MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For the past 18 years, Brett Favre has been football’s iron man, playing like no other quarterback come physical pain, personal tragedy and — most recently — humiliating scandal.
Now, though, there’s an even chance the 41-year-old quarterback’s record-breaking run is over.
After 291 consecutive starts, Favre was listed as questionable Friday for the Vikings game Sunday against the New England Patriots with two fractures in his ankle. That means the odds are 50-50 he’ll play.
Leave it to Favre and there’s no question he’ll be on the field.
“This could easily be an injury where I could say, ‘I’m going to slip under the radar. See you later, easy out,’” Favre said. “People may think that. I want to play and I want to help this team win. I owe that to the guys and I owe that to myself.”
But it’s not up to him.
That decision rests with coach Brad Childress, and it’s an awfully big one to make.
He can play Favre. He can hope the three-time MVP can recapture some of the magic from last season that simply hasn’t been there through the first six games of 2010, and keep a streak intact that will always serve as the foundation of Favre’s legacy.
Or he can turn the offense over to Tarvaris Jackson, thereby ignoring the wishes of his captain and likely Hall of Famer, brushing aside history and turning a veteran team with fading Super Bowl aspirations over to a guy who has already failed twice at the job.
“I’m not losing any sleep over it,” Childress said on Friday.
Maybe not, but it’s the question of the week in the NFL.
And it’s unfolding against the backdrop of an ongoing league investigation into whether Favre sent inappropriate messages and lewd photos to a game hostess for the Jets when he played for New York, which has the potential to end Favre’s streak another way — by suspension, for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Still, Childress says he’ll start Favre “if it gives us the best chance to win.”
The quarterback’s left ankle was broken in last week’s loss to Green Bay, a heartbreaker that also earned him Childress’ wrath for a couple of interceptions which illustrated the bad side of his game — improvisations gone wrong.
Like he always has, though, Favre has bounced back, or at least tried to. He was in a walking boot for the first three days of the week and returned to practice in a limited role on Friday. He made some light tosses to Vikings receivers in the portion of practice that was open to the media.
“I’m willing to give it a try,” Favre said on Wednesday, in his only extended remarks of the week. “I think back to all of those times where I said, ‘I’m willing to give it a try.’”
Favre has played through countless injuries to keep his streak going and forge a reputation as one of the toughest guys to ever play the game.
With the Packers, Jets and now Vikings, he has started every game since Sept. 27, 1992, when the original President Bush was still in office and the original Browns were still in Cleveland. He’s played through a separated shoulder, concussions, a sprained knee, a broken thumb, torn biceps, addictions to painkillers and alcohol, the sudden death of his father and his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer. The league investigation, which Favre has refused to address publicly, started Oct. 8.
Through it all, Favre has led his team on the field. It’s a record that Favre cherishes above all of the other achievements on his resume.
“I would love to play for no other reason than I’m in this and committed to this team,” Favre said. “I would love to get us back on track and be a part of it and more than anything, function at a level that gives us a chance to win.”
But Childress has watched him limp around team headquarters this week and turn the ball over 14 times in the first six games, one of the biggest reasons the Vikings are two games under .500 this far into a season that began with such high expectations.
The coach has said all week that the streak will not play into the decision. The Vikings need to know that Favre can protect himself in the pocket and be assured that his injury will not affect his ability to run the offense.
The notion that Jackson gives the Vikings a better chance to win than one of the best to ever play the position would have seemed laughable at the beginning of the year. Since he was drafted in 2005, Jackson has been unable to grab hold of the starting job despite several opportunities to do so, essentially forcing the Vikings to bring in Favre in 2009 to take over a team that isn’t getting any younger.
Favre brought the Vikings to the NFC title game a year ago, a performance so impressive that Childress sent Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell and Steve Hutchinson to Favre’s home in August to convince the old man to give it one more try.
But he has not been the same quarterback he was last season. His 68.0 passer rating ranks 30th in the NFL and he’s already thrown 10 interceptions, three more than he did all of last season.
Childress and Favre haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on play-calling and clashed last season when Childress tried to pull Favre from a game against Carolina.
Then there was the moment of candor after the loss to Green Bay when Childress sharply criticized Favre’s decision-making on the interceptions. The coach was also fined $35,000 for criticizing the officiating in the game.
Childress attributed his remarks to “being aggravated. That’s it. You can snap every now and then. That does happen.”
Sitting at 2-4 heading into a daunting game against the Patriots (5-1), the urgency level is rising for a veteran team that is built to win now. The Vikings have made several gambles in an attempt to chase down an elusive first Super Bowl title, including urging Favre to return and trading for Randy Moss from New England.
This season has had a now-or-never feel from the start, most notably for Favre, the perennial waffler who has said this will be his last year.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who has seen Favre play through numerous injuries during their time together in Green Bay and Minnesota, said he would be surprised if Favre did not play on Sunday.
“It’s going to take the sky to fall for him not to go out there,” added tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
But when it comes down to it, it’s head coach’s call. Right, Brett?
“I think we have been able to talk about things,” Favre said. “Do we necessarily agree? No, I think that is part of it. I think both of our intentions are to win. We’ve got to get this on track. We know that. How we get there remains to be seen.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minn., contributed to this story.