"Chain of command is very important in our thing." -- Tony Soprano
In the fifth season of The Sopranos, a bunch of old-time gangsters are released from prison back into the wild of North Jersey and the greater New York City area. Feech LaManna (played beautifully by gravely voiced silver-screen vet Robert Loggia) may have been the most legendary figure among them. When it came time for Feech to approach boss Tony Soprano about getting his "action back," Tony conceded that it was no problem -- "as long as you don't step on anybody's toes," warned Big T. Basically, Tony was saying "if you can help me achieve greater glory and make me more money, it's cool as long as there's no shit on my lawn."
Of course, it didn't take long for Feech to rough up a gardener in Paulie Walnuts' territory, and mastermind a heist of dozens of foreign cars from a wedding where one of Tony's "preferred civilians" (an M.D. -- because you need one of those on the payroll when you're mobbed up) was the father of the bride. Feech quickly found out what Richie Aprile and Ralphie Cifaretto did before him -- don't cross the boss. (At least Feech got to live out his years in prison somewhere, unlike Richie and Ralphie who each wound up in about twenty different pieces strewn along the Hudson River.)
Well, unfortunately Brad Childress is no Tony Soprano, because if he were, Brett Favre would have been sitting on the bench Sunday night in Charlotte with the same sour puss that Feech had as he was getting carted back to the pokey.
The situation was this -- up 7-6 in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers, and with Favre getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of him by Julius Peppers and the Panthers defensive line, Childress apparently approached Favre about taking a seat, presumably for fear that he would wind up in traction. I don't have the transcript of the exact conversation, but apparently Favre was, um, less than enthusiastic about Childress' suggestion, told Childress he wasn't coming out of the game, and then said that if Childress didn't back the fuck away he'd make sure the Vikes coach was sent back to Sesame Street to reprise his role as Mr. Noodle's brother Mr. Noodle (okay, I made the last part up about Mr. Noodle, but you catch my drift.)
According to some reports, this is not the first time that Childress has thought about pulling Favre. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that in the last Green Bay game at Lambeau Field Childress wanted to pull Favre then, too. (Of course to be fair, if Mortensen is reporting it, then there's an equally good chance that the Vikings are about to sign the tooth fairy as Favre's new backup.)
Whatever the case has been leading up to last night, we know that against the Panthers, Childress wanted to pull Favre. How do we know? Well, because Favre, ever the egomaniac, was kind enough to throw Childress under the bus after the game:
Yeah, there was a heated discussion, I guess you would call it....We were up 7-6. Yeah, it's not 70-6, but we're up 7-6. So I said, "I'm staying in the game, I'm playing." I don't know if it was exactly to protect me, or we had seven points, I'm not sure. That's his call. But we talked it out. We didn't have time, I didn't have time to sit there and say why or what. My response was, we've got to win this ballgame and I want to stay in and do whatever I can. Now, unfortunately, I didn't do that, but that was my intention.
So basically it was "Screw you, Childress. This is my team. I'm going back in." And Childress did what he had to do....sit there and take it. Because, you see, long ago -- waaaay back in August, to be exact -- Childress ceded control of the team to Favre. He allowed Favre to waffle back and forth on whether or not he would become a Viking (leaving his other two quarterbacks twisting in the wind), then allowed him to miss most of training camp before walking right into the starting position.
In short, Childress not only didn't have the "As long as you don't step on anybody's toes" discussion. He basically dressed his entire team in flip flops and told them to stand there while Favre happily cleated them one little piggy at a time.
In order to stick up for Childress in the wake of Favre's hissy fit, you have to ignore the fact that he was about to pull his starting quarterback -- the guy who he personally forfeited control of his team to in August -- in a game that the Vikings were LEADING 7-6 in a race where the door to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs was unexpectedly thrust ajar on Saturday night when the Cowboys upset the Saints. In other words, why the fuck was he benching Favre to begin with?
If it's because of performance, his performance was good enough to have you ahead in the game. If it's for fear of injury, then go coach a tiddlywinks team. It's football. If you have to micromanage your quarterback's health to the point where you feel compelled to remove him from a game you're leading by one point in December, then give it up now.
That said, like it or not, if that's the coach's decision, the player should abide by it. But then again, the rules cease applying to Brett Favre a long time ago, and Childress can thank the guy in the mirror for that.
Brett Favre loves football, and if you don't believe me, just ask every Favre-sucking analyst and commentator that does NFL football and they'll tell you how much "fun he's having." Now, Brett Favre also loves Brett Favre, about a hundred times more than he loves football, and that will be the downfall of the Vikings this season.
We talk about "deals with the devil" all the time. Desperate to get out of the first round of the playoffs, and seemingly certain that the combination of Adrian Peterson, a stout defense, and Sage Rosenfels wasn't going to get him there, Childress inked his deal with Lucifer in August. Who knew Lucifer was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi riding a John Deere tractor in Wranglers?
At the time of the signing, my co-host John Harris and I were incredulous that Childress would let Brett Favre (who by the end of last season was throwing like Brett Somers) dictate terms to him on when he would show up for training camp. Our thought was that this could rip at the fiber of the team, and show that Childress really isn't the guy in charge.
It took four months, but that was validated -- Childress is at Favre's mercy, and so are Favre's teammates.
At the time of the signing, my thought was Favre didn't give the Vikings an incrementally better chance to win than the other quarterbacks to the point where the headache would be worth it. And John Harris pointed out, appropriately, that it will be December when we judge Favre's impact. (Of course that didn't stop Harris from making a bet with our listeners that he would buy them all a round of drinks if Favre had more touchdowns than picks this season. Ooops. Admittedly, he got caught up in the Favre-bashing moment.)
Everything leading up until December had been peaches and cream for Favre and Childress. The Vikes were 10-1 and Favre looked like the Favre of 1996. Peel a layer of the onion back and you can see they got fat on a bunch of cupcakes (bottom-five ranked schedule in the league), and had some near misses against some decent teams (San Francisco, Baltimore, Green Bay).
Now it's December 21; the Vikings are 1-2 this month, including a thrashing at the hands of then 5-8 Carolina last night. In December, Favre has three TD passes, four interceptions, and one complete undermining of a coach who is too weak to tell him to sit down.
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The time that matters started when the calendar turned to December. Cue the end-of-season Favre fade. I don't care what the standings say, the Vikings are now 1-2. Oh sure, they'll make the playoffs and even get a bye in the first round.
In fact, if the playoffs were to begin today, Minnesota is probably looking at a second-round home game against Philadelphia, who is no stranger to knocking off the Vikes in Minnesota in January. They just did it eleven months ago. If that happens again, Childress has to ask himself if it was worth totally chopping off his own nuts just to have Brett Favre as his quarterback.
After last night, he's probably already asking himself that same question.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game on the "Sean & John Show" from 3-7 PM weekdays, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.