lambeau Field in anything other than a Packers uniform. If there is an emotional game for the 40-year-old quarterback, this is it. There is the distinct likelihood that he will be "geeked up" like few games in his career. For a player who has seen just about everything a QB can see on the field, he will be in uncharted territory. If he can keep his emotions in check and play the way he has in his first seven games with the Vikings, he will do just fine and the Vikings will have a very good chance of winning in the hostile road environment of Green Bay and silencing their fan base. If he tries to do too much too fast, he could end up hurting the offense and get things spiral downward and the fans will become a part of the game – yelling in full throat and making it extremely difficult to audible or change protection schemes at the line.

Odds are it's going to play out to one of the extremes – either he's going to be lights-out or belly-up – making the battle of Favre and his formidable legacy this week's matchup to watch.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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