Asked about Brett Favre’s return to the NFL for a 20th season, 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye upped the ante.
“I’m coming back!” Raye told reporters this week between 49ers practices.
True, Raye hasn’t played quarterback since he was a Michigan State senior in 1968, two years after he piloted the Spartans against Notre Dame in the epic “Game of the Century.”
But aren’t we already nestled comfortably in the theater of the absurd at this point? After dominating the sports tabloids for the third straight offseason, Favre – the Waffle King, the Drama Quarterback – found an even more sensational way to return to the game. The nation watched with bated breath as the QB and three of his former Vikings teammates and BFFs (Brett Favre Friends) flew back to Minnesota in a private jet and drove to team headquarters, pursued at low speeds by a TV helicopter.
Here at 49ers training camp, the interest wasn’t as intense.
“To be honest with you, I just speak for myself and some of my teammates, but you’re just kind of over the whole Favre thing,” linebacker Erik Wilhelm said. “If it’s not Albert Haynesworth, it’s Brett Favre. We don’t have so much downtime to watch the TV as much as some people do. Coach (Greg) Manusky and guys joke, ‘Hey, we might get Brett Favre this week!’ But it doesn’t matter for us.”
Whether it matters or not, it looks like the 49ers will indeed get Favre on Sunday. The Vikings said this week that he will start at Candlestick Park in the second exhibition game and play a series or two, ideally about 10 plays.
The 49ers, of course, have a score to settle with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. They were 2-0 when they traveled to Minneapolis for a Sept. 27 game last year, and they took a 24-20 lead at with 4:37 left on Shaun Hill’s touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis. But the Niners left too much time for Supre-Favre. He drove the Vikings down the field and won the game with an absurdly dramatic touchdown pass to little-used Greg Lewis at the back of the end zone.
This week, the 49ers were talking less of revenge and more of admiration for Favre, who had one of his finest campaigns ever last year (33 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 4,202 yards) despite turning 40 during the season. He has started 285 consecutive NFL games, a record at quarterback.
“I was doing the math, and it would be 14-15 more years for me,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think the statistic 285 games is probably the most remarkable statistic in all of sports. Hats off to Cal Ripken, but I don’t think there’s anything close to it. It’s great to see. It’s great for the NFL.”
Raye was the New York Jets’ running backs coach in 2008 when Favre was there, playing his first season post-Packers. Raye got to see the ol’ gunslinger’s arm, and note his locker-room presence, firsthand.
“He has a unique gift, as it is similar to Warren Moon when I had him at 44 (at Kansas City in 2000),” Raye said. “Those guys that have that God-given talent, that throw a football and have their arms tied to their brain, they are very unique, and the fact that he has taken very good care of himself has extended his career so he can still get out of the way. Usually what stops an older guy is the lacking of mobility and the pressure when people blitz him, but he can still get the ball out. … And his velocity is still there.”
This team knows Favre all too well. He is 12-2 against the 49ers in his career, including 4-1 in the playoffs. And one of the regular-season losses came when he was playing hurt with the Jets in December 2008.
Beating Favre in an exhibition game after a series or two of work won’t begin to heal that pain, or erase the memory of that defeat-defying throw to Lewis last season. But it would bring the Candlestick crowd a few moments of joy.
Manusky, the 49ers defensive coordinator, is hoping Favre spent plenty of time lounging on his ranch with the wife and kids during the offseason.
“I think with Brett, he’s seen every look, he’s seen every defense that has been out there, so it’s going to be hard,” Manusky said. “You’ve kind of got to fool him a little bit at times. … He hasn’t been with a group so, you know, hopefully he’ll be real rusty when he plays against us.”
It’s entirely possible that a rusty Favre can outperform a polished Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels. Which is why the old man is back for season No. 20.