Hundreds of fans flocked to the Vikings practice complex late Tuesday morning, awaiting his arrival. Satellite trucks and cameras littered the grass just across the street from Winter Park. Security was stationed in the parking lot and on the roof. A helicopter hovered.
And then at 12:10 p.m., the focus of long flirtation arrived.
Brett Favre was a Viking.
Coach Brad Childress ended a summer of anticipation when he pulled his black SUV into the parking lot, with Favre perched in the passenger seat. Fans jeopardized their well-being by racing across the small street en masse to chase Childress' Escalade into the parking lot. A single Eden Prairie police officer tried to maintain control. It was of little use.
Three weeks after Favre told Childress he had decided to remain retired -- and nearly four months after the Favre-to-the-Vikings talk began -- the player considered to be the final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle was on board.
"I completely dismissed it," wide receiver Bobby Wade said of Favre speculation that constantly swirled. "I didn't think it was an opportunity."
Favre, the villain in these parts during his 16 seasons in Green Bay, now seems to be a conquering hero to all those craving No. 4 purple jerseys. Just over an hour after his arrival, Favre had a two-year, $25 million contract in place -- it includes $12 million guaranteed this season -- and was on the practice field.
By early evening, Favre and Brad Childress -- "Chilly," as Favre repeatedly referred to him -- were standing on a podium in the Winter Park fieldhouse, trying to explain how something that took months to end with Favre deciding to stay retired had been rekindled in the course of a day.
"All I want to do is win," said Favre, who won a Super Bowl and three MVP titles while in Green Bay. "That's all I came back for is to win. There's nothing like it. For guys who have played this game -- and sports in general, former players, guys in the latter part of their careers -- they'll tell you it's tough. There's no substitute for playing on Sundays. You can't find that. That's what I'm here for."
Childress, entering the fourth season of a five-year contract, is in a similar boat when it comes to craving victories. The Vikings have gone from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 in Childress' first three years and last season won the NFC North before bowing out with a first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia. But Childress' teams have never been set at quarterback.
Childress is banking Favre will be able to change that, despite the fact that he will turn 40 on Oct. 10 and that he had surgery on the biceps tendon in his throwing arm (the right) in May. Favre found out after that procedure that he also had a tear in his rotator cuff, but he was told by noted surgeon James Andrews that he should be able to play with it.
We should begin to find out Friday night, when Favre is expected to play in the Vikings' preseason home opener against Kansas City at the Metrodome.
In late July, Favre called Childress to tell him that he didn't think he could play at a level that was acceptable. After spending last season with the New York Jets following an ugly exit from Green Bay that began with his retirement in March 2008, Favre had decided in February that his biceps injury was too much to overcome.
But when the Jets released Favre from their reserve/retired list in late April, rumors began to swirl that he was headed to the Vikings. The Vikings had been Favre's top choice last summer, but the Vikings' arch-rivals weren't going to allow that to happen. It became more than rumors when the Vikings confirmed their interest in Favre.
Favre, who holds numerous NFL passing records, surprised many with his decision to remain at home in Hattiesburg, Miss. It was equally surprising to find out Tuesday morning that one of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf's private planes was in Hattiesburg to pick up Favre and deliver him to Childress, who was waiting at Holman Field in downtown St. Paul.
That came after Childress placed a call to Favre on Monday to take one final shot at getting the future Hall of Famer on his roster.
"I can be persistent at times," Childress said of his final phone call to Favre. "I just felt like it was a small window that we had to reconsider adding him potentially to our football team. I can't tell you, I can't quantify for you how long was too long, or how long wasn't enough. I knew we had a month left now and just thought it was a small window. We're still in training camp, and once again the worst he could say is no."
Working in Childress' favor had been the reaction of Favre's daughter, Breleigh, 10, three weeks earlier. Favre said Breleigh remained neutral on the subject of him playing again until the news broke that he was going to stay retired.
"After the news broke, she started crying," Favre said. "Anybody that's got children -- I can be chased by five defensive lineman and it doesn't scare me, but when my daughter cries, it softens me up. And she said 'Daddy, I wanted you to go back and win one more Super Bowl.' And I said 'Oh, why didn't you tell me before?' And she said 'Well, I didn't want to make that decision for you.'
"It's amazing what you learn from your children. She said, 'Can you go back?' And I said, 'Well, it's too late.' So I found myself this morning tearing up as I brought her to school and she said, 'Daddy, it's going to be fine. You go up there and do what you've got to do. We'll be up there soon enough.' I think I made the right decision, I really do. Time will tell. All I can say is I'm going to do the best I can."
A surreal day
Vikings players, like many of the team's fans, followed Favre's journey from the St. Paul airport to Winter Park -- he and his wife, Deanna, were picked up in the plane by owners Zygi and Mark Wilf -- by watching on television. Many of them also had found out at the last moment that Favre was coming, and as they looked out the cafeteria windows at Winter Park they saw the chaos across the street.
Asked about the media pursuit of his car, Childress said: "I think [Favre] got a couple of texts from people saying they felt like they were watching the O.J. [Simpson] chase. If I would have driven my son's white car perhaps that would have been similar. But we were kind of involved in our conversation to the extent that I missed [Hwy.] 169 and had to come up the 494 [exit] to come around."
What the two were discussing wasn't clear, but it could have been the Vikings' offensive system, one with which Favre is extremely familiar. Favre's lack of familiarity with his teammates, however, was obvious on Tuesday. As he emerged from the locker room and walked onto the practice field, Favre shook hands with linebackers Ben Leber and Chad Greenway. He eventually made his way over to the quarterback group and exchanged greetings with Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and John David Booty. Jackson and Rosenfels had been expected to compete for the starting job but now will battle to be the backup.
"You earn respect with these guys, and that is what I intend to do," Favre said. "Jokingly, Coach Childress asked me after practice, 'Traditionally here we have the new guys say their name and where they are from and something unique about yourself.' I said, 'I am Brett from Hattiesburg, Miss. I am the only one on this team born in the '60s.' That kind of broke the ice a little bit, but the guys have been great."
As practice opened, fans in a parking lot above one of the fields attempted to duck below a tarp obstructing their view to get a look at Favre.
The Wilfs watched it all, smiles on their faces. The knowledge that the Vikings had sold 8,000 single-game tickets and 2,500 season-tickets in a matter of hours Tuesday didn't hurt. This part of the circus was just starting, but at least the chase had ended.