MINNEAPOLIS -- We love a tough guy, willing to play hurt for the team. It's about an honest effort, a competitive spirit, and a willingness to show that he's not in this for money and spotlight but for something bigger.
Brett Favre is the NFL's ultimate ironman, and that had to be about more than just luck of avoiding injury. It said something about who he was, who he is.
But what he did Monday night in the Vikings' 40-14 loss to the Bears, playing hurt in a meaningless game in dangerous conditions, well, that was just plain dumb.
Especially at his age.
And level of brittleness.
Favre is getting in the way of his own safety now, if not his legacy. He left the game in the second quarter with a concussion, and spoke slowly afterward, with glassy eyes.
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"I kind of went blank there for a while,'' he admitted. "I wouldn't say it was necessarily the hit. It was when I hit the turf.''
Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier was a co-conspirator Monday night, starting Favre two days after he was declared out with a shoulder that was too sore to throw beyond 10 yards.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was a co-conspirator, too, allowing the game to be played on this field, after the Vikings' usual dome collapsed. Player after player warned that the field at the University of Minnesota was far too dangerous, frozen solid without heating coils underneath.
They all but called Goodell a hypocrite. He has claimed all year that he was worried about players getting concussions, and then he let them bang their heads on a frozen field. What would happen, someone asked Goodell before the game, if a player were to be seriously hurt and the field were responsible?
"You're asking a lot of hypothetical questions,'' he said. "We've been working hard trying to make sure this playing surface is a safe surface, and we think it is.''
A few hours later, one of football's all-time greats was lying in a heap on that safe surface after banging his head on it. He was body slammed early in the second quarter by Bears defensive end Corey Wootton, whose name now goes into sports trivia.
Who finally knocked Brett Favre out of his career?
It was a big moment for the Bears, who clinched the NFC North division title. Coach Lovie Smith saved his job. Quarterback Jay Cutler made it to the playoffs for the first time in his career, and now has a chance to prove that he can be a star.
Favre overshadowed it all, sitting on the sidelines bundled up, looking confused.
For God's sake, Brett, please just move on. Nothing more to prove. Nothing more to do. He looks like a horse they're getting ready to shoot. And it's sad, frightening and even a little gruesome watching him continue.
Will he finally leave?
"I don't know with this concussion,'' he said. "Based on my decision-making, I probably shouldn't tell you one way or the other right now.''
This has been such a freakish year for Favre, and for the Vikings. Favre returned, and Randy Moss came and went. Favre had his sexting scandal; Goodell is still investigating whether those were Favre's private parts in the picture sent to ex-Jets sideline bimbo Jenn Sterger.
Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, the head coach was bumped out, the roof at the Metrodome came down after a snowstorm, and Favre finally missed a game. By mid-week, the Vikings were actually scouring Craigslist for a quarterback who might start Monday.
OK, maybe that's not where they looked.
But then came this week's issues, with the field at Minnesota and another storm.
A few hours before the game, I walked out onto the field to see how solid it was. A facilities worker said they had put heaters under a tarp for a day, warming up the field to 40 degrees.
As he said it, at least three plows and tractors were on the field, and guys with leaf-blowers.
Four other workers crouched around the 18-yard line, pounding away at the ice with mallets and hammers. Ice chips hit me in the face.
The field didn't seem particularly hard, but very slippery and inconsistent. It felt like a drenched shag carpet.
Vikings receiver Sidney Rice was checking out the field, and I asked him how it felt. "Tough,'' he said. "It's tough.''
Fans were piling into the place. Thousands had waited outside early because the Vikings were allowing them to sit where they wanted, first-come, first-served. Fans seemed nostalgic about an outdoor game in the kind of weather that the Vikings used to be known for.
Those fans didn't seem too concerned for the players.
"They should be willing to play in G-strings,'' Mel Perry said, "for the kind of money they make.''
From here, the players have a legitimate beef. During the week, the Vikings' front office warned players to stop complaining about the field.
Goodell apparently didn't want to listen, either.
Frazier defended his decision to let Favre play, saying that Favre had recovered from injuries to perform well throughout his career. But when I asked him what his quarterback's symptoms were, he said, "Just being a little foggy. We were talking about situations, and I just knew then that it probably wouldn't be wise for him to go back into the ballgame.''
I thought Favre would walk away a few weeks ago after losing to the Packers. After the game, he seemed resigned to it all being over. He probably has felt that way most of the year.
So give him credit for sticking with the team.
But time's up.
"If you play long enough, you're going to get your bell rung, whether early in your career or late in your career,'' Favre said. "I'm surprised it hasn't happened any more than it did.
"Or maybe it has. I have no idea.''
Bell rung, foggy, went blank. These are not terms to take lightly. Favre is 41 now, and broken down. He stayed one year too long.
And these last two games just aren't worth the risk.
Time to move on, Brett. It was a job brilliantly done.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch
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