The day Brett Favre became a Minnesota Viking | Star Tribune

Illustration by Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune • www.alvarezrafa.com

Illustration by Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune • www.alvarezrafa.com

The day Brett Favre became a Minnesota Viking

Ten years ago Sunday, Brett Favre descended from a clear blue Minnesota sky. An angel landing in a private jet, after years of playing the devil. Vikings fans, the media — shoot, the entire states of Minnesota and Wisconsin — lost their collective minds. The Star Tribune's Michael Rand wrote an oral history of that remarkable day — Aug. 18, 2009 — and the Favre Frenzy that came before and after it.

Minnesota sports history is filled with extreme highs, crushing lows, colorful personalities, amazing moments and haunting questions of “what if …”

But you would be hard pressed to find a bigger story — one that combines all those aforementioned elements — than the arrival of Brett Lorenzo Favre with the Vikings.

The quarterback swoops into town on a gorgeous summer Tuesday, setting off a frenzy, and signs with his longtime rival — in the year he turns 40, after being cut, no less. And then he takes the Vikings within a whisper of the Super Bowl? Then it all falls apart, and his old team wins the Super Bowl without him? You couldn’t write a more compelling script, and that barely scratches the surface of what happened.

Sunday is the 10-year anniversary of the day Favre arrived at the Vikings’ former training facility in Eden Prairie, with a helicopter, media members, fans and even a guy in a parrot suit giving chase. Yes, it really has been 10 years.

The Star Tribune’s Michael Rand spent the summer constructing an oral history of Favre’s arrival, and all that came before and after that day unlike any other. All interviews were conducted either in person or on the phone except with Favre himself, who responded to questions via e-mail.

Hold on tight. It’s a bumpy ride.

Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune

The build up

BRAD CHILDRESS, former Vikings head coach: If you go back the year before that, I remember having a conversation with [Eagles] coach [Andy] Reid when they beat us in the playoffs and he said, ‘You know, if you get your quarterback thing straightened out you have a hell of a football team.’ I wanted to say, ‘It’s not for not trying.’ I mean, from Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Gus Frerotte and you could probably fill in all the other ones, we traded for Sage Rosenfels. But anyhow, it was all about getting that position right.

SAGE ROSENFELS, starting QB candidate before Favre arrived: I really worked a trade and probably sort of burned some bridges in Houston that February or March to get to Minnesota to compete with Tarvaris to be the starter. It was really the first time in my career I really had the chance to even be the starter. I had always been the third guy or second guy leading up to that point. I had played a lot in Houston and played pretty well. This is really my big shot. I took some risks to go up there and try to have a shot at being a starter. I knew at the very worst I’d be the backup if I lost out to Tarvaris.

RYAN LONGWELL, kicker and Favre’s teammate in Green Bay and Minnesota: Honestly, I remember when the Jets cut [Favre] and I was already in Minnesota and had been there a couple of years at that point. I remember him calling me and for 45 minutes or an hour we had a conversation about what it was like as far as being a Packer and then going to the Vikings. What it was like with the transition, what it was like going back to Lambeau, what it was like playing the Packers. What was it like? Because there were only a few of us in the world who would have had a long enough tenure in Green Bay to make it relevant to what it’s like. He said, ‘Well what do you think?’ The Jets had cut him outright so he was free to sign with anybody. The original trade to the Jets had that no-NFC North clause, but now he was free to go anywhere. I shared with him my experience and what it was like going back to Lambeau and of course it was 70,000 boos at the top of their lungs, and you’re more famous than I ever was or will be, so I think you can ramp that up but ultimately they’re just cheering for their favorite color and you’re not wearing it any more. That’s what it would be like. He said, ‘Well, there’s an opportunity. Let’s just see how it goes.’ That kind of started the thing. Really it was all the way through the summer, just texting and talking.

CHILDRESS: I remember actually getting in a car and driving to Chicago in May [2009] for Mother’s Day to see my mom because I didn’t feel like I could go through the airport or want to go through the airport because things were swirling.

BRETT FAVRE: My main concern was my right biceps and the fact that in order to play I had to surgically repair it — and at Year 19, did I really want to do that? And if so, could I honestly be good enough to lead the team to a championship? I had major doubts during that time.

LONGWELL: Even when he was with the Jets I talked to him all the time because we’re close friends. I knew he had an arm problem in New York and that physically there was a question. I’d just never seen anyone like him. I mean honestly I still haven’t. There are guys who have won more Super Bowls and have a higher winning percentage, but I’ve just never seen anybody out of the gate, first throw of the day every day can be a 100-mile-an-hour fastball. I’ve just never seen it. So I never felt like the arm problem was going to be career-ending. And I could tell from our conversations that he felt like it was more of a bump in the road than a career-ending thing.

CHILDRESS: For me, I really felt like he was in it to obviously play the Packers twice and rehabilitate his image from the Jets — the way things finished [there]. I don’t think he wanted to let it finish on that note. And then it was a bonus, I mean there was a reason Green Bay traded him to the Jets. They didn’t want him in the NFC. Little did they know that the Jets were going to pick Mark Sanchez and Brett was going to be on the street. And then we were going to try to move heaven and earth to get him on our team. I don’t think he seriously considered anybody else except coming to the Vikings.

CHIP SCOGGINS, former Vikings beat writer and current columnist: It was a three-month, I don’t know if it was an ordeal, but Judd [Zulgad] and I were on the beat and we basically didn’t take vacation. Ed Werder was really close to Favre’s camp and Favre, and it felt like every other day something was coming out from ESPN and Ed Werder. There were questions about his arm, reports that he was throwing with the high school kids, that he was waffling. There were probably a dozen updates that summer back and forth. There was one where the Vikings gave him a deadline, then came out and said there was no deadline. Favre at one point did say they need an answer by training camp. So by the eve of camp, he had called Childress and said he wasn’t going to play and that his arm couldn’t handle it.

LONGWELL: He was kind of warming more up to it. I don’t want to put words in his mouth … he felt like he was wronged at the end by the Packers and felt he had good years left. He didn’t know if it was one, two, three or 10, but that there was unfinished business. That was his mind-set, I felt, through the whole thing. I think there was one conversation where he said, ‘Where are Sarah and I living, what was the commute?’ More of those granular things. Then I’m like, all right, this is turning the corner in the right direction.

SCOGGINS: The Star Tribune did a compilation video of me and Judd during those three months. He’s going to play, he’s not going to play, he’s going to play, he’s not going to play, and second to last one was Favre calls Childress on the day before training (camp) and tells him he can’t play. And the next one is the day he gets there.

Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune

Aug. 18, 2009: mayhem

CHILDRESS: If my recollection serves, I think I ended up driving out to the airport, one of the private aviation places, I just kind of sat and waited because I had an idea from the pilot — it was Zygi’s pilot [owner Zygi Wilf] — what time they were going to hit the ground. I have to go on the record and say this. I was kind of demonized for driving out and picking him up from the airport. I’m from the Midwest, and when somebody comes to the airport and you want to make them feel at home, you pick them up. It’s not like I was a valet service or something, but I knew he was coming with [his wife] Deanna. And you don’t get a second chance at an impression. And we were getting to know each other at the same time as well. I didn’t know it would be like the O.J. Bronco deal, you know, with the helicopters hovering and following you every step of the way.

LONGWELL: I was texting him as we were watching the O.J. thing, the helicopter with the Suburban or whatever it was. Chilly had told us beforehand that he was going to pick him up, that we got him. We were excited. I was excited to have a friend back.

ROSENFELS: We’re at practice, and I really hadn’t thought about or heard any rumors that we might sign Brett or anything like that. I don’t want to say it’s a shock because it’s the NFL and nothing’s a shock, but it was news to me when the rumors that we were signing Brett Favre happened that day. The moment itself, I remember being in a meeting that morning and Brad Childress pulled Tarvaris and I and John David Booty out of the meeting, brought us into another room and told us we were signing Brett Favre.

SCOGGINS: We found out not really early but maybe 9ish it was being reported that they were flying down to get him. At that point, it’s like it’s on now. For all the ‘is he, is he not,’ he’s not flying up here if he’s not playing. At Winter Park, the media room was in a building across the street from there. It started getting filled with reporters. Then we thought, let’s go wait on the street, and TV trucks used to park on the street. We’re out there, and the plane lands, and one of the TV stations had a TV monitor and so you can see the helicopter chasing him. People started coming. Fans, there must have been 200. The Vikings sent out their security people and a police car came. And there’s reporters, fans, we look down the street and there’s a guy in a full parrot costume from some restaurant. He stood on the corner in a parrot costume holding a sign above his head. We always joke that it was us and a parrot waiting on Favre.

CHILDRESS: We had a good conversation [on the drive]. Me pointing out hey, there’s the Mall of America. We’re driving down the road, trying to give him some bearings, but who knows what’s sticking and not sticking. We go out to Winter Park, pretty easy ride. And then I remember you could hear the helicopter and either [Favre] or Deanna looked up above and had seen it, and I said yeah, it’s kind of a big deal today for Minnesota Vikings fans. Little did we know that when we pulled into Winter Park people would be hanging over the sides of roads trying to get a peek like the president was coming in. Then we came in and made a left to get away from the fanfare and went down around the back way to enter the building. We walked up the back steps, and as luck would have it here comes Percy Harvin from the cafeteria, and that was the first person Brett met. Brett said to him, ‘Hey, I heard great things about you. Make me look good.’ Big smile on Percy’s face, of course. He was spoiled playing anywhere in his first year in the NFL with Brett Favre as his quarterback. He ended up being offensive rookie of the year.

SCOGGINS: The players were all there because they had practice that day. Talking to them later, they were all in the cafeteria having lunch when he got there, and they were watching the O.J. chase on the TV. Visanthe Shiancoe called it Favre-a-palooza. You see Childress picking him up, and you see them coming up the street and the fans storm the car. Cars are stopping in the middle of the road, Childress had to stop because fans were swarming his car. Police are like, ‘Get back! Get back!’ Favre is just waving and smiling that smile. It was berserk. I mean, the whole thing of Favre playing for the Vikings and fans storming the car.

ROSENFELS: I remember being at lunch that day in the cafeteria, sitting at the same table as [Ben] Leber, Jared Allen, and all of us watching TV as the Bronco, whatever, very much like the O.J.-esque scenario, helicopter following a car and all you can see is the arm of a mysterious person inside. It was one of those situations that could have been super awkward but I guess it wasn’t awkward for me as I sat and talked to Leber and Chad Greenway about it. I said, ‘This guy is coming. There goes my chance to be a starter’ — super awkward, right? But it wasn’t. Because I could see why they would do that. We have a Super Bowl-caliber team. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, still has a lot left in the tank. If I was in their situation, I would do the same thing. Not to say Tarvaris or I couldn’t have led that team to the playoffs, but this guy had been there and done that so many times. It was the best play on their end so I wasn’t upset that they made that signing.

LONGWELL: I had been around [Steve Hutchinson] and Jared [Allen] and those guys, and I knew how well Brett would add to the locker room. I knew they’d love him. I knew it would be instant. We just kind of watched it on TV. It was kind of the circus had come to town. But more than that, we had an ally in the locker room. It was instant change.

SCOGGINS: Favre comes out a couple hours later. He didn’t have a purple [jersey] because quarterbacks wear red at practice. And you’re thinking wow here we go, this is something you thought you’d never see.

CHILDRESS: I’ll take you to the first practice — him signing his contract and walking out there and seamlessly knowing our language. Having spoken, let’s say, English in Green Bay, he goes to New York and he’s speaking French. I talked to [former Vikings and Jets fullback] Tony Richardson about it and said, ‘Does he still have it, Tony?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Coach, there’s no doubt about it.’ I’m not sure he ever really took time to learn the playbook [with the Jets] or anything like that, which I don’t think he did, but to be coming back speaking English was big. I said, ‘Do you know X-Y hook, that’s the first play on the script?’ Yeah, that’s no problem. He jumps right in the huddle, command voice comes on. And he puts on a hard count. When everybody gets up there the first time and he barks out the first signals everyone is kind of looking at each other like, ‘Wow, that’s what that’s supposed to sound like, huh?’ Then he zips a pass and everybody goes: Baby, we’re in business.

Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune

The unforgettable season

FAVRE: I knew even before joining the team that they were contenders and if I joined them and played like I had hoped we could make a run.

LONGWELL: I felt Coach Childress was a really good coach. But I thought he was a REALLY good talent evaluator. He was really good at finding the right piece to the puzzle. When you look at what he had done, as far as bringing in Hutch, Chester Taylor, myself, drafting Adrian [Peterson] and bringing in Ben Leber, getting Percy and Greenway, getting Jared Allen, these controversial things but getting these guys. We felt like we had all the pieces except for the most important position in all of sports. On paper it seemed like if we had the right guy we could be a great team, but you just never know. Every team says that. … But I’ve never seen one guy change an entire city like Brett Favre did in 2009. I’ve never seen the fan base, the vigor of the fan base, the passion of the fan base, the team, the locker room, the attitude, the coaches coached better and the players played better. And it was one guy. You can point the finger literally at one guy changed the entire operation in that 2009 year.

CHILDRESS: With a guy so well-versed in the system, that part is a dream. You can grow that thing, get out of the box, find out what he’s comfortable with and what he’s not. There wasn’t a throw he couldn’t make on the field. His way around the team, whether it was slapping guys on the [butt] — I mean he would crack everyone from me to Adrian to Chester to Steve Hutchinson to Jared Allen to Pat Williams. I mean he had a big old paw and he knew how to open it up and just wallop you. I’ve got to say it stung. You know how guys pat each other on the butt, but his was a different deal. And he’d almost do it every time we're on offense. Big smile, he could make you laugh. He was a great teammate with those guys.

LONGWELL: We played Cleveland in the opener, and Brett had maybe been there 10 days. So we won the game. I don’t know that we felt we played our best or that it was an indicator of what was to come. I can’t remember when the 49ers game was, but that was kind of a thing like oh my gosh. That’s a game we don’t come back from without him. That’s a game that to go deep into the playoffs, you have to win those crazy ones and we just did. It was like, all right, there’s something special here. And when we lit [Green Bay] up on Monday night, it was like all right let’s go. It was just a frenzy I hadn’t seen before or after. It was amazing how quick it changed.

DAVE SINYKIN, longtime Packers fan and host of Packer Preview on KFAN: Oh man, I can say with complete sincerity that the 2009 season was the most difficult season for me to watch as a fan. I don’t think that could ever be usurped. … Packers fans really split. There were Packers fans and Favre fans. And those that identified as Favre fans cheered for him and wanted success for him. I was not in that group. I was a Packer fan, and I was unhappy he gleefully chose the rival to end his career with. Years have passed and I’ve mellowed a bit. I more than appreciate what he did for the Packers organization. But man, that 2009 season was excruciating.

LONGWELL: I don’t have a lot of my awards or game balls on display. But one of the few pictures I have on my wall is Favre and I in Lambeau in our Vikings uniforms on the ‘G’ in the middle of the field for the coin toss, just the two of us in the photo. I had him sign it to me and I signed it to him, so we both have this photo. You can see just the two of us looking at each other, and in the background is Lambeau and all the fans. We were there for the coin toss, but the Packers captains weren’t out yet and it was literally 72,000 boos at full voice. It was so loud, the boos. Mostly for him because they had already gotten them out on me the previous years. But I looked at him and said, ‘Think about how many guys would love to be in our shoes right now.’ And he said, ‘You ain’t kidding.’ That’s why he came back. That’s why he asked all the questions — for that moment right there. That win solidified everything that 2009 season was all about.

SCOGGINS: Green Bay, the loudest boos I’ve ever heard. Team starts running out, and there are some boos and I’m thinking oh that’s not that bad. Then Favre runs out and it’s like a jet engine. Holy that was loud. I think that wounded him a little bit, how loud it was. He even acknowledged after the game he was a little taken aback. There was no doubt about it.

FAVRE: Ryan and I were very close friends while with both teams, and at that moment we knew what it was like on both sides and only two people in that stadium knew what that was like. That is a special bond. My fondest memories of that game were of my teammates rising to the occasion and to a man coming over and telling me they had my back!

ROSENFELS: I had never seen a quarterback play at the level Favre played that year. He really was spectacular. Statistically he was spectacular — best of his career — but I would have to say he played better than his stats. He made plays and throws that I had never seen before. He got the crap beat out of him. I’m 41 now, and I remember being 31 at the time thinking Brett was eight, nine years older than me, thinking I couldn’t take these hits eight years from now. I don’t think I could have taken those hits at 31. I was in awe of what he was doing week in and week out. He made impossible plays. A receiver would just change his route and Favre would see it and have the ability to adjust and still throw an accurate ball. I did not realize how accurate he was. Slants right in the guy’s chest. It was unbelievable to watch. It really shows what a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback is compared to the 16th-best quarterback in the NFL.

SCOGGINS: You felt like this team, especially the way they handled Dallas in that playoff game, the way Sidney [Rice} and Percy and Peterson played, they had a chance to win it all. Judd Zulgad, my beat partner, he always tells the story. The Vikings had just crossed midfield against the Saints. I turned to Judd and said they’re going to the Super Bowl. And he said, ‘Just wait.’ He covered Favre [when the Star Tribune had a Packers beat reporter]. He knew. Sure enough, 12 men, the throw across your body. All the fumbles in that game, to do that many things and still have a chance to win it. That’s a game that will stay with those guys forever. They’ll regret it.

LONGWELL: I think the only thing that didn’t go our way was the final score. Yards we were 2-to-1, we dominated the game, we turned the ball over five times and that cost us. Our lasting legacy is the change of the NFL overtime rule. That was our gift. I think moving forward, we expected to win that game. We certainly would have won the Super Bowl had we got through New Orleans.

SINYKIN: The idea that he could lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl and that the Vikings could lord over forever that they won as many Super Bowls with Favre as the Packers, I couldn’t live with that reality. And the end of the Saints game gave us an exhalation.

FAVRE: I have not watched [the NFC title game] nor do I plan to. It is still a painful memory. I feel very guilty for not leading us to a victory.

Rafa Alvarez, Special to the Star Tribune

The sequel (just not the same)

CHILDRESS: In my opinion the first year was about rehabilitating his image, and he was all-in. He worked ridiculous hours to get that done. … I think the second year was after all the New York stuff had broken with Jenn Sterger and really the mode he was in when I was speaking to him at that time was he was in a save-his-marriage mode. Coaches don’t like distractions, but that was going to be a distraction. I knew that was an issue as I was coming up the road from training camp.

LONGWELL: I remember Childress called Hutch, Jared and I together before practice. I had talked to Brett quite a bit. And Brett’s whole thing was I’ve got nothing else to prove. I loved you guys, I loved being around you guys, but I did what I needed to do as far as beating the Packers twice and I’ve got nothing left to prove. Chilly said, ‘I’m going down to talk Brett into coming back.’ Jared, the team comedian, was like, ‘Uh, well if you want him to come back, you better not go and you better send Ryan because Ryan is his best friend.’ … So we go through the morning practice, Chilly comes up and says, ‘The three of you are going down. We’re going to tell [everyone] that you’re inside rehabbing because you’re the veterans for the afternoon practice, but at the same time we’re going to send the Wilfs’ unmarked plane into Flying Cloud airport to get you.’ So funny story looking back at it: We all sneak out of the building, and we’re waiting at Flying Cloud Airport for this quote unquote unmarked plane to land, and the guys are all looking at us who work at the airport. They’re like what’s going on? And this unmarked plane comes in and it’s got purple and gold stripes. It’s not unmarked! They’re like, but it has no tail number. Come on! It’s like a billboard.

SCOGGINS: I think we all assumed he would come back. I don’t think he wanted to be [at training camp] in Mankato.

LONGWELL: We were [in Hattiesburg] for 16 hours, and 15½ of them he was, ‘No, I’m not coming.’ In that last half-hour, basically Jared just said: ‘Listen, we don’t care how many games we win. We don’t care how many interceptions or touchdowns you throw. The locker room just isn’t the same without you. Will you come back and do this for us so we can have a fun year no matter which way this goes?’ And he said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ We were kind of in shock, waiting in the far corner of his property. Hutch said, ‘I’ll go with Brett and pack his stuff.’ Jared said, ‘I’ll call the airport to get the airplane ready.’ They said, ‘Ryan, you have to tell Deanna.’ We went back to his house. I went in and she was like, ‘No way.’ She wanted him to play. That was kind of that. We checked the news and the story then was that three players had gone down to Hattiesburg. We were on our way. And so we’re like, holy cow we’re ahead of this story we’re going to be fine. But when we’re coming in for the approach at Flying Cloud, it’s like O.J. again. Satellites again, trucks everywhere. Cars everywhere. He hopped in my car and we drove to the facility.

FAVRE: They got me by telling me what I already told myself, and that was we were so close and if you come back we will do it this time.

CHILDRESS: I didn’t feel a hangover as much as I felt, Michael, that let’s try to keep the band together for one more year and try to get this thing done. That was the mind-set from upper management to me. We came this close. But everybody is in a different spot. Different things happen. It’s funny how coaches can think about the train wreck things more than the great, great moments. The highs aren’t as high as the lows are low, I can tell you that.

SCOGGINS: A lot of stuff added up. The Deadspin stuff [about Favre and Sterger] came out, and then obviously Randy Moss, Childress fired, the stadium collapse. You thought they’d be able to pick up where they left off, but it just goes to show every year is different.

SINYKIN: It’s funny because for the Packers there were no expectations [in 2010]. The Packers had been a playoff team, but if you remember the Packers barely made the playoffs in 2010. If the Giants don’t punt to DeSean Jackson, the Packers don’t make the playoffs. And then going to Chicago, thinking that as bad as last year was if we can beat the Bears in their house to go to the Super Bowl it would be worth every bit of pain I went through in 2009.

ROSENFELS: What if Brett never comes? This is a chapter in my book, my unwritten book. I never threw a regular-season pass after I got to Minnesota. So I mean there are a thousand what-ifs if that doesn’t happen for me.

FAVRE: I would have retired 100 percent [had the Vikings won the Super Bowl in 2009]. … I’m glad I came back. At least I know it wasn’t [meant] to be. I would always wonder otherwise.

LONGWELL: [In 2009] we had good breaks and we’re riding high, no locker loom issues, we had no quarrels, everyone was on the same page. That couldn’t have been more opposite in 2010. We lost games we should have won. Guys got dinged and hurt. It was far more of a weird — I wouldn’t say toxic — but just a weird locker room atmosphere. The year before had made guys stars, and that changes. The coaching was more ego-driven. It just wasn’t the same. On top of that, the roof caves in, the starting streak ends, the coach is fired, Randy Moss comes in for [four] weeks, we’re stuck in Philly for four days on a snowstorm that never comes, we play a Monday night game on Ford Field with our logo on it, a Tuesday game in Philly. … You don’t expect your coach on a Saturday night pregame team meeting to lead with ‘We think the roof might cave in.’ You know? We’re like what? No way. And lo and behold the roof caved in. That was just one of a thousand things that were so weird that year. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. It made 2009 even more special, to be honest.