So there you have it. Brett Favre's arrival in Minnesota generated one of the best seasons in Vikings history. It brought Minnesota a division championship, a first-round bye in the playoffs and an explosive passing attack to an offense that had swallowed up quarterbacks before this season.
Now the rub. Is that list of accomplishments enough to consider the Favre experiment a success? Or as the playoffs begin, are we only at the starting line for answering that question? What do we need to validate the expense and big-picture implications of this event? The Vikings, after all, added $12 million to their payroll and further delayed their long-standing inability to develop a quarterback to bring in Favre for a short-term run.
From my vantage point, I think it's fair to say the move has done as much as it could do so far. But if it goes no further -- if the Vikings fail to make a deep playoff run -- then it would be hard to consider it a triumph.
Asked to address the issue after Sunday's 44-7 victory over the New York Giants, Favre said his “only reason” for playing this season was to win the Super Bowl. But if the Vikings fall short, Favre seemed convinced his regular-season performance would stand on its own merit.
“It's been a great year,” Favre said. “I'm not surprised by the fact that we are in the playoffs. Where we go from here, we will see. This team is capable of doing a lot of good things. I thought about that throughout the whole process of coming back, of what was acceptable versus not acceptable. I had to be cautious with anything less than Super Bowl. Although that is the main goal and the only goal, I can't beat myself up. I can only do what I can do and hope that it's good enough.
“I'm very pleased with where we are right now, and will obviously be with each win from here on. Hopefully we have a few more. It sure would make it a lot sweeter.”
In itself, the regular season provided vindication for Favre on a number of levels. He didn't simply rebound from a late-season slide in 2008, one that can now be clearly attributed to injury. Quite frankly, Favre had one of the best seasons of his career in an offense that had previously limited its quarterbacks' impact.
In setting career-best marks in passer rating (107.2), completion percentage (68.4.) and interceptions (seven), Favre also became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 33 touchdowns and no more than seven interceptions. New England's Tom Brady is the other. Most of Favre's final statistics have taken their place in the Vikings' history books as well.
That production far exceeded original expectations for Favre, who initially was asked to provide a smarter answer when opponents ganged up on tailback Adrian Peterson. By the end of the season, it was Peterson who was providing a second option to Favre.
“I don't know how you can put a cap on expectations for Brett,” Vikings center John Sullivan said. “The guy is Superman. He has done it all.”
In so doing, Favre led the Vikings to only their second 12-win season in the past 34 years. Favre might be used to this type of success, but in Minnesota it qualifies as rare.
The Vikings have qualified for the Super Bowl four times in their history, losing on each occasion, but haven't made a trip there since the 1976 season. And even as they rest and recharge this week, the Vikings already know they will rely on Favre more than any other player to get them back.
Favre, in fact, recently recalled a conversation with former Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, who told him: “If you play well, we have a chance to win. If you don't play well, more than likely we won't win.”
To me, that will ultimately be the litmus test of this experiment. In a division playoff loss to Philadelphia last season, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had one interception returned for a touchdown and succumbed to the fourth-quarter pressure of a playoff game. If Favre plays well this postseason, leading the Vikings to multiple victories -- even if they fall short of a championship -- I think he will have done everything he could to lift this franchise in the short term.
And the Vikings? Let's be clear about their history: After their run of reaching the Super Bowl ended in 1976, they've rarely been a championship contender. In fact, they reached the NFC Championship Game four times in the 33 ensuing seasons. If a single personnel move pushes them from first-round playoff defeat to, say, the championship game, it would be hard to diminish its success.
The Vikings did take a number of calculated risks here. The biggest was delaying the solution of a problem that has plagued them since Daunte Culpepper blew out his right knee in 2005. They have a 40-year-old starter and no long-term answer at the position. Winning playoff games this season is an acceptable payoff for pushing back the solution to this issue.
Coach Brad Childress refused to enter into a discussion about validation this week, saying he believes the Vikings had a “great regular season,” while adding: “If I determined my value in terms of wins and losses, I would be in fetal position from time to time.”
The decision to sign Favre presumably has minimized the times Childress has curled up in a ball this year. He's only a couple more victories from considering it an unmitigated success.