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Minnesota Vikings: A perpetual flame

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Sherman can recall the many intangibles Brett Favre brought to the Green Bay Packers during the six seasons they spent as coach and quarterback. But the one that stood out is perhaps the most important for any sports franchise...

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Sherman can recall the many intangibles Brett Favre brought to the Green Bay Packers during the six seasons they spent as coach and quarterback. But the one that stood out is perhaps the most important for any sports franchise and its fan base.

Hope.

"There was always hope, no matter what happened the last year, because Brett Favre was your quarterback," said Sherman, now the coach at Texas A&M. "He's a passionate leader, and you know he's going to give you everything he has. There was always hope that you were going to win, and there was never a situation that we didn't feel that we had a chance to capitalize on."

For 16 seasons, Favre provided the Packers with a sense that anything was possible. Green Bay made 11 playoff appearances, went to two Super Bowls and won one as Favre became the most decorated quarterback in NFL history.

He also proved to be an archrival and frequent nemesis for the division foe Minnesota Vikings.

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Perhaps that's what makes it so odd, and yet so intriguing, that just two months shy of his 40th birthday, Favre's presence on an NFL roster again is cause for hope . . . in Minnesota. And anything short of a Super Bowl appearance might be considered a disappointment.

"I didn't come here to lose," Favre said hours after signing a two-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings on Aug. 18. "I think the sky is the limit. We all know how hard it is. It's even hard for teams that won the Super Bowl last year to stay good on a consistent basis. It's a small window."

The missing piece?

There are differing views on exactly what Favre's presence will mean to the Vikings. He still possesses a very strong throwing arm, but he had surgery this spring to repair the biceps tendon in the arm and admitted he is dealing with the effects of a torn rotator cuff. There also are concerns about how Favre's legs, not to mention the rest of his body, will hold up.

Favre's most dynamic days are behind him, and he possibly got a taste of what his remaining playing years hold last season during a one-year stint with the Jets.

Favre passed for 3,472 yards and 22 touchdowns but had an NFL-leading 22 interceptions. Bothered by the biceps injury, Favre threw only two touchdown passes and had eight interceptions over the last four games of the regular season as the Jets went from 8-3 to finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Favre's passer rating never got higher than 61.4 in his final five games.

That did nothing to discourage Brad Childress. The Vikings coach worked for months to get Favre to end his second retirement and come to Minnesota, in part because he saw the future Hall of Famer not as the final piece to a potential Super Bowl puzzle but rather a key ingredient.

Childress has never had stability at quarterback since taking over in 2006. Now, entering the fourth season of a five-year contract and with no known talks of an extension having taken place, Childress finally feels he has a field general in place who can make the most of several dynamic offensive pieces.

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Former Vikings quarterback and current CBS analyst Rich Gannon, the NFL's MVP in 2002, agrees.

"You just look at this football team the last couple of years," Gannon said. "The thing in my opinion that has held them back is consistency and production at the quarterback position. . . . The bottom line is Favre instantly makes them better."

The key for Favre will be understanding that he makes the Vikings better but doesn't need to be the focal point. That position is reserved for Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season and, entering his third year, is arguably the league's best running back.

Favre's greatest asset will be his veteran savvy and his knowledge of the West Coast offense the Vikings employ. He worked in a nearly identical system with the Packers and said this summer that he could coach it.

"I just want him to be patient, and I want him to be able to make the throws that we need him to make," Childress said. "Whether it calls for a deep ball -- which I've watched him throw it 65 yards in practice and there is no issue with his arm . . . I want to be able to throw the quick game. He's always been a very good play-action guy. He can throw the movement stuff, still. Just all the stuff that we ask for in our offense, just be efficient with it."

Among those who will work closest with Favre is offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Nearly three months Favre's junior, Bevell served as his quarterbacks coach from 2003-05 in Green Bay, and the two have remained good friends. The former University of Wisconsin quarterback knows Favre's strengths and weaknesses.

"The one thing that I've told him, and I think coach and a lot of players have told him, is he just needs to be himself," Bevell said. "You can't put that label on yourself that, 'Hey, you are the missing piece,' because that's all he is is a piece. And you have to have all those pieces working together."

A happy medium

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The marriage between Favre and Childress' offense is a concoction many NFL types are eager to see. Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte and Kelly Holcomb aren't Favre, but they are veteran quarterbacks who noted the lack of freedom they felt to change things on the field while playing for the Vikings.

The feeling is that Favre, long known as a gunslinger, simply won't ask permission.

The NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes -- and interceptions -- Favre is an act-first, ask-questions-later type who isn't afraid to draw up plays in the dirt, perfect hand signals with teammates in order to change things at the last second and dismiss it all with an aw-shucks "I really thought that was going to work" grin.

In other words, just the type of stuff that could drive a stickler for detail such as Childress up the wall.

Will it work?

"Here's the happy medium," Childress said. "Get us out of a bad play into a good play, a play that has a poor chance of success into one that has a better chance of success. . . . Don't come to the line of scrimmage with the idea that I'll be a smart guy here now, and I have the authority to be able to do this.

"Don't come looking to change things because you can see ghosts. Certainly Brett over 16 years (in this offense) can explain things away. . . . (The reality is) here's what we're arming you with. If it works, it works. If there's something you see and you want to take advantage of it and it's going to keep the chains moving, then do it. But the short and long of it is if you're making everybody change six or seven or eight times during a game, it's a problem."

Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, now studio analyst for ESPN and a student of the West Coast offense, is among those curious to see how this grand experiment works. Dilfer predicts that Favre's presence will enable Childress and Bevell to open up their playbook because "this offense only gets as complex as the quarterback allows it to become."

Dilfer, though, cautions that if either Childress or Favre attempts to impose his will, there could be problems.

"There has to be a balance on both sides," Dilfer said. "Brad has to be flexible enough to let Brett run and operate the offense the way he's most comfortable operating it. Brett has to realize that his best football has always been when he's had boundaries surrounding him."

Sherman, for one, never had an issue with Favre running the West Coast for him.

"He just wanted to get the play early enough," Sherman said. "If there was a play that he didn't feel there were the answers to, then we wouldn't have the play in the game plan. But most of the offense that we ran in our system, there were answers for everything. He just wanted to get it early enough where he could get to the line of scrimmage and have time to see the defense and react accordingly."

He's seen it all

Sherman employed Bevell as a coach with the Packers and, though the two no longer work together, they say the same thing about Favre.

"He's seen everything that could ever be seen in an NFL game," Sherman said. "If anything he probably sees too much sometimes because if he sees the tilt of a safety or adjustment by a linebacker, it triggers something in his head."

A week earlier, Bevell said of Favre: "He's almost too smart for his own good. He's had so much happen to him that sometimes you have to manage that. You have to manage his experience because he'll say, 'In 1992 against Pittsburgh this happened on this look and that's why I did this.' And you'll say, 'No, this is what we want you to do. Just do it this way.'"

That might be easier said than done.

But one could argue the Vikings knew exactly what they were getting when they courted Favre. His headstrong nature and leadership abilities also are considered a positive, because that can deflect pressure away from teammates. Favre is a notorious prankster who preaches the importance of having fun on the field.

"He's a guy that keeps you relaxed," receiver Sidney Rice said. "He just wants to go out and have fun. He's been in this thing a really long time, and he knows what's going on out there on the field. For him to make me feel more comfortable, with him being a Hall of Fame quarterback, it's just amazing. His character is great, he's a great people person. He likes to joke around a lot. That's a big plus for us, too."

And if the Vikings are winning games, and Favre can remain healthy, odds are everyone will be smiling. At least that's the hope at Winter Park.

"Brett's going to bring that weapon at quarterback that the Vikings haven't had, and it's going to be unique because everyone plays Minnesota to stop Adrian Peterson," said former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy, who is now a studio analyst for NBC. "That's still going to continue, but I think Brett's going to get a chance to make some hay throwing the ball and bring some big plays from the quarterback position that the Vikings need."

Vikings at Browns

When: Noon Sunday.

TV/radio: KBRR (GF Channel 10); The Fan (1440 AM).

Records: Season opener.

Series record: Vikings lead 9-3.

Last meeting: Vikings beat Browns 24-12, Nov. 27, 2005.

Streaks, stats and notes: Two debuts for price of one: Eric Mangini's first game as Browns coach will come against Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who spent last season in New York with Mangini. . . . Favre came out of semiretirement this summer to play in 19th NFL season. . . . Favre, 39, will be making his league-record 270th consecutive start. . . . Favre has passed for at least 3,000 yards in each of past 17 seasons. . . . Vikings DTs Kevin and Pat Williams were cleared to play in opener after challenging four-game suspensions for violating league's drug policy last summer. Case is still tied up in courts. Both players have acknowledged taking over-the-counter weight-loss supplement. . . . Vikings RB Adrian Peterson led NFL with 1,760 yards last season. . . . Minnesota's defense was first overall against rush in 2008. . . . Browns are 1-9 in openers -- all at home -- since 1999. . . . Cleveland is just 54-106 since expansion return in 1999. . . . Cleveland hasn't scored offensive touchdown in six games. . . . Mangini is keeping starting quarterback a secret, but is expected to go with Brady Quinn, who went 1-2 in three starts last season before suffering finger injury. . . . Mangini went 2-1 in openers with Jets. . . . Quinn beat out Derek Anderson, Pro Bowl selection in 2007. . . . RB Jamal Lewis had sub-par exhibition season and could lose carries to rookie James Davis, sixth-round pick from Clemson. . . . WR Braylon Edwards, plagued by drops last season, has caught pass in 59 straight games. . . . Pro Bowl NT Shaun Rogers missed all of exhibition season with foot injury, but is expected to start.

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