Childress burned by flirting with Favre

Brad Childress stopped his Thursday news conference when a reporter’s recording device began to ring.

“I’m not great with distractions,” an irritated Childress said.

He had better get used to dealing with them.

The Minnesota Vikings have opened training camp shrouded by a huge distraction: Brett Favre’s decision to decline a contract offer and stay retired. The failed flirtation disappointed many Minnesota fans, cast the team’s current quarterbacks as unwanted stepchildren and irritated Vikings veterans who were asked to court Favre’s return with text messages. The commotion isn’t going away anytime soon either. The wishy-washy Favre could always pursue a comeback later in the preseason, or even during the regular season.

Childress only has himself to blame for this mess.

Nobody in the Vikings organization beat the drum for Favre as loudly as its fourth-year head coach. Childress began chasing Favre shortly after his post-draft release by the New York Jets. The Vikings sent team trainers to monitor Favre following bicep surgery. Star players like defensive end Jared Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson were asked by Childress to contact Favre and encourage his arrival. Childress even kept the door open for Favre to sign at the start of training camp rather than force a commitment beforehand. That didn’t sit well with some players who spent the past few months toiling in Minnesota’s offseason workout program.

Favre’s spirit was willing — especially because he would get two cracks at Green Bay during the regular season — but he didn’t feel his 39-year-old body was able. Favre informed Childress of his decision on Tuesday. The snub left Childress looking like a jilted groom at the altar now forced to marry one of two uglier bridesmaids — Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson.

Childress doesn’t see it this way. Speaking inside a crowded tent of media that had stormed this southern Minnesota city expecting Favre’s arrival, Childress said he had no regrets about his interest in a player with a Hall of Fame resume. Childress also closed the door on signing Favre should he later have a change of heart, which would surprise no one at this point, or the recently reinstated Michael Vick.

“It’s behind us,” Childress said. “There are no rear-view mirrors on the golf carts we have [for training-camp transportation]. We’ve got the blinders on.”

That’s true in more ways than one. Childress is oblivious to the damage that the Favre fiasco has caused as Rosenfels and Jackson now battle for the starting spot.

“I don’t think they’re scarred at all,” Childress said. “We had a laugh with the team this morning. I said, ‘If anybody thinks Sage or Tarvaris is going to scuff a pass and turn to me and say, ‘I wish you weren’t talking to Brett,’ that’s preposterous.”

But the reality is that any struggles by Rosenfels or Jackson will invoke comparisons to Favre and talk of what could have been. Jackson and Rosenfels already had an uphill battle trying to win locker room respect, let alone convince a skeptical public that they’re good enough for the job.

As a 2006 second-round draft pick from Alabama State, Childress hand-picked Jackson as his future franchise quarterback. T-Jack hasn’t come close to reaching those heights. He was benched after the second game last season and didn’t return to the starting lineup until Week 15. During that benching, Hutchinson told me Jackson would sometimes get the dreaded “deer in the headlights” look inside the huddle when flustered. Jackson then became road kill in a 26-14 home playoff loss to Philadelphia, completing just 15 of 35 passes and having an interception returned for a touchdown. Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams called out Jackson during the offseason, saying he needed to “put in more time [studying] than what he’s doing.”

The Vikings needed a quarterback upgrade but rather than vie for Matt Cassel or Kyle Orton in offseason trades, Minnesota took a less costly route. The club sent Houston a 2009 fourth-round pick for Rosenfels and then signed him to a two-year, $9 million contract extension. Minnesota’s front-office had faith that Rosenfels was ready to emerge from his career backup role after eight NFL seasons. The Favre hunt shows Childress wasn’t as sold on that projection.

The competition between Jackson and Rosenfels is so close that Childress joked the quarterback who would work with the first-team offense during Friday morning’s opening practice would be decided by “coin flip, rock-paper-scissors, [drawing] straws,” or “pitching horseshoes.” That also means Jackson or Rosenfels didn’t do enough to differentiate themselves in offseason sessions.

Fortunately for Childress, a likeable guy with a great sense of humor, the Favre problem will take care of itself if Rosenfels or Jackson can quickly emerge as the clear-cut starter. The defending NFC North champions are loaded with enough offensive and defensive talent to make a Super Bowl run even with only competent quarterbacking.

Asked what he was hoping to receive from the position that Minnesota wasn’t getting in 2008, Childress said, “Just consistency. You want to know a standard of performance … What can we count on on a routine basis? I talk all the time about making the routine plays routinely. That’s huge.”

So is finding a quarterbacking answer if Childress doesn’t want to join Favre among the unemployed in 2010.