The fantasy about Brett Favre, the one perpetuated by many pigskin "pundits" and football fans, is that he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the game. In fact, some do believe that he's the "missing link" between another disappointing season for the otherwise talented Vikings and a Super Bowl championship.
The Minnesota organization certainly believes that he's the missing link, or they wouldn't have courted the aging quarterback -- he's older than Leif Erikson in football years -- for the past several months, finally signing him in an act of desperation three weeks into training camp.
But the fantasies that surround Favre and his legions of media apologists conflict with reality. They conflict, in other words, with the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The truth is that for most of the past decade, promising teams have been hijacked by critical Favre mistakes, typically in close games and big games. It's more than a trend at this point. These mistakes are part of the Favre DNA.
Here are several fantasies that have surrounded Favre in recent years, countered with a heavy dose of reality and Cold, Hard Football Fact.
Jan. 20, 2002
The reality: The Packers have a shot to reach the conference championship game for first time since the 1997 season if they beat Rams in the divisional round.
The Favre apologist fantasy: The 12-4 Packers were no match for the 14-2 Rams
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Rams edged out the 11-5 Eagles by just five points in the conference title game and lost to the 11-5 Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Packers easily could have beat the Rams if Favre had not thrown 6 picks – tying the single-game NFL record for postseason picks last matched by a passer back in 1955.
Jan. 4, 2003
The reality: The 12-4 Packers were again one of the best teams in football, playing at home against the tepid 9-6-1 Falcons.
The Favre apologist fantasy: Favre walks on water.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Favre sinks like a lead weight, reserving one of his worst performances of the year (20 of 42, 47.6%, 247 yards, 5.9 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT, 54.4 rating) for when it matters most in a 27-7 loss. It was Green Bay's lowest offensive output of the season and the franchise's first-ever home playoff loss.
Jan. 11, 2004
The reality: The Packers need to produce just one drive in overtime to beat the Eagles and then battle the Panthers for a chance to go to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The Favre apologist fantasy: The Green Bay Favrers defense let Brett down when they surrendered a miracle 4th and 26 completion by Donovan McNabb in the fourth quarter, allowing the Eagles to tie the game.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: On Green Bay's first play of overtime, Favre promptly tossed a bad pass into the hands of Eagles defender Brian Dawkins. McNabb quickly drove the offense into easy field goal range for the victory. The Favrers defense disappointed Brett by sacking McNabb a mere 8 times, while the Favrers ground game failed to hold up its end of the bargain with just 210 yards and a measly average of 5.7 YPA. Favre passed for 180 yards, one of his lowest outputs of the year.
Jan. 9, 2005
The reality: The 10-6 Packers draw a gimme, landing the 8-8 Vikings at home in the wildcard round.
The Favre apologist fantasy: Favre heals lepers.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Favre turns out a gruesomely disfiguring playoff performance (22 of 33, 66.7%, 216 yards, 6.5 YPA, 1 TD, 4 INT, 55.4 rating), as Packers suffer a humiliating 31-17 loss to one of the worst teams ever to reach the playoffs. Had the Seahawks not lost to the Rams just one day earlier, Favre would have been the first quarterback in history to lose a playoff game to a .500 team.
The 2005 season
The reality: The Packers suffer their first losing season in the Favre Era.
The Favre apologist fantasy: The Packers went 4-12 because Favre had no talent around him.
The 2006 season
The reality: Packers climb back to respectability with an 8-8 record.
The Favre apologist fantasy: Favre helped the blind to see.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Favre had trouble focusing on the field, with a 72.7 passer rating that was among the worst in football that season. The list of quarterbacks with a better rating in 2006 included some of the most widely ridiculed passers in football: David Carr (82.1), Michael Vick (75.7), Alex Smith (74.8) and Rex Grossman (73.9)
Jan. 20, 2008
The reality: The 13-3 Packers were favored at home against the 10-6 Giants on one of the coldest nights in Lambeau Field history.
The Favre apologist fantasy: The Packers ran into a buzzsaw and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Favre, and the Packers offense, suffered one of the most colossal collapses in history. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Favre completed 4 of 10 passes for 32 yards with 2 INTs. Green Bay's final four drives, with a Super Bowl appearance easily within its grasp, went for 0, 7, 0 and 2 yards. Favre's final pick, on the second play of overtime, led directly to the Giants' game-winning field goal.
No wonder Cheeseheads continue to cling to 1996 as if it were yesterday: the memories Favre provided them in the years since were too painful to bear.
The 2008 season
The reality: Favre wrote a typical Favre-style tragedy that ruined what looked like a promising season for his new team, thet Jets, who led the AFC East with an 8-3 record through 11 games.
The Favre apologist fantasy: An injury prevented Favre from writing a great comeback story with his new team.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: It is true that Favre was injured late in the 2008 season. But either the injury was not very bad, or he and the organization put his consecutive-games streak ahead of the welfare of the team, because he still took the field every week. And when he did, it resulted in a classic late-season meltdown for the old gunslinger. Favre was dreadful during the stretch-run collapse, throwing 2 TDs against 9 picks. INTs lead directly to losses, and the Jets went 1-4 over the final five games, and missed the playoffs despite their hot 8-3 start.
Favre ended the season with an 81.0 passer rating: 20 NFL starters last year posted a better mark, and few of them are considered champion-caliber quarterbacks.
An injury might be a good excuse ... had we not seen Favre weave these fantasies time and again in his career.