Archive for May, 2009

Taking Down Tarkenton
May 31, 2009

A week ago, if I had found myself playing the macabre party game “Dead or Alive,” and Fran Tarkenton’s name had come up, I would have been stumped.

I certainly wouldn’t have thought that the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback and co-host of That’s Incredible was definitely dead, but Frantic Fran hasn’t exactly been making many headlines lately.

Well, Scramblin’ Fran, 69, is alive. And angry. At Brett Favre.

Sir Frances told a radio station last week that he would like to see Number 4 play for his former team this upcoming season. But not so the former Packer could lead the Purple to its first-ever Super Bowl title.

“I kind of hope it happens, so he can fail,” Tarkenton said.

Tarkenton went on to call Favre “despicable” for how he has conducted himself since his initial retirement in March 2008, and he summed up Favre’s last season as “He goes to New York and bombs.” (Which is only true if you ignore Favre’s first eleven games, during which he led the Jets to an 8-3 record.)

Now I have tons of respect for Sir Francis. Not only for his stellar playing career, but for something a bit more arcane: In 1977, Tarkenton was the very first athlete to host Saturday Night Live (Minnesota natives Al Franken and Tom Davis lobbied hard for him) and for my money, Fran the Man was more natural on-camera and funnier than any of the countless athletes that have hosted since then. 

(For anyone who believes that SNL is edgier now than it was thirty years ago, I urge you to rent or download Tarkenton’s fine episode. Sketches such as the “Anabolic Steroids Cereal” commercial parody and the “Black Perspective” debate on African-American quarterbacks would never get on the air today.)

But Francis’s decision to give a rare public interview on Brett Favre sounds to me like nothing but sour grapes.

Why would Tarkenton be bitter toward Favre? Well, when Tarkenton retired in 1978, he held the following NFL records: pass attempts, completions, yardage, touchdowns, rushing yards by a quarterback, and wins by a starting quarterback. Now, with the exception of rushing yards (that’s owned by Randall Cunningham, who oddly enough also played with Minnesota), all of those records are held by Favre.

And despite Tarkenton’s Hall of Fame career, he (like poor Jim Kelly) is unjustly remembered as someone who, despite numerous opportunities, could not win a Super Bowl. Tarkenton played lousy in all three of his bids for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, notching an unenviable 0-3 Super Bowl record .

So although it seems like a long shot, me thinks Francis is a little perturbed at the mere thought that the guy who now holds nearly all of the records he once held could possibly lead the team that he once led for thirteen seasons to something that he could not – a Super Bowl victory.

Do I agree with Tarkenton that by his actions over the past sixteen months Favre has sullied his career with the Packers? No question. But as the Vikings’ greatest living ex-player, Tarkenton has hardly outclassed Favre by going on record as saying he hopes his former team makes a move that will cause it to “fail.”

Bud Grant would never say such a thing. Ever if he were alive. 

Wait a minute . . .


This Blog Is Not About Brett Favre
May 17, 2009

I love Coach Wade.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m not talking about Wade Phillips or my junior high school basketball coach. I’m talking about a recently-eliminated contestant on the current (ends Sunday night) season of Survivor. Whether endlessly popping his jersey as the self-appointed “Dragonslayer,” reciting self-penned poetry on his Survivor experience, or collapsing in pain from phony injuries, drama queen Coach Wade is one of the most memorable contestants in the nearly 10-year history of the CBS reality series.

But if you don’t watch Survivor, you surely have no idea who I’m talking about. However, I don’t watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars and I know exactly who Adam Lambert is and when Lil’ Kim and her dance partner were eliminated thanks to how those two shows have saturated popular culture in a way that the long-in-the-tooth Survivor no longer does. But I have no doubt that there is more entertainment value in just one of Coach Wade’s Survivor interview segments than in an entire season of Idol or DWTS.

Likewise, the story of the 2009 Milwaukee Brewers seems to be going largely unnoticed, either by local writers who choose to obsess over every infinitesimal detail having to do with Brett Favre (and I’m certainly guilty of that), or by the national media who are more engaged with the suspension of Manny Ramirez, the ineffectiveness of David Ortiz, or the pathetic ceremonial pitch thrown out at Citi Field by Howard Stern’s Baba Booey.

You could make an MLB-wide argument for the early-season successes of the Toronto Blue Jays or even the Kansas City Royals, but make no mistake about it: In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers are the story.

I’ve been reluctant to heap praise on the Brewers this season, since last year whenever I did they went into a tailspin, but I simply can’t write another word on Brett Favre’s torn biceps tendon without acknowledging what the Brewers are doing: Since starting out 4-9 and being prematurely declared dead by everyone (including me), they have gone 18-5 (best stretch in baseball) and have not lost a series since losing their first four.

To anyone who would discard the last 23 games by claiming that the Brewers have feasted on MLB’s weaklings, I would say that, yes, I agreed with that logic to a point. But not now, not after Milwaukee took two of three from the Cubs last week and now seem poised to win their current series at St. Louis (as I write, they are up 4-0 early in Sunday’s game). The Cubs and Cards are clearly the Brewers’ strongest division foes; if they can continue to handle them, they will win the NL Central.

Any discussion of the Brewers’ success over the last month has to start with pitching. While the losses of Sabathia and Sheets seemed destined to doom Milwaukee (and did very early on), the rotation is now one of the strongest in the majors. As a team, the Brewers have the third-best ERA in the NL (4.00), are tied for most quality starts (22), and have surrended the next-to-fewest earned runs in the league (142) while holding opponents to the next-to-worst batting average (.239). That the Brewers staff is doing this without Sabathia and Sheets is as surprising as the fact that we’re halfway through May and the Royals haven’t been mathmatically eliminated from the postseason.

In the Brewers’ rotation, certainly Jeff Suppan deserves special mention. After a walk-infested meltdown on April 12 against the Cubs at Miller Park caused Brewer fans to give him roughly the same treatment that a Viking fan with swine flu would get at Lambeau Field, Suppan has been largely lights-out, notching a 2.92 ERA and a 3-1 record over his last six starts. Suppan’s shutout performance Saturday at Busch Stadium was nothing short of historic as he carried the Brewers to a win for just the sixth time in franchise history when the offense earns just one or two hits.

And unlike last year, when no lead was safe with the likes of Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota coming out of the bullpen, Trevor Hoffman has been a better closer than Tom Selleck and Kyra Sedgwick combined, converting on nine-of-nine save opportunities, allowing only three hits, and chalking up a perfect 0.00 ERA. Reliever Mark DeFelice (3-0, 0.98 ERA) has been exceptional as well.

Considering that prior to the start of the season the Brewers’ offense was expected to be the team’s strength, its batting numbers aren’t as impressive as the team’s pitching stats. However, the Brewers’ hitters are holding their own: The team ranks second in the NL in home runs (48) and fifth in on-base percentage (.347). But surprisingly, the Brewers are near the bottom of the league in batting average (.255). Not so surprisingly, the Brewers’ batters are near the top of the league (third) in strikeouts (292). But even with J.J. Hardy and Jason Kendall getting about as many hits as a McLean Stevenson tribute Web site, the Brewers lineup will remain treacherous for most any opposing pitcher.

As the Brewers head into interleague play, it will be interesting to see how manager Ken Macha integrates third baseman Mat Gamel — a top offensive prospect just called up from Triple-A Nashville — into the lineup. Macha may have been planning to use Gamel as the DH in next weekend’s series at Minnesota, but if Rickie Weeks’s wrist injury (he left Sunday’s game in the first inning) amounts to anything, Gamel may be used more frequently to platoon at third with Bill Hall, who is struggling again against right-handed pitching. Craig Counsell would presumably then take Weeks’s spot at second base, as he did on Sunday.

It will also be interesting as the season progresses to see if Ken Macha, who has all of the charisma of a frozen pot pie, will be able to hold a post-game press conference without putting any writers and reporters to sleep. But if Macha’s lack of energy somehow continues to translate into success on the field, Brewers fans will take it.

After all, a baseball game is not a island-based reality show and Manager Macha doesn’t have to be Coach Wade. But if Macha wanted to start referring to himself as “Dragonslayer,” I’d be all for it.

Top Ten Reasons Favre Didn’t Sign With Vikings . . . Yet
May 8, 2009

At the end of another Favre-saturated week, here is my final entry on the continuing Brett-to-Vikings saga. (And if you believe that, you believe that Favre really is retired for good.) 

With apologies to David Letterman, here are my top ten reasons that Brett Favre did not sign with the Minnesota Vikings. At least not yet.

10. Worried that he would have to change name of owned-and-operated restaurant from Brett Favre’s Steakhouse to Brett Favre’s House of Lutefisk.

9. Was nervous about having to compete with Vikings quarterbacks Tavaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels, and John David Booty for playing time. In a related story, Brad Pitt is said to be nervous about Angelina Jolie running off with the fat kid from Two and a Half Men.

8. Was unable to convince Vikings head coach Brad Childress to reinstate the team’s once-annual “sex cruise” on Lake Minnetonka.

7. Wife Deanna doesn’t get along with Delta Burke. (Reference to Brad Childress’s resemblance to Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney. Work with me, people!)

6. Was unfazed when told that Mississippi ranked dead last in the latest state-by-state education rankings while Minnesota ranked first. Cited that Mississippi schools spent much more time on “necessary” subjects like prevention of rickets and history of the rodeo.

5. Discovered that there are no Waffle Houses in Minnesota and Vikings refused to pay for daily shipment of scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, and peppered hash browns.

4. Refused Vikings request to have surgery to repair torn biceps tendon in right arm; Vikings refused Favre’s counteroffer to instead have Minnesota icon Mary Tyler Moore tattooed on back.

3. Could not make Vikings believe that he was not looking to join Packers rival simply for spite, saying instead that he wanted to play for Minnesota because he “really, really, really hated Ted Thompson.”

2. Local television affiliates cut eleventh-hour deal with Vikings; stations were concerned that with Favre in purple, the Vikings home games would not be blacked out and they had already sold airtime to makers of Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer.

And the number one reason Brett Favre decided this week not to play for the Minnesota Vikings . . .

1. Are you kidding? It’s only May! Favre never comes out of retirement until August. As sure as I am that Coldplay ripped off Cat Stevens, I’m sure that Favre will be handing off to Adrian Peterson come September.

Go West, Brett Favre
May 3, 2009

My six-year-old son changes his obsessions more often than my father changes his underwear (which frankly isn’t nearly as often as the family would like). Just in the last few months my son has gone from Yogi Bear to Scooby-Doo to SpongeBob to Charlie Brown.

The downside of this fickleness is that he is constantly asking for new toys, video games, and movies to match his new interests. The upside is that my wife and I never get too tired of any one character or show, and often he moves on faster than I want him too — hey, that SpongeBob is funny stuff.

Unfortunately, the new obsessions — Pokemon and Super Mario Bros. — are not nearly as entertaining as Mr. Square Pants. And to make matters worse, he’s not just into Super Mario Bros. the video game, but the early-nineties TV show, which of course is available on DVD. (Hey, not much isn’t.) 

Anyway, the other day he was watching an episode of Super Mario Bros.and I was flabbergasted to discover it was about Milli Vanilli, the disgraced pop duo whose career ended when it was discovered they did not actually sing on the multi-platinum album Girl You Know It’s True.

As my brain took a vacation from Mario and Luigi to reminisce about Milli Vanilli, I found myself suddenly thinking about the “retired” Brett Favre.

When Favre announced his second retirement in February, I was pleased and relieved. After his year with the New York Jets had come to a miserable end, I felt it was clear that Favre’s time had come and gone. I was similarly pleased and relieved when the cover was blown off of Milli Vanilli’s vocal deceptions. Milli Vanilli’s time couldn’t come and go fast enough.

But then the highlight of the Milli Vanilli scandal happened: The bizarre press conference when the duo tried in vain to prove that they really could sing. They proved in about 1.5 seconds at that press conference that they couldn’t. But the conference itself was a spectacle of which I wanted more of. Surely nowadays Vh1 would sign the two to a reality show, elongating the duo’s fifteen minutes of fame, but in the early 1990s, it was harder to be famous without having actual talent, and Milli Vanilli was done for good.

Now comparing Brett Favre’s career to Milli Vanilli’s is like comparing my journalistic career to Woodward and Bermstein’s: It’s insulting and ridiculous. But now that the story of Brett Favre coming out of retirement — again — to join the Minnesota Vikings is getting hotter, it’s clear to me that, like my unexplainable morbid fascination to see Milli Vanilli try to go legit, I have an unexplainable morbid fascination to see Brett Favre play for the Vikings.

Do I believe Brett Favre will launch yet another comeback to play for one of the Packers’ two biggest rivals? Six weeks ago I would have laughed at the notion. But six weeks ago I would have laughed at the notion of David Letterman getting married.

This we know: A year ago Favre wanted to play for Minnesota. Ted Thompson made sure that couldn’t happen. Ted Thompson can no longer prevent that from happening. Brett Favre hates Ted Thompson. Brett Favre is a massive competitor. Brett Favre also has a massive ego.  Like a child who sneaks off to get a pre-dinner cookie after being told no, Favre would presumably love to sneak off and play for Minnesota now that Ted Thompson can no longer tell him no.

But I don’t believe that the chance to continue his personal battle with Thompson would be enough for Favre. But I do believe that the chance to end his career on a more positive note would be. Favre’s last five weeks in 2008 were his worst stretch since the Packers’ awful 4-12 2005 campaign and were perhaps worse than that: Unlike in Green Bay, where Mike Sherman was the scapegoat for losing, Favre was the scapegoat in New York.  The Jet teammates that Favre supposedly distanced himself from were publicly calling for his benching, a type of outcry that was unheard of in Green Bay, where, despite occasional setbacks, Favre was seen (along with Mike Holmgren) as the savior of a franchise that had been long dormant before his arrival.

Could Favre save the Vikings? Yes, at least for one season. Favre could make a playmaker out of first round draft pick Percy Harvin (although the wide receiver’s NFL career is off to a bad start, as he was hospitalized less than a week after the draft for dehydration and a virus), and apart from shaky special teams play, the Vikings don’t really have any glaring holes outside of quarterback.

Vikings head coach Brad Childress may bear an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Noodle’s brother Mr. Noodle from Elmo’s World, but Childress is undoubtedly smarter than the wide-eyed dimwit who lives to perform simple tasks at the behest of a goldfish. He knows that stubbornly sticking with the consistently disappointing Tavaris Jackson and career backups like Gus Frerotte or new recruit Sage Rosenfels will eventually cost him his job.

Childress knows that Favre would, rightly or wrongly, bring immediate Super Bowl talk to the Twin Cities and, again at least for a season, end the ticket-selling problems the Vikings started to have last year, problems that admittedly could be blamed on the economy as much as on the team’s inept quarterback play.

Childress admitted at the Vikings’ rookie minicamp that the team would talk about pursuing Favre. “We talk about everything,” Childress said, insinuating that the conversations in Eden Prairie could also include what the heck is happening on Lost, whatever happened to the McDLT, and Miley Cyrus’s Twitter page.

Undoubtedly one of the major negatives for Childress in bringing Favre on — if Favre was indeed open to the possibility — would be the baggage that such a signing would bring. Childress isn’t real good with the media, and Favre in purple would be the state’s biggest sports story since the Twins won the World Series in 1991, which happened just a few months before Favre was traded from the Atlanta Falcons to the Packers.

Look, I said my desire to see Favre play for the Vikings was an “unexplainable morbid curiosity.” But I’ll try to explain it anyway: To use Mike McCarthy’s and Ted Thompson’s words, the Packers have “moved on” with Aaron Rodgers. Statistically, Rodgers had a much better 2008 season than Favre, and while I’m not prepared to say that the team did the right thing in not welcoming Favre back with open arms, no one can now inarguably claim that the team made a major mistake by not doing so.  Favre did not lead the Jets to the Super Bowl or even the playoffs, and Rodgers’s failings to do the same with the Packers last year more often than not had more to do with the bad situations his defense continually put him in than any poor play on his part. 

In short, Rodgers has proven himself worthy of the faith his bosses had in him and the Packers — and by extension, their fans — should no longer feel threatened by what Favre might bring to another NFL team, even one in their own division.

Could Favre be detrimental to the Vikings? Certainly. As he did in New York, Favre could alienate his purple teammates, anger his coach, downplay an injury that causes him to play poorly, and hinder the team’s long-term growth by delaying the development of a young quarterback. (Although Jackson’s had ample opportunity to indicate growth and he has not done so.)

Therefore, I don’t believe Favre playing for Minnesota negatively impacts the Packers while I also think his chances of screwing up the Vikings — especially in the bigger, development of players at the team’s most important position, picture — are nearly equally as great as his chances are for improving them.

I said earlier that if the Milli Vanilli scandal broke today, the duo would have their own reality show as they attempted their comeback. Favre in purple would be an equally bizarre reality show that would fascinate Packer Nation and Purple Pride alike, with the Vikings having much more to lose in the experiment than the Packers.

Brett, you keep trying to get out, but something, even the hated occupants of the NFL’s worst monstrosity of a stadium, keeps pulling you back in. If you want to heed the call of the Viking horn, go right ahead. You have my blessing.