Underwhelming, under investigation and now hobbled by a bum ankle, Brett Favre is either the toughest sonofagun ever to play football or simply the most self-absorbed.
Either way, he's daring Vikings coach Brad Childress to risk a mutiny by sitting him down Sunday against the Patriots.
Favre hasn't said as much, at least not directly, about what is expected to be a game-time decision. His latest dispatch, sent to ESPN.com on Saturday afternoon, was that his injuries had healed significantly and that he expected to start.
Then again, Favre hardly has to plead his case. His name has turned up on the NFL's weekly injury list nearly four dozen times over the last decade — with ailments stretching from the top of his head to the tips of his toes — and every one of his coaches over that span has given him the benefit of the doubt.
That's how the most venerated streak in sports reached 291 consecutive regular-season starts. The number is so daunting that even if Childress holds him out Sunday against New England, Favre's closest pursuer, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, couldn't equal it until the third game of the 2016 season.
Small wonder Favre's reputation for playing hurt has reached almost-mythic proportions and won him the unquestioned loyalty of teammates everywhere he's played.
"It's going to take the sky to fall for him not to go out there," said Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, "because he's a fighter."
Favre has done nothing to discourage that notion. If anything, he's embellished it.
"I've always had a knack for healing, I think, quicker than maybe most people," Favre said earlier this week. "I've been able to play with different types of injuries that probably most people wouldn't have attempted."
Yet none of those other coaches had more to lose by benching Favre than Childress.
His team is 2-4 and fast fading from playoff contention as the quarterback struggles through one of his most unproductive starts ever. Making matters worse, the Vikings were a popular preseason Super Bowl pick just months after losing the NFC championship in New Orleans, when another risky Favre gambit at the end of regulation failed.
Despite clashing more than once over how the Vikings offense should be run, it was Childress who doubled down. He dispatched three of Minnesota's team leaders to Mississippi during the offseason to persuade Favre to return, and may have ceded control of his locker room along the way.
Last year at Carolina, cameras caught the two barking at each other over Childress' decision to yank Favre from the game. But in a telling sign, Favre simply refused to come out. One measure of how tense the situation has grown came after last week's loss at Green Bay, when Childress uncharacteristically called out his quarterback.
The latest came Friday after practice, when Childress was asked to assess Favre's mobility.
"Better than an iron deer on the lawn," he said tersely.
Childress describes himself as "a flat-line guy," but there's no doubt he's feeling the pressure. He's thick-skinned and understated in the way tough guys from the Midwest are, but unyielding when he thinks he's right.
Yet Childress has afforded Favre more leeway than any other quarterback who ran his offense and bankrolled a five-year contract extension based largely on the results of last season. So far this season, he's had to earn every penny.
Childress knows exactly how much Favre values the streak and by contrast, how much of a gamble replacing him with unproven backup Tavaris Jackson would be. But he's fed up with the turnovers, and desperate to turn things around.
Earlier in the week, Childress was asked whether he thought about being the coach who ended the streak when he renewed his pursuit of Favre.
"You really don't go get a guy and focus about what the end play is, how he's going to die. That would be a little morbid, wouldn't it?" Childress said. "You're talking about what's going to finish. We're talking about a streak, a number, and statistics."
Actually, what we're talking about plain and simple is a power struggle between coach and quarterback. This isn't the time-tested relationship that developed between Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, or even Favre and Mike Holmgren.
"I don't want to go out there for one play; I don't want to go out there for three plays. If I am able to play, I want to play the whole game and give us a chance to win," Favre said, staking out his position.
"I know it makes for good TV talking about the streak. Will it end? Will this be the injury that stops him? Whether it ends this week or whether it ends at the end of the year, it ends."
What remains to be seen — whatever call Childress finally makes — is whether it ends the Vikings' chances of a comeback in the bargain.
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