Brad Childress couldn't help himself. Thirteen questions into a rapid-fire post-practice news conference Tuesday morning, the Vikings coach slowed the pace. "I feel like this is Watergate," he said. "Have I done something wrong? Lord have mercy!"
Childress was paying the price for employing Brett Favre as his quarterback. Favre, who has officially retired twice and once had an advertising campaign built around his indecision, was at it again Tuesday.
After texting teammates and team officials that he was ready to call it quits, the star player issued no official statements from his compound in Hattiesburg, Miss., leaving the media scurrying, as usual, for clues to his next step.
According to NFL sources, the Vikings' pitch to bring back Favre now includes an offer that could pay him $20 million -- $16 million guaranteed, plus incentives potentially worth another $4 million. Favre was scheduled to make $13 million this season.
Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe admitted Favre had "told a couple of guys on the team that he was going to retire," but the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald reported an unnamed person close to Favre's family said he hadn't made a decision whether to play a second season with the Vikings.
Childress, caught in the middle, referred to the situation as "fluid" and said he was "not aware" of any retirement message sent by Favre.
Childress reiterated that he isn't pressing Favre for a decision and did not dismiss the possibility that Favre could return during the regular season.
Said Shiancoe after the Vikings' second practice of the hot, humid day: "[Favre] hasn't told me yet -- I'm going to check my phone right now -- but it hasn't been said publicly yet, so I don't know what to believe."
Favre began informing select Vikings officials on Monday night, according to multiple NFL sources, that his left ankle wasn't responding to the surgery he underwent in late May and that he was going to announce his retirement in a press release Tuesday.
This sent the Vikings scrambling to try to persuade Favre that he didn't need to make such a hurried decision. The Vikings ownership group was in town and the morning practice featured a scene in which principal owners Zygi and Mark Wilf huddled with team vice presidents Rick Spielman, Rob Brzezinski and Kevin Warren on the sideline on more than one occasion.
Discussions between the Favre camp and the Vikings are expected to continue; Zygi Wilf declined to comment during the Vikings afternoon practice at Minnesota State University.
Favre holds a trump card in contract talks, in part because ownership knows its odds of getting traction for a much-desired new stadium increase greatly with the presence of the future Hall of Famer. In his first season with the Vikings in 2009, Favre led the team to a 12-4 record, a second consecutive NFC North title and a berth in the conference championship game, where they lost in overtime to the New Orleans Saints.
"I don't know about it being disappointing but it definitely will be a blow to the team," if Favre doesn't return, Shiancoe said. "It will be a setback."
Favre, who will turn 41 on Oct. 10, had one of the best seasons of his career last year, throwing for 4,202 yards (his best total since 1998), 33 touchdowns (his best since 1997) and a career-low seven interceptions.
He took a beating in the NFC title game, injuring his thigh and ankle, and has spent the offseason trying to decide whether to return for a 20th NFL season. Childress did not push Favre for an answer on his future and the hope was he would join the Vikings after they break training camp in Mankato Aug. 12.
That's what made Tuesday's news surprising. Favre went through a nearly identical dance with the Vikings last year when he called Childress one day before training camp to say he wasn't going to end his retirement to come to Minnesota.
Favre had undergone surgery on a torn biceps in his throwing arm in the spring and felt his body couldn't take the grind of another season. Favre, however, changed his mind on Aug. 18 -- after the team had broken camp in Mankato -- and signed a two-year, $25 million deal with the Vikings.
That roller-coaster ride was one reason the Vikings have seemed so confident Favre would return in 2010, despite having a third surgery on his left ankle. While Favre expressed doubt in recent weeks about his recovery, Childress came away encouraged about Favre's mobility and arm after the two visited last month in Hattiesburg.
"I said this a couple weeks ago," Childress said. "It wouldn't surprise me one way or the other, whether he elects to play or whether he elects to retire. I think all of us can live with it either way. The big thing is that he is at peace with it. He's a competitive guy. He's been doing it for 20 years. ... I've mentioned before that he's got to feel like he can jump all in. He's not a half-baked guy."
If Favre does retire, the Vikings' starting quarterback would be Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson, who has been taking the majority of the reps with the first team in training camp, has a 10-10 record as a starter in four years, including 0-1 in the postseason.
The Vikings' desire will remain that Favre reverses course once again -- would anyone be surprised? -- and eventually joins them. "Hopefully, we'll see him when we get back to Winter Park," Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen said. "If it doesn't happen, he had a great career. I enjoyed being his teammate and actually enjoyed playing against him as well."