Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Abstract and Concrete

SI's Steve Aschburner suggests that the specter of Brett Favre will haunt the Vikings all season long:

"Might as well face it: Favre is going to be with the Vikings from the start of camp Friday through the end of their season, assuming it stops somewhere shy of Miami and Super Bowl XLIV. He won't -- barring a tweet from Hattiesburg and a late-night roster move -- complete a single pass for them, but he'll be there in spirit on every pass that T-Jack or Rosenfels does not complete. He'll be a shadow lurking over each shaky performance or crisis of confidence that any of the Vikings quarterbacks has.

"Because of the Vikings' worthy but protracted flirtation with Favre, he will be their ghost of Tom Joad for 2009. Wherever the offense lets down the defense this season, he'll be there.

"Whenever they need some fourth-quarter heroics and sputter as the clock ticks away instead, he'll be there. Whenever a fan is in the mood to second-guess, well, almost anything, he'll be there."

Aschburner is probably correct: throughout the season many pundits, announcers, and fans will speculate on how things might have been different with Brett Favre. But I also think these pundits, announcers, and fans that do so will be foolish. Such speculation will focus on the name and mythology of Brett Favre, not the reality of the man and player he is right now. Not only is Brett Favre not Jesus, not only is Brett Favre not Brett Favre of 1996, but Brett Favre is no longer the Brett Favre of, say, 2004. Let's not forget that Favre is the career interception leader, has thrown 20+ INTs six times in his career, has led the league in INTs three times, and has thrown multiple INTs in six of his last 10 playoff games (including two overtime INTs), will turn 40 this season, is coming off arm surgery, and has begun to show a tendency to wear down late in the season (if Favre wasn't sure he could last 16 games at a high level, then we should be relieved he's not joining the team).

So what are these pundits and fans going to say? When Jackson or Rosenfels throws an INT, they can say "Boy, you have to wonder, Brett Favre probably would have thrown that interception a lot harder." If the Vikings are losing games in December, they can say "Well, we've seen last year that Brett Favre can look even more exhausted while losing than this QB." If the Vikings lose a playoff game, they can say "Gosh, you really have to wonder, since Brett Favre hasn't won two playoff games in a single season since the '97 season, has lost three home playoff games in this decade, and has twice thrown crushing overtime interceptions in playoff games, whether he would have lost this game differently for the Vikings."

I guess all the talk of the psychology of Rosenfels and Jackson, of the "shadow" of Favre, yada yada yada, is pretty harmless just before training camp begins. It is also utterly, completely meaningless. What's really going to matter is whether Rosenfels or Jackson outperforms the other to win the starting job. And then what matters is that Rosenfels/Jackson is able to read defenses well, handle a pass rush, find open receivers, and throw accurate passes. The "shadow" of Favre won't matter nearly as much as the very concrete performance of Rosenfels/Jackson on the field. Can the Viking QB be efficient? Can he pose a downfield threat to compliment a fine running game?

When the players step onto the field and start throwing passes around, that's what I'm going to be watching for, reading about, and writing about. That's what matters, and it's what I'm interested in. I will barely think about Brett Favre: my attention will be on the real, tangible on-the-field performances of Minnesota Viking players. It's a much less flashy story, but it's a story with concrete substance, and it is the story that will be much more meaningful to the Vikings' season.

Aschburner manages to amuse me with his metaphors:

"Minnesota's need at the quarterback position remains, made more extreme by the hemming and hawing of Favre that kept incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and acquisition Sage Rosenfels in limbo for the past few months. What should have been an offseason for Jackson to work on his swagger and career-backup Rosenfels to finally sharpen his knife for a starting job instead got spent in call-waiting hell, both hoping that Childress eventually would click back over." (highlights mine)

I guess "call-waiting hell" is a sort of limbo. I don't really know what it would mean for Jackson to work on his swagger: that sounds like more abstract talk, when what would really matter is that Jackson works on mastering the offense, reading defenses, and throwing accurate passes. And I don't know what Rosenfels is doing with a knife, and why it needs to be sharpened. If sharpening his knife means preparing to be starter, then there's nothing to worry about. Here are some things we can learn from Sean Jensen's story on Rosenfels in the Pioneer Press:

"Rosenfels said the months of Favre drama didn't affect his preparation, although he acknowledged that it was annoying."

"'I would say there were times where it got a little frustrating, because you were looking for some finality,' he said. 'I couldn't control whether he was or wasn't, but I wanted to know. But it doesn't change the way I was preparing for the season.'"


"Since the Vikings traded for Rosenfels in February, he has spent the bulk of his time at Winter Park. That has kept him away from his wife and two children, who remained in Houston.

"'I have put a lot of work into the season, but I couldn't think of any other way to go about it,' he said. 'I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and I was going to leave no stone unturned.'"

"Rosenfels said his time investment at Winter Park has helped him feel comfortable with the Vikings' offense.

"'I do feel I have a good grasp of the offense,' he said."


"[Childress] said: 'I'm not sure what's going to happen. But prepare as if he's not coming,' " Rosenfels recalled. "I would have done that, either way."

It doesn't sound to me that the Vikings' pursuit of Favre in any way prevented Rosenfels from sharpening his metaphorical knife. In the abstract, one might think it would. In the concrete, however, where what matters is practicing, training, and mastering an offense, it really doesn't.

Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels might really struggle this season. There's a chance each quarterback actually sucks. But the potential struggles and suckage will have little to do with Brett Favre. And again, I'm ready to move on and focus on the actual, real, concrete performances of these players. I'm ready to see what plays they are able and unable to make, not toss around speculation about their confidence, psyche, or swagger. And the time to focus on the concrete begins with training camp.

3. Addendum
As I think more about it, comparing Sean Jensen's story to all of these columns about the psychology/confidence/swagger of Rosenfels and Jackson is enlightening. Jensen sought out information from the relevant sources. He quotes Sage Rosenfels at length, and quotes Tarvaris Jackson's agent. Instead of idle speculation about how this could impact the Viking quarterbacks, Jensen asks them.

Aschburner has no quotes from Rosenfels or Jackson or anybody connected with them. Neither do most of the writers I've cited in the last few posts.

Of course, I don't quote Rosenfels or Jackson either. But I'm an unpaid crackpot Viking fan with a blog some people read. I don't have sources. I haven't honed connections with players and organizations. And it's not my job. Seemingly, writers for sources such as Yahoo!, The Star Tribune, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the Pioneer Press could make the effort to find out about Rosenfels' and Jacksons' reaction, to find out how they've been preparing in the offseason, to find out how they are approaching the upcoming training camp and season, to find out how prepared each believes he is to be a productive starter, rather than just speculate on it. But for the most part, they don't. Sean Jensen does. And that's why his actual reporting (something concrete) is more meaningful than all the speculative columns about the mental/emotional impact on Rosenfels and Jackson (something abstract).


  1. Bismuth9:21 AM

    Posts like this are why you're my favorite Vikings blogger!

    "Boy, you have to wonder, Brett Favre probably would have thrown that interception a lot harder."


  2. Anonymous11:02 AM

    It is gratifying to learn that there may be one sportswriter who writes about the Vikings who could not be replaced by Koko the ape, or a well educated African Gray Parrot.

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