Two minutes left in the fourth. Tie ball game. The Vikings
are getting the ball on their own 20. A well-executed drive will give them the
win and punch their ticket to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.
They don’t even
need a touchdown –only a field goal. Ryan Longwell is the best in the business,
give him the opportunity to win the game and he’ll do it – the seasoned veteran
has done it plenty of times before…
Brett Favre hobbles onto the field. A picture of determination
and toughness; he’s taken a beating the whole game, surviving blow after blow
from an unrelenting Saints defensive line. A scare earlier in the contest had
him thinking his ankle was broken. Today wasn’t the day to get a broken ankle,
however, “tape it up,” he said to the trainer, “I’m going back in.”
Standing underneath center, the focus of millions of
captivated viewers, Favre is in complete control. He calls an audible, arms
outstretched, pointing to things in the defense only he can see.
He takes two grueling steps back then stretches the ball out
to his right for his Pro-Bowl running back to carry down the field through a
daunting Saints defense. Four yards.
Limping a few yards closer to his sideline, he looks fixedly
to the coaches as he’s given the next play through his earpiece. Corralling his
teammates seven yards back from the line of scrimmage Favre directs his players
with a calm that can only come from a player of his pedigree. He’s been in the
league six years longer than the second oldest player on his team – he’s looked
at as the heart of wisdom, the town elder in a village of youth.
A pass to Percy Harvin is threaded right in-between a
defensive linemen’s outstretched arms and hits him right on the money in the
middle of the field:14 yards and
a first down.
Favre jogs to the new line of scrimmage as he’s done
millions of times before. Head held high, a blank expression panning his face,
he knows what must be done. He knows that it is moments such as these that win
On his own 38-yard line, the clock at 1:40 and rolling,
Favre directs the offense from the line. It’s time to go no-huddle. The game is
entirely in his hands now. A successful drive will win him immortality; while a
drive that ends in failure will have him asking, “what could have been.”
His intense concentration drones out the roar of the
thunderous New Orleans crowd as the ball is snapped. He takes a three-step drop
and plants, but nobody is open. A defensive lineman comes around from his left-hand
side and he’s forced to leave the pocket and scramble until one of his
receivers can escape coverage. Luckily, as a saints lineman grabs him by the
ankles, Sidney Rice finds a gap in the defense and Favre is able to side-arm
him the ball as he collapses to the turf.Rice sidesteps a defender as he goes flying past him and runs up the
sideline, stiff-arming two defenders on the way, before he’s finally wrestled
out of bounds.
The ball is now at the Saints’ 46; there is 1:22 left on the
clock. The crowd is dumbstruck and silent as it watches the spectacle on the
field unfolding. Favre is now running down the field -adrenaline overpowering
any bodily pain- with his arms outstretched, commanding his troops from a
1:21… 1:20… 1:19… 1:18… The clock is winding down as Favre
gets under center once again. A quick hike of the ball has him dropping back
and hitting Percy Harvin on a quick release: A five yard gain.
1:09… 1:08… 1:07… Favre and the Vikings have one timeout left
and don’t want to use it now; ball only at the 41.
The next play, an incomplete pass down the left sideline to Bernard Berrian, sends the offense to the huddle on 3rd
down, with five yards to go for a 1st.
The clock is now stopped.
Favre and Childress meet quickly on the
sideline. Any tension that may have occurred earlier in the season is now gone
as they become united under a single goal. A quick exchange on the sideline
sends Favre back to the huddle –a leader of men- to finish of the drive and
send his team to Miami.
He needs a first down. A kick from the
41 is out of Longwells range and takes the game out of his hands: He lives for
this moment - he wants the ball.
With a quick count Favre drops back and
scans the field. The saints are sending six men on a blitz and he is forced to
roll to his right. The Saints defenders are gaining on him as the offensive
line breaks down, forcing him to throw the ball across his body to a crossing
Sidney rice. It is a grueling fastball that hits him right in the numbers: A
bull’s-eye. Carrying the ball as he continues to cross the field, Rice hurdles
a defender and runs for the sideline – finally pushed out of bounds at the
Still too far for a Longwell
gimme-shot, Favre calls a timeout. The clock, now just under :50, is stopped as
Favre and the battered Viking offense head to the sideline.Childress wants a few more yards before
he sends the kicking unit onto the field, and Favre isn’t going to deny him
that luxury –a luxury that finds it’s value in confidence.
Strolling back onto the field, the
Vikings call a run play that sends Adrian Petterson into the three hole for a
gain of 3 yards, bringing the ball to the 27.
A quick follow up once gain goes to Petterson
who takes the ball to the opposite side of the offensive line for a similar
gain. It’s now 3rd and four and Favre has time for one more pass
play to the sidelines before he has to leave the field so that the kicking team
can come on.
:25… :24… :23… “Hike!”
Favre drops back once again. Scanning
the field he sees Harvin off to his right in double coverage –a man over the
top- with Rice right underneath also covered. He quickly turns to his left (
:19… :18… :17…) and sees Berrian shooting down the left sideline and guns it to
him. Berrian, forgetting how much time is left on the clock, tries to get down
the field for more yards, breaking two tacklers, before he’s finally brought
down hard at the five, in bounds -only nine seconds left.
The next play is going to get off right
as time expires. There isn’t enough time to spike the ball and bring the kicking
unit onto the field to finish the game and secure the win. Favre is going to
have to get his team to the line of scrimmage, get them the play, and call hike
all inside a nine second window.
Favre and the offense sprint to the new
line of scrimmage. The clock is stopped until the referees reset the ball, but
unfortunately they do that before Favre and his offense have time to get set.
The Clock is winding… :04… :03… :02…
and with just over one second left Favre’s offense is finally set and he calls,
“hike,” just in time. This is going to be the last play of regulation, a
touchdown will win it, a miss will send them to overtime.
Favre’s offense has three receivers
wide and he drops back. Surveying the field he can’t find anyone open and the
pocket is collapsing around him. He doesn’t want to force the ball, but he has
to do something – If he holds it any longer he’s going to go down for a sack. So,
stepping up in the collapsing pocket he looks across the field one more time.
He doesn’t see anything. He has to try and run it. Finding a hole in the center
of the pocket he darts toward the goal line –his ankle visibly giving way with
each step- before a linebacker meets him at the one. Favre, not daunted by how
outmatched he is physically, stretches out the ball in an attempt to break the
plain and score a touchdown. Just as his knee is about to hit the ground Favre
magically finds another inch in his 6-2 frame and the ball just barely crosses
the goal line. Both line judges descend on the middle of the field running, arms raised high: Touchdown Vikings.
Getting up from the ground Favre’s
teammates and the sideline descend upon him. A heroic effort from Favre is
sending them to the Superbowl, a yearlong goal finally reached. Lost for a
second in a purple horde Favre is hoisted on top of his teammates shoulders as they
carry him off the field. Tears of joy roll down the 40–year-old veterans
battered and bruised face as he looks up towards the stands –one hand holding
his helmet high above his head, the other pointing to something in the crowd.
He’s pointing to his wife as a dream is finally realized. The game will come to
be known as the “send-off” in Minnesota – a game that sent the Vikings to Miami
where they won the Super Bowl on another Favre game-winning drive, and Favre
off the field atop his teammates shoulders: An image that will forever be
etched in sports consciousness.