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Favre's legacy intact, but he'll leave Vikings in a shattered mess

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In a week we saw a stadium roof collapse under the weight of snow, a game moved to another city, an NFL assistant tripping an opposing player on a sideline, the first playoff team determined, and races tightening, only Brett Favre could trump it all ... by not playing.

His Iron Man streak of regular-season starts ended at 297 games (321 including playoffs) Monday night. And, as luck would have it, he looks set to start another streak, this one for thre games that will most likely end his career.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that Favre got "negative" results from an exam on his banged-up shoulder that kept him out of Monday night's loss to the Giants, and that the quarterback would not likely be placed on injured reserve. This team just can't escape zany theater.

Favre's replacement, Tarvaris Jackson, sustained a turf toe injury and his status for this week's game against Chicago is questionable, according to Frazier. That leaves rookie Joe Webb as the only healthy option. So even if Favre wanted to park himself and not face Julius Peppers and the Bears, Trent Cole and the Eagles or Ndamukong Suh and the Lions over the next three weeks, the Vikings appear in position to beg him to play -- once again.

It just won't end. Frazier said Favre's availability will depend on if he can get through some intermittent numbness in his hand and manage the pain. That all but means Favre's a go. He's been numbed with pain killers so many times and played through so much discomfort it's hard not to imagine him not playing in the first NFL game at the University of Minnesota's new outdoor stadium.

Duane Burleson / Associated Press
Brett Favre's NFL-record streak for consecutive starts ended at 297 games, leaving Peyton Manning as the current leader.
Most consecutive starts, current streaks
Player Pos Team Starts
Peyton Manning QB Indianapolis 205
Ronde Barber CB Tampa Bay 180
London Fletcher LB Washington 164
Jeff Backus OT Detroit 157
Casey Wiegmann C Kansas City 156
Justin Smith DE San Francisco 152

As for Favre's streak ending, to think that any football player, let alone a quarterback, could endure for that long without missing a start is incredible. The hurts, the injuries, the glory, the thrills he's gone through to play that many consecutive games might never be properly put in context, even when he's enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Sure, Favre is a drama queen and loves him some him, but to play 20 seasons and start most of 19 in this brutal sport allows him some self-absorption.

His streak started four years after teammate Percy Harvin was born. Cell phones were shoe-box sized luxuries. Facebook wasn't created until Favre was 14 seasons into his career. Four presidents have been in office since he took over for Don Majkowski in Green Bay in 1992 and proceeded to win three consecutive MVP awards, a Super Bowl and re-write much of the NFL's passing record book.

But on Monday night, the guy we like to call The Gunslinger, couldn't even fire a blank. He looked like an old man -- he is 41 -- standing on the sideline of his team's 21-3 loss to the Giants. Images were conjured of Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform and Joe Namath in a Rams uniform -- great ones who tried to reclaim glory for an unfamiliar team but stuck around too long to do so.

Favre doesn't seem to care. He's already heard the criticism. He wants to play. And whether the Vikings wanted to shut him down for his well being, Frazier, who is trying to rack up as many wins as possible to get the interim label dropped in Minnesota or puff up his resume to outside suitors, needs him.

An NFL head coach I spoke with on Monday said when it comes to Favre, it would be difficult to see the organization not letting him drive the car around the block a few more times, assuming the wheels have air in them. After all, the coach added, they gave Favre the keys to it.

Favre will call his shot, whatever that is. He's led the Vikings out of playoff contention (10 touchdowns, 18 interceptions) and outcomes won't really make a difference, unless they spoil things for the Bears or Eagles and worsen their draft position for 2011, when a quarterback will be atop their list of priorities.

Favre's legacy is intact, just like Joe Montana's and Michael Jordan's and Wayne Gretzky's when they couldn't let go. Favre can't add to his legacy, which was built in Green Bay, the franchise he'll rep when he goes into the Hall of Fame.

His brief stint with the Jets after the ugly breakup with the Packers in 2008 was a career pit stop at best that he probably wishes now had never happpened, not with New York's late-season collapse and the Jenn Sterger investigation hanging over his head three years later.

Favre did make his mark in Minnesota, though. After tormenting the Vikings for most of his career, he came within one interception of leading Minnesota to the Super Bowl with a career season (4,204 yards, 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions). It went awry in 2010, but as poorly as he played, we found out Monday why, besides maybe pride, he kept playing -- and why nobody tried to keep him off the field, even to protect Favre from himself.

The Vikings had nothing in reserve. Jackson isn't the answer, and the rookie Webb is too young. While we often criticized the Vikings for allowing Favre to miss offseason workouts and catering to his every need, we suddenly see why. Without him they had no shot. They knew what they had in Jackson. At least with Favre, they've won four games this season.

It was an all-in gamble for the Vikings to beg Favre to come back, and it completely busted on them, perhaps symbolically along with their stadium roof. Repair work on both are needed in the days, weeks and months ahead.

From a personnel standpoint, the Vikings didn't extend a slew of key players, who might be shown the door in three weeks, seeing as though their play, or lack thereof, didn't help. They hedged their bets on Favre and he couldn't parlay another great season. He gave what he had, drama and all.

What he had wasn't anything close to what was needed, and now the Vikings, whether Favre plays another down or not, are left to pick up the pieces and start over again.

There is this, though: When Favre started his incredible run with the Packers in 1992, Minnesota swept Green Bay en route to finishing 11-5. The Vikings didn't need a great quarterback to complete them then. The proof: Rich Gannon won the opener against the Packers and Majkowski; Sean Salisbury won the season finale -- against Favre.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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