This past Sunday’s NFC championship game contained a poignant lesson for more than just football fans. The game featured the New Orleans Saints versus the Minnesota Vikings. With my pathetic Redskins having left the ranks of the contenders long ago, I was free to root with my head rather than my heart. And like many in America, I was pulling for the Saints. The people of New Orleans have suffered greatly because of Hurricane Katrina and a Super Bowl victory by their beloved Saints is an incipient feel good story that would help the residents of that city to recover from their nightmare.
But there was a complication. The Vikings were led by a crusty old veteran quarterback, Brett Favre, who at age 40 performed as well during the season as at any point in his storied nineteen year career. It was difficult to root against him. And wouldn’t you know it, his magical performance continued—under difficult circumstances. For it was clear immediately that New Orleans’ defensive strategy was literally to beat Favre up. Which they did! As relentlessly recounted by the TV announcers, Favre was repeatedly hit by New Orleans defensemen, nearly 20 times by my count; yet every time, he would arise wincing, grimacing, limping or otherwise clutching the latest part of his body to which the Saints’ defensemen had administered a shellacking.
Despite the beating, Favre performed fantastically. The game was deadlocked at 28, when Favre had his offense poised for a game winning field goal. There was little time left, but the ball was just at the limit of the Vikings’ place kicker’s range. The Vikings had an extra down and an extra time-out in which to move the ball closer in. The announcers speculated that Favre would hand off and a run of 3-5 yards would substantially increase the likelihood of a successful field goal on the game’s final play. But some idiot in the Vikings’ coaching staff tried to confuse the Saints and wound up sending an extra player into the huddle. The resulting 5-yard penalty meant that Favre, as the announcers astutely indicated, would need to throw in order to gain about 10 yards and thereby make the field goal more attainable.
At which point, human fallibility took over. Favre dropped back, was flushed out of the pocket, rolled right and had room to run for the requisite yardage. But at that moment, who knows what evil demon took possession of his mind? Violating a cardinal rule that is drummed into the heads of every rookie quarterback, and in spite of 19 years of experience, and despite the fact that the last pass he ever attempted as a Green Bay Packer—under remarkably similar circumstances—ended in an interception that deprived him of another Super Bowl appearance, Favre wheeled and threw across his body back toward the center of the field—where the ball was easily intercepted by a Saint defender. The Saints went on to win in an overtime in which Favre never touched the ball. Thus, against all rationality, in defiance of every good football practice, in the face of an excellent chance to win the game by playing it safe, and despite the fact that life had offered him the same choice previously on which he had made the wrong decision, Favre again played gunslinger and brought disaster upon himself and his teammates. It is almost certain that the errant pass will be the last he ever attempts in his life. He will be haunted by his reckless decision for the rest of that life.