Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE -- This is the type of exchange that fuels drama and intrigue and conspiracy theories, producing the kind of subtext that has pushed our little division into the national spotlight.
Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy innocently noted that Brett Favre “had a desire to play in Minnesota” as far back as 13 months ago, a time when he was still on the Packers’ roster.
About an hour later, I asked Vikings coach Brad Childress if there was ever a point last year that he thought he could sign Favre. Childress smiled and asked me to repeat the question, a strategy employed by spelling-bee participants when they need more time to think.
“You mean, did I covet him?” Childress asked. “The good Lord tells us not to covet people’s goods.”
“There are some sins in the NFL,” I said.
“I didn’t covet him because he was property of the Packers,” Childress responded, carefully walking the line between the truth and tampering.
The devil is in the details, and often they are unspoken. The looming showdown between Favre and his former team carries regional drama for the obvious reasons. But its mass appeal, the one that could put it among the most-watched football games in recent history, is rooted in supposition and speculation -- the sense that a football game will break out amid the cloak and dagger shenanigans that might (or might not) have occurred during Favre’s yearlong journey to this week.
“This is the type of thing that makes football,” Packers linebacker Nick Barnett said. “It’s this type of game. It’s going to be a big circus and it’s going to be fun.”
How could it not? We have the raw emotion generated by Favre’s new home, combined with a subtext of inter-franchise warfare normally reserved for the Yankees and Red Sox.
Yes, the shock value of Favre’s purple jersey might have passed. It’s true, you could make a rational argument that it makes perfect sense -- and is hardly conspiratorial -- for a well-stocked team to seek a veteran quarterback. And from a football perspective, it’s hard to argue Favre’s desire to join a roster as talented as the Vikings to make one final run at the Super Bowl.
So why are we anticipating such hubbub? Because, I think, Americans love conspiracy theories and reality television and conflict. This story crosses the lines of football and has leaked into areas normally reserved for celebrity gossip.
Consider what McCarthy said Monday. According to him, Favre said during a private meeting at Lambeau Field that he wanted to play for the Vikings. If that’s true, you can reasonably theorize that Favre had some knowledge the feeling was mutual.
That’s one of the primary reasons Green Bay filed tampering charges against Minnesota last summer, believing Favre had spoken to Childress and other Vikings officials about playing for them in 2008. Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have since admitted to speaking with him during that time period, but the NFL found no evidence they tried to recruit him away or otherwise attempt to affect his relationship with the Packers.
It’s quite possible Childress and Bevell served as nothing more than sounding boards as Favre wrestled with his future. But Childress’ sly tone Monday, coupled with his use of Scripture as coverage for whatever actually happened, was another illustration of the tantalizing hints we’ve gotten that there is much more than meets the eye to this story.
The monster of all conspiracy theories, of course, goes something like this: Favre decides to end his retirement last summer. The Packers tell him they’ve moved on, and he asks to be released. The Packers deny his request, believing he’s got a deal worked out to sign with the Vikings.
Favre accepts a trade to the New York Jets, hatching a plan to spend a year of penance in the AFC before fulfilling his goal of signing with the Vikings. He plays for the Jets, announces his retirement after the season and waits quietly until the Jets draft Mark Sanchez as his replacement.
A day later, Favre seeks and receives his release from the Jets, allowing him to be a free agent in the off-chance he one day decides to play again. Less than a week later, word leaks that he’s discussing his options with the Vikings. On Aug. 18, he finally signs with the Vikings 12 months after he admitted his intentions to McCarthy.
Did it happen that way? Had the Vikings been planning for Favre’s arrival a year before it happened? We’ll never know unless Favre admits to it someday. But even the reasonable hint of that arrangement is enough to give this matchup cross-country appeal.
“You guys will have plenty of storylines,” Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman said to a group of reporters Sunday. “Your job will be easier this week.”
Ah, indeed it is. Of course, this is not to make light of the more serious feelings of betrayal some Packers fans feel. You didn’t have to look too hard to find that on display at Lambeau Field earlier this month, where fans wore Favre’s No. 4 jersey with the number and/or name covered in duct tape. And I bet this bar in Eau Claire, Wis., isn’t going to be the only place burning Favre paraphernalia this week.
“Obviously he played a lot of years in Green Bay,” Barnett said. “Obviously, Minnesota is our fans’ No. 1 rival besides the Bears. It’s hard to adjust to it. You can’t blame them. They were in love with Brett Favre, and he dumped them and went with another chick. They’re a little heartbroken.”
Canvassing the Packers’ locker room Sunday in St. Louis, I didn’t get the sense there are many players who share the same feelings and/or are angry with Favre. This drama is mostly for us -- fans and media. Receiver Donald Driver, in fact, said: “I still love him and that’s all that matters.”
Of course, I say “mostly.” If there are any lingering hard feelings about last summer, I imagine they reside in the Packers’ front office. The decision to trade Favre, rather than take him back last season, will define not only McCarthy’s career but also that of general manager Ted Thompson.
“No doubt about it,” McCarthy said when asked if he is motivated to beat Favre. “We want to beat the Vikings. We want to beat everybody on the Vikings, Brett Favre included. There is no doubt about that.”
You might say he covets a victory. We’ll all be watching to see who gets it.