The question has been swirling for the last few days and likely will continue to for months to come: Will Brett Favre return and play in a 20th NFL season?
He left little doubt that, despite breaking new ground as the first quarterback over the age of 40 to ever win a playoff game, he can still play at an elite level at an age in which most quarterbacks have either retired or been told to leave by their teams.
If his teammates have anything to say about it, Favre will be back. For the player who has known him the longest, kicker Ryan Longwell, there is no question that Favre has the physical and mental toughness to return for yet another season. Despite taking a pounding for 19 NFL seasons at a position in which defensive players are trying to remove him from the game, Longwell said Favre's ability to play through pain has been something he continues to marvel at.
"I said in June when you all were asking about him that he's the toughest guy I've ever seen and the toughest football player I've ever seen and he just happens to be a quarterback," Longwell said. "You can't say enough about the guy. He's the best I've ever seen. Whether this is it or he comes back for another year, it was a pleasure to see him play this year. He showed a lot of people up and I'm proud of him for that."
Linebacker Chad Greenway refused to speculate on whether Favre will come back, but, like so many of his teammates, the impression he had of Favre when he first arrived via the media circus that followed his every move is much different than what he feels about the future Hall of Famer today."
"That's his deal – I'm staying away from that question," Greenway said when asked to speculate on his return. "But you know what? He deserves the right to relax and enjoy himself now. He had an unbelievable year – one of the best of his long and storied career. He fights to the end. As much respect as I had for him before the season, I have 10 times that now."
Whether the praise came from veterans like Longwell and Pat Williams or rookies like Percy Harvin, the word "respect" came up often when asked about their feelings toward their veteran QB. He was vilified in the media for returning, whether it was poking fun at himself in Sears commercials, absorbing taunts from his former fans in Green Bay or being the subject of open ridicule from national sports commentators, it was clear to his Vikings teammates that Favre came back for the right reason – his continued love of the game. It hasn't waned over two decades and it has spread throughout the Vikings locker room.
"What I like about it is that Brett's going to be Brett, regardless of what anyone says about him and regardless of everything he goes through," Harvin said. "I just like the guts he has. He plays the game with a lot of passion. I don't think there are too many people who care about this game more than he does. Just to be able to play with him and witness that for myself, that's something we all can take from him – just the love he has for the game, we've all seen it."
The biggest stumbling block might not be his desire to play, but whether his body can continue to hold up to the abuse it has taken. He was knocked down 16 times in the loss to New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game and, after so many years of proving he can be an ironman at his position, at some point, he will say that enough is enough – both mentally and physically.
"I feel for him," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Emotionally and even physically, with the hits he took. He was hurting pretty good after the game. Just from a physical standpoint, I feel for him. Mentally and emotionally, as he always does, he laid it on the line and gave everything he had. We wish we can have him back next year, but that's his decision."
While his teammates with the Vikings will respect Favre's wishes regardless of what he chooses to do, the unanimous opinion is that the Vikings will be a better team with him than without him – even if it means not having him return until the dog days of August.
Two people assigned with protecting Favre – center John Sullivan and tackle Bryant McKinnie -- made it clear that they want him back regardless of what is takes in terms of a timeline.
"I just hope he's with us next season," Sullivan said. "Whatever schedule he needs to be on, it's just fine with me."
"I hope comes back," added McKinnie. "Like I told him we when were getting off the bus (from the airport), I was glad he was part of our team and that he really helped us get to where we were. It would be great if he came back to give us another chance to win it all. I think we would be happy if he was here just for the regular season to be honest – come in just like he did this year. Just having him as part of the team I feel like it elevated everybody. I felt like a lot of people stepped up this season and played at a higher level and I feel he was part of the reason."
When Favre will announce a decision – and whether he sticks to it – will remain an ongoing question throughout the spring and summer. If he says he is retiring, there will be a segment of the population that won't believe it. Given his on-again, off-again flirtation with the team prior to training camp up to the day after camp broke and word got out that he was on his way to sign with the Vikings, the Favre saga will likely play out long after the 2009 NFL season comes to a close in a little more than a week. Longwell said he isn't sure what path Favre will take, but that the rapport that was built with his new teammates will likely be the determining component – whether he believes he couldn't have a better season than he did in 2009 or can hope to recapture that magic for another season.
"I'm not going to read the crystal ball, but I certainly think that, if he chooses to come back or chooses to move on, the group that he had in the locker room will definitely be a factor either way," Longwell said. "It's easy to move on and justify it by the fun he had this year. He loved the guys in this locker room. It was instant. The second he got here there was a bond and it just kept growing."
In between now and the 2010 season, Favre will likely have coaches and teammates calling and texting him to remind him how much he will be missed – something he didn't have the last two offseasons. In the end, the call will be his, but he will make his decision with the full knowledge that he is loved and respected in the Vikings locker room and is wanted back to give a Super Bowl run another try.
"If we can have him back, that's a no-brainer (that we want him)," Harvin said. "At the same time, I haven't played 20 years in the league. I've played one and I can see how my body feels now. I commend him and all the things he has accomplished. I'm going to be one of the ones trying to convince him (to come back), but at the same time he's put in numerous years. I don't know how much of a beating a man can take, but we'll see."
In the end, that may be the factor that makes the call for Favre. On one side is the physical toll this season took on his body and what just might be a similar beating next year. On the other side is the pure joy that he had this season, which one of his oldest friends said might make it hard for Favre to walk away and close the door behind him on his illustrious NFL career. Before they went their separate ways, Favre and Longwell had a chance to reminisce about the 2009 season and Longwell summed up the feelings for both of them.
"I just said who would have thought that we spent nine years together and had fun, but the most fun year we had was Year 13 for me and Year 19 for him in a Minnesota Vikings uniform," Longwell said. "You just never know what life brings you and what is around the corner, but it was honor to play with him again."
Teammates want Favre back
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