MINNEAPOLIS -- There were many occasions during Minnesota's 34-3 dismantling of Dallas on Sunday when Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw up his hands in jubilation or to ignite an already blue-flamed crowd. It was Favre who led the way. The 40-year-old kid doing what he did when he was 30 and 20 and probably when he was 10.
For some reason he felt the need to explain that his emotions weren't concocted; but, after months -- actually years -- of being accused of being disingenuine, selfish, and wishy washy, he could have an inherent trigger to erase doubts.
"As long as I'm out there, the enthusiasm and the passion you see is real," Favre said after completing 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns. "I know that the guys feed off that and fans enjoy it because it's real and genuine. That, you can't fake."
Favre doesn't need to explain anything, frankly. He has his team in the NFC Championship next Sunday at top-seeded New Orleans. That's real. That's genuine. He, like his upcoming counterpart Drew Brees, took a well-earned bye week, rested and studied. They then buried opponents that just a week ago looked sensational.
Now it's Favre and the Vikings against, what is arguably, America's team. Yes, Dallas has the title and the fan base, but the Saints are a team everyone loves to see succeed, in large part because it is the maypole for a rebuilding city that still needs something to grasp.
Favre has provided that to some degree in Minnesota, as was proven by the resounding standing ovation he received when he ran off the field after crushing Dallas, pumping his fist at a crowd that used to boo and hiss when he'd show up with the Packers. Those feelings, while real and genuine, are nothing like the love New Orleans has for its football or the admiration the Fleur-de-lis helmeted Saints have spawned nationwide. Seriously, do you know many folks who root against the Saints like they do against the Cowboys?
"I told (Saints coach Sean Payton) secretly, that I'm a Saints fan," said Favre, who grew up near New Orleans in Mississippi. "Now I'm going to be involved in a game that either we go to the Super Bowl or we get knocked out."
At this point of the season, opinions of Favre are irrelevant. What he is being paid handsomely to do, win football games, has made some of his previous teeth-gnashing drama inconsequential -- until his and the Vikings' season ends and questions about another retirement become far more meaningful than they do now.
By meticulously beating a Dallas defense that had been as dominant as any defense from the past few years, Favre proved that he's been worth all the headaches, money and anything else that's accompanied his latest return in a non-Packers uniform. So what if he missed training camp or hurt backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson's feelings?
You better believe we got tired of hearing his retirement drama, but whatever, the guy has been lights out. As tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said, nobody's talking about any of that stuff now. Especially the Cowboys, a team that posted two shutouts the past three games, but couldn't stop Favre from moving his team one victory away from a Super Bowl berth.
"He is the story, the guy is amazing" Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "He knew where to go with the ball. We sacked him once the first series and he bounced right back. He knew we were going to hit him some, which we did. He fought through it."
It's not just Favre's toughness, production and caretaking of the ball that have been instrumental in Minnesota's run and its wipeout of Dallas. Shiancoe said it's Favre's experience, trust and confidence in what he does and in his teammates that has earned him 52 disciples that are cool with whatever he wants to do. If he calls an audible at the line of scrimmage, "it's the right one," Shiancoe said.
As Favre showed against the Cowboys, he's not afraid to trust players like wide receiver Sidney Rice or Shiancoe, who caught the one touchdown not hauled in by Rice. Passes that might have been called reckless throws had his receivers not come down with them were brilliant because they did.
Rice's 47-yard touchdown down the right sideline that put Minnesota up 7-0 could have fallen into the arms of Gerald Sensabaugh. But Rice wanted it more. On the second touchdown, Favre evaded a series of potential sacks then dumped off a 16-yard score to Rice, who initially was schemed to pass protect with a crack-back block on the outside linebacker. He fell down, but bounced up to find Favre sending a gift his way that he had to reach high for. The final touchdown to Rice, a 45-yarder down the left sideline in the fourth quarter that made the score 27-3, was basically a floater under duress that Rice outworked Mike Jenkins to get.
"I gave him a chance to catch it, but I can't take too much credit for that play," Favre said.
Favre's teammates have helped make him look as good as he has them. Whatever he has, his teammates want to have it too. The Vikings aren't here solely because of Favre, but they probably wouldn't be here without him. That's the word from players, and a lot of coaches on the staff.
Then again, it would be hard to imagine the Vikings being in the conference championship without a lot of players. There's defensive end Jared Allen, Rice (who looked an awful lot like Jerry Rice against the Cowboys), wide receiver Percy Harvin, running back Adrian Peterson, an offensive line that kept Favre pretty clean, and defensive end Ray Edwards.
Edwards is one of the hidden gems on the Vikings' roster, who must be accounted for even though he's the least recognizable of Minnesota's defensive front four. He quietly had 8.5 sacks in the regular season and registered three against the Cowboys. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo got so jumpy at the sight of Edwards that he fumbled twice and threw an awful interception to linebacker Ben Leber in the third quarter.
As for Romo, this was a game that would either reveal or expose him. We know how that went. Romo had been excellent until this point, but with Vikings players all over him, he just didn't deliver like Favre did. Now, he has another offseason to try and get better.
Favre, "protected the ball and led them," said Romo, sounding almost like he was envious.
Dallas beat New Orleans mind you. Handed them their first loss -- in the Superdome, no less. While the Saints probably could care less that they are playing Minnesota, you can best believe there are some folks there who wanted another shot at Dallas.
Favre and the Vikings are glad they stole the Cowboys' thunder. Had they not, Favre's relevance would have been greatly diminished, maybe even as much as when Michael Jordan came to play for the Washington Wizards after so many glory days with the Chicago Bulls.
That things are playing out the way they are, "When I look back at my career, I will remember the 40-year-old year," Favre said.