Vikes fan puts hopes in hands of ex-Packer

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WALLA WALLA -- Talk about conflicted.

Here are the Minnesota Vikings, one win away from their first Super Bowl appearance in 34 years. And who do we Vikings fans have to thank for it?

Brett Favre, for crying out loud. The legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback.

As in the hated Green Bay Packers.

Sure, there are a lot of intense rivalries in the National Football League. But none any more so than the Vikings-Packers.

It's that border we share with Wisconsin. Hundreds of miles of border that stretches from Minnesota's most southern tip all the way to Lake Superior.

There's lots of mingling as you might expect. But when it comes to pro football, you're either a Viking or a Packer and never both.

It's a lot like the Cougars and the Huskies, I guess. It's impossible to support both schools' sports programs, because what's good for one is bad for the other.

I could never figure that out when I first moved to Washington state. Because in Minnesota there's just one NCAA Division I school. And everyone's a Gophers fan.

It wasn't until I viewed the Cougars-Huskies rivalry in the same light as the Vikings-Packers that I came to understand the daily discord that exists here in the Evergreen State. And in this case, the border seems to be the Cascade Mountains that divide the east from the west.

But getting back to Brett Favre.

Everyone who follows the NFL knows his story. Sixteen hall of fame-type years in Green Bay, in and out of retirement, traded by the Packers to the New York Jets prior to the 2008 season, back into retirement and finally signed by the Vikings as a free agent just before the 2009 season began.

It was common knowledge that the Vikings had a solid team.

The defensive front was considered one of the best in the league, the linebacking corp was developing and the secondary rated at least average. On offense, the line was again one of the best in the NFL, the receivers were young and improving, and in Adrian Peterson the Vikes had arguably the best and certainly the most explosive running back in franchise history.

There was just this one gnarly problem. Quarterback.

Not since 2004, when Daunte Culpepper passed for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns, had this most crucial position not been in flux in Minnesota.

Culpepper was injured and gave way to veteran Brad Johnson in 2005. Johnson, rookie Tavaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger shared starts in 2006. Jackson, Bollinger and Kelly Holcomb all started games in 2007. And in 2008, coach Brad Childress gave up on Jackson and turned to career backup Gus Frerotte.

Not knowing what Favre's physical status -- much less his retirement plans -- was heading into the 2009 campaign, the Vikings acquired Sage Rosenfels from the Houston Texans to compete with Jackson for the starting quarterback job. Translation: Another year of mediocre QB play was very likely to drag down an otherwise Super Bowl-contending team.

And then Brett Favre made his decision to come over from the dark side. And the results have been nothing short of amazing.

In 16 regular-season games as the Vikes QB, Favre passed for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and a career-best 107.2 quarterback rating. Not to mention a 12-4 record and an NFC North title that included two oh-so satisfying victories over the Packers.

In last Sunday's divisional playoff game in the Metrodome, Favre tossed four touchdowns as the Vikings routed the Dallas Cowboys 34-3. Green Bay aside, playoff history and the Herschel Walker trade debacle put the Cowboys near the top of any list of teams Vikings fans most enjoy beating.

Walker, you may recall, is the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Georgia who was traded by the Cowboys to the Vikings for what amounted to a king's ransom -- four veteran players, three first-round draft picks, three seconds a third and a sixth. The Vikings squandered their future and Walker never produced.

I listened to Walker say in a radio interview before the Vikings-Cowboys game that he expected Dallas to win. That last touchdown was for you, Herschel.

So now it's on to New Orleans and a Saints team that has the best record in the NFC. A Minnesota victory today will send the Vikings back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976 and provide Favre with an opportunity to win his second Super Bowl ring, something that has evaded the Vikings no fewer than four times.

Whatever happens from here on out, the Brett Favre experiment has been a huge success in Minnesota. If he can get the Vikings back to the Super Bowl, he will be the toast of the state. And if the Vikes can finally win that first Super Bowl, Brett Favre will be remembered as one of the greatest ever to wear the purple.

It won't be the way most Viking fans envisioned it. Because for 16 years, Favre was the ultimate enemy.

But if that's the way it happens, so be it.

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