By Dan Falloon, sports reporter
The headline on this column may be misleading.
To clear up any confusion, Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre’s across-the-body toss that promptly was picked off by New Orleans’ Tracy Porter with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 28-28 definitely was not worth it.
No, the question is if Favre retires—and stays retired—was the fulfillment of one year of his two-year contract worth the fallout in future seasons?
While the initial answer may seem like a resounding “yes,” since coming within an eyelash of a Super Bowl berth is a special occurrence, this year’s edition of the Vikings was built to win it all.
Fortunately for the Vikings, they didn’t give up anything tangible to acquire Favre as is the case with playoff-bound teams across the professional ranks picking up a rental player or two at the trading deadline in hopes of putting up a title challenge that season.
That doesn’t mean the Vikings didn’t risk mortgaging their future, though.
Former No. 1 pivot Tarvaris Jackson, a 26-year-old in his fourth season in purple, held a clipboard for much of the year. The Vikings’ second-round pick in 2006 made only 21 pass attempts, 14 of which he completed.
Although Jackson also was a back-up for parts of 2008, he appeared to turn a corner when starter Gus Frerotte was lost to injury. He posted a 2-1 record in the last three games of the season, helping the Vikes fend off the Chicago Bears for the division title.
While Jackson may not be the answer at quarterback, it’s getting to be the time that Minnesota answers that question. Twenty-one pass attempts when he should be entering his prime isn’t enough to determine that.
Before signing Favre, Minnesota traded for Houston’s Sage Rosenfels, who showed flashes with the Houston Texans in 2008, completing 116 of 174 passes and nearly spearheading an upset of the Indianapolis Colts.
The 31-year-old was expected to challenge for the starting job, but was bumped to No. 3 on the depth chart after Favre was anointed as the starter.
Rumours are swirling that the Vikings may make a pitch for longtime Philadelphia Eagles’ pivot Donovan McNabb, who may need a change of scenery to jumpstart his career.
McNabb, 33, likely has a few good years left, and acquiring him would be a boon for the Vikings. It effectively would answer the Jackson question—leaving him to either accept the back-up role or ask the Vikings to let him ply his trade in different colours.
But if Jackson and Rosenfels are the two-headed monster behind centre entering 2010, they’ll face a formidable challenge. Earning the No. 2 seed sets Minnesota up with a tougher schedule for the season—one that will make it hard to expect a repeat of a 12-4 season.
With Aaron Rodgers finding his groove in Green Bay, and as-yet untapped potential of Jay Cutler in Chicago, the Vikings may be in tough to be the third-best offensive team in their own division without Favre.
On the other hand, if Adrian Peterson finds the cure for “fumble-itis” in the off-season, allowing Minnesota to ride the former rushing leader to the end zone, then things may not be so bad.
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe looked cool under pressure in the NFC championship game Sunday night while top offensive rookie Percy Harvin and breakout receiver Sidney Rice should continue to develop. But their talents will be rendered moot if Jackson and/or Rosenfels struggle to get them the ball, and as talented as Peterson is, it’s hard to see him nearly exclusively carrying the offence to a Super Bowl championship.
With arguably the league’s best lines on both sides of the ball, Minnesota was too talented to hold back from making a legitimate run this season, which they accomplished.
But if Favre hangs up his cleats for good, or retires and then knots them back up with someone else, the Vikings’ quarterback situation is right back where it was a year ago—except with a pair of jilted quarterbacks who spent the last season gathering dust.
• • •
Last week was a fairly easy one for sports columnists as a couple of no-doubter story ideas fell right into our laps.
Rather than beat a dead horse, however, I’ll just pay my respects with a couple of quick hits.
First, a pair of junior hockey players, Windsor’s Zach Kassian and Rouyn-Noranda’s Patrice Cormier, both were handed lengthy suspensions for violent hits in recent OHL and QMJHL games, respectively.
Kassian, a Buffalo Sabres draft pick, got 20 games while Cormier, property of the New Jersey Devils, was banished for the rest of the season, including playoffs.
Good on these leagues for handing down stiff penalties for dangerous plays, and it’s welcome that they’re setting an example where an intent to injure resulting in a serious injury results in a lengthy suspension. For cases where a clear intent to injure exists, the fairly black-and-white system I’d like to see is a culprit sitting out for as many games as a seriously-injured victim.
The one caveat is that if the victim gets off lucky, the offender should not.
Cormier’s punishment may be even more severe given police are investigating whether charges should be laid. It’s a tough call, and as an armchair referee, it’s one that I’m not qualified to make.
But if the authorities find enough evidence to lay a charge, I’ll throw my full support behind that decision.
While there’s an understanding that minor infractions can be dealt with by a league, situations with serious injuries and a clear intent to injure need to be looked at by police, at the very least. A serious assault is a serious assault.
It’s been said and written and typed so often over the last two or so weeks, but it’s worth saying again. The sooner these cheap shots get out of the game, the better.
Now, if only the pro leagues took the lead of the junior ranks.
• • •
Softball topic no. 2 came courtesy of Don “Moose” Lewis, a former boxing promoter who intends to start an all-American, all-white basketball league.
Lewis said in a press release that the new league isn’t based on racism, but wants to be based more on fundamentals than the “street ball” of the NBA. And that’s because non-white, non-American-born players wouldn’t be able to adapt to a few rule changes to alter the game, obviously (end sarcasm).
My initial reaction is that Lewis will have trouble finding financial footing for the league, or at the very least find enough appropriate venues for games. But if enough people either want to openly associate with the league, or feel strongly enough about “basketball fundamentals” to contribute anonymously, and the All-American Basketball Association does get off the ground, then, my goodness, are we in trouble.
Lewis’ attempts to defend the league came up wanting as he appeared on a show with African-American radio host Bomani Jones, fumbling when Jones pressed him on the race question.
While Jones credited Lewis for coming off as more intelligent than he was expecting, that might not be saying a lot. The call from here is that Lewis should have kept his mouth shut and let us think he’s an idiot, rather than running his mouth and confirming it.
The interview itself actually is a compelling listen for anyone interested in the story, and is easy to find online by searching “Bomani Jones interviews Don Lewis.”