By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- "Going into the tunnel on the cart I, thought to myself for a brief second: 'What in the world am I doing?' "
A pregnant question posed from Brett Favre on Sunday night. It's a shame nobody asked if he came up with an answer. It certainly isn't "Football," plain and simple, the way he tries to make it seem.
"Here I am, 20 years in the league," he said after Minnesota's 28-18 loss to New England. "I don't know how many games . . . a lot . . . I still feel like I can play at a high level. I think what would keep most guys out for a long time obviously hasn't kept me out. Call it dumb, call it hard-headed, call it what you want -- maybe all of the above -- I love to compete."
He was outdone again this weekend.
The Vikings are now 2-5 and Favre's pride was crushed by a blow to the face in the fourth quarter. The hit by Patriots defensive tackle Myron Pryor was clean; the laceration to Favre's chin accidental. After the QB tried to get up and crumbled again to the ground, teammate Steve Hutchinson tried to pull Favre up by the back of the jersey but was waved off. Number 4 was in some kind of excruciating pain.
A groan of 'Oh, God. What now?' rumbled through the stadium.
Two trainers helped Favre to his feet and off the field. Eventually, a cart rolled him into the tunnel, away from the football game.
And so the stage was set for next week's saga. Cue the cameras.
"No, I dont want to make a big deal out of it," Favre said in the postgame.
Part of you wants to believe him. You watch him at the podium and it looks like good ol' Brett: no suit but jeans (Wranglers?), sage sweater over a charcoal tee, close-cropped hair and a six-thirty shadow on his chin. The hair is more gray now than when he took the Packers' podium, but when he talks about running bootlegs you can almost imagine him in his Green and Gold glory.
It's never just about football with Favre anymore. How about that for irony? That's why he came back in the first place: love of the game. That need to stay connected (or the fear of being disconnected) from the NFL forced Favre to forgo a graceful exit and now it's all a mess.
There's always some other dramatic element; an injury, a scandal, someone crying or lying. There are cryptic interviews given from an idling truck. At some point, the team and his regular-season streak hangs in the balance. There is a triumphant return. The cameras will pan to Deanna, hands clasped together over her heart.
Another letdown and another good reason for it.
Even as old news it's a fascinating scene. Favre knows he's screwed up (J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!). He crafts rationalizations like an addict. There's such a haze of humanity about him that a Vikings' loss can disappear in the smoke.
It did on Sunday night.
"I don't know what else to say," began one of Favre's ramblings. "I was shocked I was able to play and move around the way I was in spite of stress fractures in his foot and ankle. My prayers were answered. I wanted a chance to play at a high enough level and give us a chance to win, that was my main concern. I didn't want to play just to play. I didn't want to come in for one play, to get a start. I wanted to come in, help this team win."
He did have a solid game. Favre looked as sharp and in control against New England as he had in weeks, completing 22 passes for 259 yards. His lone interception was a ball that bounced off Percy Harvin's chest and landed in Devin McCourty's arms. More a freak play than anything.
But the Vikings didn't win and he should have had to answer for it. Instead, he was asked about his growing list of injuries and delivered a treatise about being tough.
" . . . There is nothing like competing. But, then again, there is nothing worse than losing. So weighing that, and for the physical side of it, I really can't complain. I probably should. I played with a broken foot and I am getting eight stitches in my chin and then the elbow I have been battling tendinitis. I thought I threw the ball as well as I have thrown it in quite awhile."
You catch yourself staring at his near-beard when he talks. There's still some blood around the stitches on his chin.
What was coach Brad Childress' answer about if Favre will play next week? "Let's have a little history, let's look a little bit back. You could probably venture, take a little guess, whether you thought he would go,'' Childress said. "I think he probably takes a swing at it next week."
Of course he will. Favre's strength is his weakness. The subtext in his comments aren't hard to read: I belong here. I'm tougher than anyone. Enough about mistakes. Why do you want me to fail? Every time I go down I get back up. I won't fail. You'll see.
"I didnt go through the mock game yesterday," said Favre. "I missed Wednesday and Thursday. I just went out for the last 10 minutes of practice. I don't know what to say. The foot is still broken; it is a clear break. It probably should hurt worse than it does.
"I don't know what to say. So, to be able to come out and play and to give us a chance to win and play at a high enough level, you know . . . Monday and Tuesday I couldn't even walk."
The self-defense that nobody asked for dragged on.
Eventually, he hit on playoff possibilities: "I think this team is capable of it, but I am not going to sit here and sound like Herm Edwards or Jim Mora, either. We have to win a game. No secret there."
And Randy Moss's quiet night: "If teams line up and play bump-and-run on Moss, no help over the top, I'd throw it to him every time. And we are doing some things from a route standpoint, by Randy's coverage what he is drawing, it is enabling our other guys to get open."
But the X's and O's almost sounded out of place. Nobody asked him much about playing the Patriots and he didn't have too much to say. That's just not Brett Favre's game anymore.
So what in the world is he doing?