I’ve spent the last hour going back and forth with myself about posting this; there are some of you who’d prefer we focus solely on the Packers and not touch the ongoing soap opera west of the Mississippi from them — well, I guess today, the soap opera is in Mississippi, but I digress. This one is just too funny. I can’t leave it alone.
So, a disclaimer: What follows below will be me mocking, ripping and generally calling out the gross incompetence with which the Minnesota Vikings conduct their day-to-day business. Not interested? Cool. We’ll have some more Packers stuff later today. But if you are, read on…
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that the Vikings dispatched three members of Brett Favre’s inner circle (Ryan Longwell, Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen) to Hattiesburg, Miss., effectively in hopes of begging the quarterback to play this year. That’s an unprecedented step in modern-day sports, and as ESPN’s Kevin Seifert points out, it amounts to the Vikings asking players to clean up a mess their front office created.
How was that mess created, though? You’ve got to go all the way back to 2006, when Brad Childress decided to trot out his tough guy act. He told Daunte Culpepper that the quarterback’s plan to rehab his torn ACL on his own terms – in a HealthSouth club in Florida, if I remember correctly – weren’t going to fly. That led to a long standoff that included Culpepper e-mailing members of the media, Childress publicly flagellating the quarterback and the Vikings eventually traded him to Miami, as Childress crowed about his “culture of accountability” and likened the Culpepper episode to him standing up to Terrell Owens in Philadelphia.
Problem was, Childress had no suitable plan to replace Culpepper, who’d had one of the greatest seasons in NFL history just two years before. He drafted Tarvaris Jackson, and threw his support behind the QB in what’s still one of my all-time favorite attempts by a coach to dress up a situation. Asked after OTAs in 2006 how his new starting QB looked, Childress’ first response was to praise Jackson, as offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did, for his breathing techniques while calling plays in the huddle.
And when Jackson waffled on the field, Childress – Mr. Culture of Accountability – didn’t stand by his handpicked QB. The guy who’d supposedly made his reputation by grooming quarterbacks benched Jackson after bad games, turned to journeymen like Gus Frerotte and Kelly Holcomb when he struggled and sat Jackson at the first sign of an injury. He’s still never started more than 12 games in a season, and the Vikings are still asking themselves if he can play. Remember, Childress created the need for a QB by standing up to Culpepper, which was probably the right decision, and throwing his support behind Jackson – a move he clearly regretted. And the Vikings’ goofy front-office structure – their famous Triangle of Authority – left Childress with more power than a rookie head coach should have (Seriously? Culture of Accountability? Triangle of Authority? Is there someone from George H.W. Bush’s speechwriting staff working for this team?).
Anyway, we know what happened from there: Jackson failed, ticket sales dwindled and Childress’ job security weakened as the QB plan he’d crafted didn’t plan out. So when Brett Favre became available in 2009, with the Vikings still struggling to sell tickets despite coming off a division title and Childress facing a make-or-break year, he cashed in his chips.
He told Favre to take as much time as he wanted, even after Favre told the Vikings ‘no’ not once, but twice. He let Favre skip training camp, famously picking up in his SUV from the airport and driving him to Winter Park. Is it any surprise, then, that reports surfaced late last year of Childress and Favre clashing over how to run the offense, with Childress’ button-downed ways cramping Favre’s gunslinger style?
And we’ve been over this next part many times, but after this episode, how does Childress run his team with a straight face? He got on Adrian Peterson’s case for skipping OTAs, but he lets Favre – a player on the Vikings’ roster – skip camp, and then excuses players from practice to beg him to come back. And this is all for a soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback who hasn’t put together two straight productive seasons since 2003-04.
Compare that – or contrast it – rather, to how the Packers handled Favre. Seeing the end of his run was near, they drafted Aaron Rodgers with plenty of time to groom him while Favre was still playing. They got one more season of efficient play out of Favre in 2007, riding his renaissance to the NFC Championship Game, where Bad Brett made his customary January appearances.
And when Favre retired in March, only to waffle a month later, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy told Favre they’d be willing to welcome him back, on one condition: He had to be in 100 percent, and they had to know. That was too much for the quarterback to promise, so they cut ties with Favre, damn the PR beating it would bring them, and moved forward with Rodgers.
Aside from the marketing deal they offered Favre – which got construed by his camp as a bribe to stay retired – I can’t see too many missteps in the way the Packers played this. They made a smart football decision by drafting Rodgers. They made a smarter one by sticking to their guns with Favre, even though his Avenger World Tour saw him make a victorious return to Lambeau last year. And they’ve been rewarded heading into the 2010 season with a 26-year-old QB who’s blossoming into one of the game’s elite passers and is leading a championship-caliber offense.
What if Thompson and McCarthy had played it the way Childress did? They might have been roped into two years, maybe more, of Favre’s waffling, all while Rodgers’ original contract expired and the QB fumed after the Packers gave Favre his job back. And they would have perpetuated a situation that Packers executives have said was becoming untenable – Favre thinking he’d earned the right to do whatever he wanted.
We’ve bashed Ted Thompson a fair amount around here, and he still takes – and will continue to take – grief for his dour personality. But give Thompson credit: Faced with the toughest decision he’ll likely ever have to make as a GM, he did right by his team and stuck to his call.
I’ve said it before, but that kind of stuff makes me proud to be a Packers fan. It means something to cheer for a team that conducts itself with some integrity – and we could go on all day about the Vikings’ other missteps there – and from a football standpoint, it’s sure nice to know that the men in charge have a better plan than kowtowing to an aging QB.
And when it’s a Tuesday afternoon in August and your team is supposed to be practicing, it’s awfully nice to know where your most important player is going to be.