It’s been said and spoofed that John Madden, the retired doyenne of football broadcasters, loves Brett Favre.
Suffice it to say, more than a few of the boys (and girls) in Bristol share that emotion. No. 4 reciprocated on Oct. 5, presenting ESPN and Monday Night Football with a Nielsen gift to celebrate the franchise’s 40th anniversary — cable’s all-time audience mark.
In recent off-seasons, ESPN’s legion of reporters and pundits has seemingly detailed all of the Hall of Fame quarterback’s to be or not to be a Green Bay Packer, New York Jet, or Minnesota Viking moments.
Since the old gunslinger finally decided to don the purple hat, er, helmet this summer, ESPN has been pointing to Favre facing his former mates from Green Bay on the Oct. 5 MNF. They have even sent up Favre’s should-I- stay-home-in-Mississippi-with-my-millions waffling with a SportsCenter promo heralding news of his comebacks to one or two counts, a la Paul Revere and his famous ride.
Then, ESPN was aided by the signal-caller’s last-second TD pass to Greg Lewis that toppled the San Francisco 49ers and kept the Vikes unbeaten. With those heroics, the hype hit full stride in the week leading up to his new club hosting his old at the Metrodome, where some of Favre’s magic rubbed off on the building’s soon-to-be-exiting tenants, the Minnesota Twins, which took the American League Central title Tuesday by taming the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in the 12th inning in game 163.
And the payoff was huge for ESPN: Favre playing like he was 30, and not about to celebrate the Big 4-0 on Oct. 10, was magnificent, tossing three TDs in a 30-23 Vikings’ triumph that helped set up cable’s all-time viewing record with 21.8 million watchers. Just as he expunged all of Dan Marino’s passing records, Favre helped the worldwide leader shatter its previous MNF mark, the 18.6 million who tuned in Dallas-Philly on Sept. 15, 2008.
This prognosticator took the under against the old Nielsen record, figuring the MNF combatants’ DMAs were too small to topple America’s Team, and the graybeard’s act was a tad too tired.
But I guess the storyline was just too compelling for curiosity-seekers beyond pro pigskin fans. How much did Favre really have left after the disappointing end to his one season in the Big Apple? Would his old Packer backers look to take his head off? Could Favre strike one for the everyman and exact revenge against the former employer who wronged him by no longer enabling his Hamlet act, and ultimately pushed his tyro (not David Tyree), Aaron Rodgers, under center?
Whatever the reason(s), viewers watched their boxes in droves, witnessing Favre rifle the ball like only he and John Elway could. Sitting behind almost flawless pass protection, he routinely looked Packer secondary personnel off, or pump-faked them out of position. He was never sacked, or intercepted, converting third downs with ease in a MNF performance that harkened back to his four-TD, 399-yard turn against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 22, 2003, just a day after his father died of a heart attack.
All kudos aside, the audience might have been even greater if the game had truly been competitive, deep into the fourth quarter. Or if Favre faced a two-minute drive to pull it out. Instead leading 28-14, Minnesota held Green Bay after the Packers had a first and goal at the one-yard line, with about two minutes left in the third, a stop that effectively pushed the rest of the game into garbage time.
And one can only wonder how well Fox will fare when it televises Favre’s return to Lambeau Field as a foe on Nov. 1?