He is the NFL’s version of The Undertaker with one big difference:
Brett Favre is real.
For 285 games, Favre has taken blow after blow without missing a start or even much playing time. When opponents think he’s down and out, Favre rises in the same fashion as the aforementioned World Wrestling Entertainment star who is touted as having “supernatural powers.”
The New Orleans Saints had Favre on the ropes in last year’s NFC Championship game against Minnesota. Although he wasn’t sacked, Favre was hit 16 times. He suffered forehead lacerations and a painful deep thigh bruise. A high-low shot by Saints defensive linemen Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele sent Favre hobbling to the sideline and further damaged an injured ankle that required offseason surgery. About the only tactic New Orleans didn’t try was cracking Favre with a folding chair.
Yet just like his return for a 20th NFL season, Favre kept coming back for more until New Orleans finally won in overtime.
“I even said it on the sideline to one of the players: ‘How does he keep getting up?’” Ayodele recalled Monday at Saints headquarters. “He was getting some shots and getting up like everything was cool. I really admired him after seeing it first-hand.”
New Orleans will be seeing Favre again in Thursday night’s regular-season opener at the Louisiana Superdome. And while Vikings coaches and players are still bemoaning the borderline and illegal strikes delivered to their quarterback — “We really feel like those guys got some cheap shots in,” running back Adrian Peterson said Monday — the Saints won’t apologize for treating Favre like a punching dummy.
“I don’t see why people are making such a big deal out of this,” said defensive end Alex Brown, a Saints newcomer after eight seasons in Chicago. “People get hit. That’s what we do. It’s fun. If you watched the film, I think the Saints hit all quarterbacks like that last year. They were coming from all directions.
“That’s the way we’re going to do stuff. We’re going to hit your quarterback. If you don’t want us to hit him, protect him. Block for him. That’s it.”
The Saints shouldn’t have to say they’re sorry. If anything, Minnesota’s offensive linemen and the fumble-prone Peterson should be the ones offering mea culpas for leaving Favre so exposed and ruining what would have been remembered as one of his greatest performances.
“We are going to definitely eliminate those hits and protect him more,” promised Peterson, who committed three turnovers against New Orleans. “We’re definitely going to be the ones delivering the blows.”
They owe that to their leader.
Favre’s late fourth-quarter interception inside Saints territory was a devastating mistake that has overshadowed just how well he played. Favre completed 28 of 46 passes for 310 yards despite the punishment he received and the deafening crowd noise. Had the Vikings won the overtime coin toss, Saints safety Darren Sharper has admitted he thinks New Orleans would have lost because the defense was so fatigued after surrendering 475 total yards. New Orleans instead drove for the game-winning field goal.
“It blew me away how accurate (Favre) was amongst all the pressure,” Saints strong safety Roman Harper said. “He’d be throwing off his back foot and zing it 25 yards on a rope. You just don’t see a lot of quarterbacks able to do that. For him at his age, it’s amazing.”
That takes us to Thursday night’s matchup. The preseason vibe around the Vikings is far less festive than with the defending Super Bowl champions. Favre turns 41 next month. His ankle already requires pain-killing injections even though Favre appeared in less than three quarters of preseason action. His top weapon — wide receiver Sidney Rice — is sidelined until at least midseason following hip surgery. Valuable third-down back Chester Taylor is gone, potentially leaving Favre vulnerable against the blitzes that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is certain to send.
Favre himself hasn’t publicly bemoaned the smackdown administered by New Orleans. “It’s football,” he said Sunday.
Favre’s bigger regret is losing the game itself. Last month, Favre remembered the 2009 Saints being labeled a “team of destiny” entering the NFC title contest.
“As we were on that last (fourth-quarter) drive, I was thinking, ‘It’s destiny alright, but for us,’ he recalled.
Unlike WWE owner Vince McMahon with his product, Favre couldn’t make that script come to life. Here’s another dose of reality: Favre is destined to suffer the same heartbreak again if the Vikings can’t keep him from getting bodyslammed into the turf.