Minnesota sports history is filled with extreme highs, crushing lows, colorful personalities, amazing moments and haunting questions of "what if …"
But you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger story — one that combines all those aforementioned elements — than the arrival of Brett Lorenzo Favre with the Vikings.
The quarterback swoops into town that summer on a gorgeous Tuesday, setting off a frenzy, and then signs with his longtime rival — in the year he turns 40, after being cut, no less? And then he takes the Vikings within a whisper of the Super Bowl? Then it all falls apart, and his old team wins the Super Bowl without him? You couldn't write a more compelling script, and that barely scratches the surface of what happened.
Sunday is the 10-year anniversary of the day Favre arrived at the Vikings' former training facility in Eden Prairie, with a helicopter, media members, fans and even a guy in a parrot suit giving chase. Yes, it really has been 10 years.
The Star Tribune's Michael Rand spent the summer constructing an oral history of Favre's arrival, and all that came before and after that day unlike any other. All interviews were conducted either in person or on the phone except with Favre himself, who responded to questions via e-mail.
Hold on tight. It's a bumpy ride.
Former Vikings head coach
If you go back the year before that, I remember having a conversation with [Eagles] coach [Andy] Reid when they beat us in the playoffs and he said, 'You know, if you get your quarterback thing straightened out, you have a hell of a football team.' I wanted to say, 'It's not for not trying.' I mean, from Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Gus Frerotte and you could probably fill in all the other ones, we traded for Sage Rosenfels. But anyhow, it was all about getting that position right.
Starting quarterback candidate before Favre arrived
I really worked a trade and probably sort of burned some bridges in Houston that February or March to get to Minnesota to compete with Tarvaris to be the starter. It was really the first time in my career I really had the chance to even be the starter. I had always been the third guy or second guy leading up to that point. I had played a lot in Houston and played pretty well. This is really my big shot. I took some risks to go up there and try to have a shot at being a starter. I knew at the very worst I'd be the backup if I lost out to Tarvaris.
Former Green Bay and Vikings kicker as well as Favre's close friend
Honestly, I remember when the Jets cut [Favre] and I was already in Minnesota and had been there a couple of years at that point. I remember him calling me and for 45 minutes or an hour we had a conversation about what it was like as far as being a Packer and then going to the Vikings. What it was like with the transition, what it was like going back to Lambeau, what it was like playing the Packers. What was it like? Because there were only a few of us in the world who would have had a long enough tenure in Green Bay to make it relevant to what it's like. He said, 'Well what do you think?' The Jets had cut him outright so he was free to sign with anybody. The original trade to the Jets had that no-NFC North clause, but now he was free to go anywhere. I shared with him my experience and what it was like going back to Lambeau, and of course it was 70,000 boos at the top of their lungs, and you're more famous than I ever was or will be, so I think you can ramp that up, but ultimately they're just cheering for their favorite color and you're not wearing it anymore. That's what it would be like. He said, 'Well, there's an opportunity. Let's just see how it goes.' That kind of started the thing. Really it was all the way through the summer, just texting and talking.
I remember actually getting in a car and driving to Chicago in May  for Mother's Day to see my mom because I didn't feel like I could go through the airport or want to go through the airport because things were swirling.
Former Green Bay, N.Y. Jets and Vikings quarterback
My main concern was my right biceps and the fact that in order to play I had to surgically repair it — and at Year 19, did I really want to do that? And if so, could I honestly be good enough to lead the team to a championship? I had major doubts during that time.
Even when he was with the Jets I talked to him all the time because we're close friends. I knew he had an arm problem in New York and that physically there was a question. I'd just never seen anyone like him. I mean honestly I still haven't. There are guys who have won more Super Bowls and have a higher winning percentage, but I've just never seen anybody out of the gate, first throw of the day every day can be a 100-mile-an-hour fastball. I've just never seen it. So I never felt like the arm problem was going to be career-ending. And I could tell from our conversations that he felt like it was more of a bump in the road than a career-ending thing.
For me, I really felt like he was in it to obviously play the Packers twice and rehabilitate his image from the Jets — the way things finished [there]. I don't think he wanted to let it finish on that note. And then it was a bonus; I mean there was a reason Green Bay traded him to the Jets. They didn't want him in the NFC. Little did they know that the Jets were going to pick Mark Sanchez and Brett was going to be on the street. And then we were going to try to move heaven and earth to get him on our team. I don't think he seriously considered anybody else except coming to the Vikings.
Former Vikings beat writer and current columnist
It was a three-month, I don't know if it was an ordeal, but Judd [Zulgad] and I were on the beat and we basically didn't take vacation. Ed Werder was really close to Favre's camp and Favre, and it felt like every other day something was coming out from ESPN and Ed Werder. There were questions about his arm, reports that he was throwing with the high school kids, that he was waffling. There were probably a dozen updates that summer back and forth. There was one where the Vikings gave him a deadline, then came out and said there was no deadline. Favre at one point did say they need an answer by training camp. So by the eve of camp, he had called Childress and said he wasn't going to play and that his arm couldn't handle it.
I don't want to put words in his mouth … he felt like he was wronged at the end by the Packers and felt he had good years left. He didn't know if it was one, two, three or 10, but that there was unfinished business. That was his mind-set, I felt, through the whole thing. I think there was one conversation where he said where are Sarah and I living, what was the commute? More of those granular things. Then I'm like, all right, this is turning the corner in the right direction.
The Star Tribune did a compilation video of me and Judd during those three months. He's going to play, he's not going to play, he's going to play, he's not going to play, and second to last one was Favre calls Childress on the day before training [camp] and tells him he can't play. And the next one is the day he gets there.
I think I ended up driving out to the airport, one of the private aviation places, I just kind of sat and waited because I had an idea from the pilot — it was Zygi's pilot [owner Zygi Wilf] — what time they were going to hit the ground. I have to go on the record and say this. I was kind of demonized for driving out and picking him up from the airport. I'm from the Midwest, and when somebody comes to the airport and you want to make them feel at home, you pick them up. It's not like I was a valet service or something, but I knew he was coming with [his wife] Deanna. And you don't get a second chance at an impression. And we were getting to know each other at the same time as well. I didn't know it would be like the O.J. Bronco deal, you know, with the helicopters hovering and following you every step of the way.
I was texting him as we were watching the O.J. thing, the helicopter with the Suburban or whatever it was. Chilly had told us beforehand that he was going to pick him up, that we got him. We were excited. I was excited to have a friend back.
We're at practice, and I really hadn't thought about or heard any rumors that we might sign Brett or anything like that. I don't want to say it's a shock because it's the NFL and nothing's a shock, but it was news to me when the rumors that we were signing Brett Favre happened that day. The moment itself, I remember being in a meeting that morning and Brad Childress pulled Tarvaris and I and John David Booty out of the meeting, brought us into another room and told us we were signing Brett Favre.
We found out not really early but maybe 9ish it was being reported that they were flying down to get him. At that point, it's like it's on now. For all the 'Is he? Is he not?' he's not flying up here if he's not playing. At Winter Park, the media room was in a building across the street from there. It started getting filled with reporters. Then we thought, let's go wait on the street, and TV trucks used to park on the street. We're out there, and the plane lands, and one of the TV stations had a TV monitor and so you can see the helicopter chasing him. People started coming. Fans, there must have been 200. The Vikings sent out their security people and a police car came. And there's reporters, fans, we look down the street and there's a guy in a full parrot costume from some restaurant. He stood on the corner in a parrot costume holding a sign above his head. We always joke that it was us and a parrot waiting on Favre.
We had a good conversation [on the drive]. Me pointing out, 'Hey, there's the Mall of America.' We're driving down the road, trying to give him some bearings, but who knows what's sticking and not sticking. We go out to Winter Park, pretty easy ride. And then I remember you could hear the helicopter and either [Favre] or Deanna looked up above and had seen it, and I said yeah, it's kind of a big deal today for Minnesota Vikings fans. Little did we know that when we pulled into Winter Park people would be hanging over the sides of roads trying to get a peek like the president was coming in. Then we came in and made a left to get away from the fanfare and went down around the back way to enter the building. We walked up the back steps, and as luck would have it here comes Percy Harvin from the cafeteria, and that was the first person Brett met. Brett said to him, 'Hey, I heard great things about you. Make me look good.' Big smile on Percy's face, of course. He was spoiled playing anywhere in his first year in the NFL with Brett Favre as his quarterback. He ended up being Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Talking to [the players] later, they were all in the cafeteria having lunch when he got there, and they were watching the O.J. chase on the TV. Visanthe Shiancoe called it Favre-a-palooza. You see Childress picking him up, and you see them coming up the street and the fans storm the car. Cars are stopping in the middle of the road, Childress had to stop because fans were swarming his car. Police are like, 'Get back! Get back!' Favre is just waving and smiling that smile. It was berserk. I mean, the whole thing of Favre playing for the Vikings and fans storming the car.
I remember being at lunch that day in the cafeteria, sitting at the same table as [Ben] Leber, Jared Allen, and all of us watching TV as the Bronco, whatever, very much like the O.J.-esque scenario, helicopter following a car and all you can see is the arm of a mysterious person inside. It was one of those situations that could have been super awkward, but I guess it wasn't awkward for me as I sat and talked to Leber and Chad Greenway about it. I said, 'This guy is coming. There goes my chance to be a starter' — super awkward, right? But it wasn't. Because I could see why they would do that. We have a Super Bowl-caliber team. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, still has a lot left in the tank. If I was in their situation, I would do the same thing. Not to say Tarvaris or I couldn't have led that team to the playoffs, but this guy had been there and done that so many times. It was the best play on their end so I wasn't upset that they made that signing.
I had been around [Steve Hutchinson] and Jared [Allen] and those guys, and I knew how well Brett would add to the locker room. I knew they'd love him. I knew it would be instant. We just kind of watched it on TV. It was kind of the circus had come to town. But more than that, we had an ally in the locker room. It was instant change.
Favre comes out a couple hours later. He didn't have a purple [jersey] because quarterbacks wear red at practice. And you're thinking wow here we go, this is something you thought you'd never see.
I'll take you to the first practice — him signing his contract and walking out there and seamlessly knowing our language. Having spoken, let's say, English in Green Bay, he goes to New York and he's speaking French. I talked to [former Vikings and Jets fullback] Tony Richardson about it and said, 'Does he still have it, Tony?' And he said, 'Oh, Coach, there's no doubt about it.' I'm not sure he ever really took time to learn the playbook [with the Jets] or anything like that, which I don't think he did, but to be coming back speaking English was big. I said, 'Do you know X-Y hook, that's the first play on the script?' Yeah, that's no problem. He jumps right in the huddle, command voice comes on. And he puts on a hard count. When everybody gets up there the first time and he barks out the first signals everyone is kind of looking at each other like, 'Wow, that's what that's supposed to sound like, huh?' Then he zips a pass and everybody goes: Baby, we're in business.
Illustrations by Rafa Alvarez Special to the Star Tribune