Cleveland Browns linebacker David Bowens thinks Brett Favre is a creampuff.
That isn’t a shot at his friend and former teammate as the Browns prepare to host Minnesota in Sunday’s season opener. Bowens was simply offering a good-natured analogy to explain why Vikings coach Brad Childress was tempted to roll the dice on Favre like the New York Jets did in 2008.
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“It’s like going to dinner and that dessert tray comes around first,” Bowens said. “It might ruin your appetite, but you’ve got to have some of that dessert.”
The Vikings just need this meal to have a sweeter ending than Favre’s one-season stint in New York. Otherwise, Childress could choke on his decision a la Eric Mangini.
If not for last year’s late-season collapse, Mangini and the seven Jets players who followed him to Cleveland would probably still be in New York. Following an 8-3 start, the Jets went 1-4 down the stretch with a sore-armed Favre under center. Mangini took the fall and was fired after New York didn’t make the playoffs.
Like Childress in Minnesota, Mangini thought Favre could be the missing piece that gets his squad into the Super Bowl. By making the trade with Green Bay to acquire Favre, Mangini also knew he was gambling on whether or not a 39-year-old quarterback who hadn’t participated in a rigorous offseason training program could remain healthy and productive through an entire season.
While losing that bet, Mangini said he would place it again. He also understands why Childress is taking the same chance instead of choosing between Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson as his starter.
“They have a good defense, a great running game and talented receivers,” Mangini said Friday afternoon inside his office at Browns headquarters. “The quarterbacks they had would have done a good job, but Brett’s going to the Hall of Fame and still has some juice left. He’s won a lot of games and has a ton of experience. There’s value in that.”
Mangini said Favre’s worth transcends his game-day contributions. Mangini had never worked with a quarterback who could add energy and levity to practice without affecting the quality of on-field work. The same is now happening in Minnesota with Favre becoming more comfortable in his new surroundings since signing in mid-August. Favre already has earned enough respect to get voted a team captain by his Vikings peers.
“As a team, everyone in New York was excited to work with him,” Browns and ex-Jets cornerback Hank Poteat said. “It’s just the experience of, ‘I’m out here with a Hall of Famer. I get to practice against the best.’ If you (intercept) one of his passes, it’s like, ‘Man, I just picked off Brett!'”
He also became a valuable sounding board for Mangini — a role Favre has quickly assumed with Childress and Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“We could talk about stuff that I couldn’t with a younger guy,” said Mangini, who is 15 months younger than Favre. “He’s been through so many games and situations. He’s seen so many formations. I could say, ‘Brett, what do you think about this?’ The way he looked at it was different than (me).”
Such intangibles are a bonus but mean nothing if Favre flops and the talent-rich Vikings don’t make a deep postseason run. Favre has admitted to not knowing whether he can stay healthy for an entire season. That would spell the end of Favre’s NFL record for consecutive quarterback starts set to reach 270 against Cleveland.
Bowens saw Favre struggle with his throwing arm first-hand as last season unfolded. A torn biceps tendon contributed to Favre’s offseason decision to retire. Released by the Jets in late April, Favre later changed his mind (again) about playing and had corrective surgery.
“You look at him as one of those Superman kind of guys,” said Bowens, who also played with Favre in Green Bay in 2000. “One thing I found out about him last year is that he actually did fatigue. The guy still has all the tools and can make every throw. But he actually has a little kryptonite in that shoulder.”
Mangini will be doing his best Lex Luthor impression Sunday by trying to derail Favre and Minnesota’s high-powered rushing attack. But there is no revenge motive for Mangini, who refuses to make Favre a scapegoat for last season’s Jets collapse.
“I had a positive experience with the guy,” said Mangini, who named his son Zack Brett in honor of Favre. “I think I’m a better coach because of the guy. Did it work out exactly as planned? No. But it wasn’t all his fault.
“I could have done a lot better job. The other coaches could have done a better job. The players … You never like to say it’s one guy’s fault. It never is.”
But two guys will be getting credit if Minnesota’s risk pays off — Childress and Favre.
“It’s not like Brett’s coming in just to collect checks,” Poteat said. “He wanted to play in Minnesota last year. And from their standpoint, you see a guy who can possibly help get your team over the hump.
“Anything is tempting when you have a player like Brett out there.”