If you can get past the nagging facts in this story of a 40-year-old, self-absorbed, surgically repaired, still-injured, flipflopping quarterback who shunned training camp and manipulated his way onto the roster of the rival of the team that made him a record-breaking legend, you must come to this realization:

Brett Favre signing with the Minnesota Vikings ranks among most stunning stories in the history of sport.

If you can get past Favre signing a deal worth a potential $25 million and showing up for his introductory news conference looking like the Unabomber, if you can withhold all of the "You might be a redneck..." jokes after seeing him in his cargo shorts, gray stubble and sweat-stained golf cap, you must recognize the uniqueness of this event.

The most iconic quarterback of his generation, a player who mastered the most important and scrutinized position in sports while revitalizing the quaintest franchise in football, in two years maneuvered his way from the team that not too long ago regarded him as a deity to the team that not too long ago regarded him as Diablo.

This doesn't happen, not with a player of this fame at a position of this importance in a rivalry of this intensity.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers traded the great Jackie Robinson to the arch-rival Giants at the end of his career, he retired rather than play for the enemy. Favre now sleeps with the enemy. He even called Vikings coach Brad Childress "Chili" throughout his news conference, almost as if Favre felt like he had some job security.

This story is virtually unprecedented in NFL history. Yes, Johnny Unitas lamely wore a lightning bolt, and Joe Montana visited Kansas City, and Joe Namath took an LA vacation, but none of them signed with an arch-rival with the hopes of beating their old team twice on the way to the Super Bowl.

Favre said he wasn't motivated to return to football just to beat the Packers. Of course, he also said "I'm retired" about 89 times over the past five years.

Childress called Favre "a decent piece to the puzzle," as if he were introducing Heath Farwell. Then again, Childress also said he was done with Favre on the first day of training camp.

Whatever troubling subplots and fabrications exist in this strange relationship between Favre and his new employer, today we should take the global view. The Vikings, needing a proven quarterback to become legitimate threats to win a Super Bowl, aggressively and persistently pursued the most prolific passer in NFL history.

If Favre fails, the Vikings can't be faulted for investing money, time and patience in the one position they had failed to upgrade since Childress' arrival. If Favre succeeds, the Vikings will become the No. 1 story in the No. 1 sport in America. They will sell countless jerseys and tickets, and perhaps even raise the profile of their stadium pursuit in the Legislature.

Anyone doubting the magnitude of this story needed only look at a TV set -- or look up -- on Tuesday morning. Helicopters followed Childress and Favre as they drove to Eden Prairie from the airport. A man stood outside Winter Park wearing a parrot suit.

Security guards stood on the top of the Vikings' facility, in case Jack Bauer decided to parachute in. Fans screamed for Favre while they strained to see around or through the blacked-out fences surrounding the Vikings' practice. Hundreds lined the streets outside the Vikings' facility, hoping for a glimpse of the sweat-stained golf cap.

"I wasn't going to believe it until I actually saw him walk in the building," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I didn't really believe it when they were following him in the helicopter. We were all joking around, 'This is just a decoy.'

"It's nice that we're getting this over with now and it's not going to be a distraction when the season starts."

Oh, but it's all just starting. The Vikings haven't employed a quarterback of Favre's charisma and accomplishment since Fran Tarkenton, and even Fran doesn't measure up to Favre in terms of celebrity and statistics.

Favre is a football Elvis. We just don't know yet whether he's going to be like young, dynamic Elvis or old, decrepit Elvis.

If there were a trophy for becoming the most interesting team in the most popular league in America, the Vikings would be drinking champagne out of it today.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com