- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most interesting teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Compelling Teams of the Century” series. We continue with the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.
Brett Favre retired and then he really retired and then three Minnesota Vikings teammates lassoed him on his Mississippi farm and he agreed to do them a "favor" and then suddenly he was old and slow and a sitting duck and the subject of off-field accusations and finally, no longer the Iron Man of football. Sidney Rice had a minor hip injury and major hip surgery and then fumed amid questions about his condition so the Vikings tried to trade for Vincent Jackson and then got the cockeyed idea of acquiring Randy Moss who caught 13 passes in four games and clashed with coach Brad Childress and finally got himself cut a few hours before Childress told reporters Moss was still a Viking. Percy Harvin was Moss' best friend on the team and never forgave Childress and later in the season had to be held back from fighting him during practice. Childress was fired and Leslie Frazier was the coach when the Metrodome roof collapsed under heavy snow and the Vikings played home games in Detroit and on a frozen field at TCF Bank Stadium on which Favre made a final surprise start before taking a concussed sendoff.
And … breathe.
That's what the Vikings' season felt like for those who spent time around it: One soap-opera installment after another in run-on, never-ending fashion. It was so wild that no one blinked when another snowstorm forced a three-night stay in Philadelphia for a Week 16 game ultimately played on a Tuesday night. Naturally, the Vikings managed a 24-14 upset of the playoff-bound Eagles, led by a quarterback, Joe Webb, who had been drafted eight months earlier as a receiver.
I remember waking up early on Dec. 12, 2010. I figured it would take a while to clear the exceptionally heavy and wet snow that began falling the previous evening, and I wanted to be done in time to start blogging by midmorning. Before heading outside, I took a quick look at Twitter. Several local news stations had posted photos of the stadium roof collapse, which had occurred overnight.
It was about 6:30 a.m. CT. I texted ESPN colleague Ed Werder, who as it turned out was in Minneapolis to chronicle what would ultimately be the first game Favre had missed in two decades.
"That's a joke, right?" Werder replied.
Nope, I said. Welcome to the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.
Surreal. Theater of the Absurd. Unprecedented. I had used those descriptions and others throughout the year, often as they related to Favre. It began in late July of that year, when he told Childress he wouldn't play in 2010. No one believed him. About midway through training camp, reports surfaced that he would remain retired rather than rejoin the team after camp, as he had in 2009. No one believed him.
In fact, no one believed Favre until the team broke camp, and he still hadn't joined the team. Childress panicked. He sent three key players in owner Zygi Wilf's jet to talk Favre into playing, all while ducking the media and instructing two assistants to lie about the players' whereabouts. It wasn't until 30 minutes before Wilf's plane was scheduled to depart that Favre finally relented, agreeing, in his word, to do the Vikings a "favor."
Right away, it was clear that the magic of 2009 -- Favre had arguably the best season of his career in leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game -- was gone. Favre was using lubricant injections to limit discomfort in his troublesome ankles, and he threw almost as many interceptions (six) in the Vikings' first three games as he did in all 16 games of 2009 combined (seven).
Something needed to be done. Rice had been his favorite receiver in 2009, and the Vikings didn't seem to trust his commitment to returning. Jackson and the San Diego Chargers were in a contract stalemate, and the Vikings worked for a week to complete a trade before declining the Chargers' steep asking price.
That brought them to Moss, who the franchise had already fired once. Moss had worn out welcomes in Oakland and New England since then, and the match seemed poor from the start. Childress was a strict disciplinarian, both on personal comportment and scheme, and Moss had never been much of a conformist. It was a connection made by the gods of the unemployment line. I was flabbergasted to learn the two didn't speak before the trade. One conversation would have been enough to scuttle it.
Moss cost the Vikings a third-round draft choice. He made no impact on the offense, floored Childress with typically salty demeanor and in his final act, conducted a question and answer session with himself because he was upset about media complaints that had led to a $25,000 NFL fine.
Childress cut him the day after his fourth game with the team, a 28-18 loss to the Patriots in which Favre had been carted off the field, nearly unconscious, after a hit below the chin.
There was one problem, however. Childress had passed over the tiny detail of informing owner Zygi Wilf before executing the move. He got caught lying to reporters about it a few hours later, telling them he expected Moss back with the team in two days even as media reports confirming Moss' demise were surfacing.
Childress was cracking. Favre was playing -- heroically or stupidly? -- on a fractured foot and, at one point, paraded through the locker room with a protective boot in full view of reporters. Deadspin.com reported that he had texted inappropriate photographs to a woman who worked for the New York Jets in 2008, bringing Favre to tears during a pregame address to his teammates.
A month after firing Moss, Childress himself was fired after the Vikings' sideline erupted in dysfunction during a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers. That came shortly after Harvin exploded in practice when Childress questioned the severity of an injury. How quickly had Childress flamed out? His dismissal came one year after he signed a three-year contract extension.
By the time the Metrodome roof decided it had had enough, Favre was taking more direct hits than at any time in his career. It was sad, really, watching a once-elusive athlete absorb so much punishment. In Week 13, he suffered a sprained sternoclavicular joint after Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats slammed him to the turf.
Backup Tarvaris Jackson was preparing to start the following week against the Giants when the roof collapsed. Two days later, we all jumped on planes to cover the "home game" in Detroit at Ford Field. Favre stood on the sidelines wearing a stocking cap indoors and seemed relieved that his streak of 297 consecutive starts had ended. With three weeks remaining in the season, and Favre telling everyone who would listen that he couldn't feel his right hand, it seemed clear he would never play again.
That is, until the morning of Dec. 20. Snow was in the forecast, and the Vikings' final "home" game was scheduled for "Monday Night Football" against the Chicago Bears at the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium. Favre telephoned athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and, later, Frazier. Would the NFL allow him to play after the team had already ruled him out on the injury report?
Why yes, it would. Was there really any other answer for the 2010 Minnesota Vikings? Favre took a few warm-up throws in the snow and decided he wanted one last hurrah. This was an NFL game, not a reality television show, but it felt more like the latter. He played into the second quarter before Bears defensive end Corey Wootton slammed him to the frozen turf.
(As you might recall, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe got his start as a rabble-rouser that week by tweeting his concerns about the frozen turf, which had no heating coils under it and clearly posed a danger to players.)
Favre recently said he felt like an "idiot" for playing in the game, as he recounted the resulting concussion. At one point, he said he asked Sugarman, "What are the Bears doing here?"
And that, my friends, is the most appropriate image I can recall of the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. One of the NFL's greatest players lying on the frozen turf of a college stadium, playing not because he could, but because he wanted to, asking why there was an opponent on the field. I mean, the only thing stranger would have been a local catering service gaining national attention after a player criticized its food. Oh, wait….
4hField Yates and Rich Cimini