EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The aches and pains simply never go away for Brett Favre anymore.
Nineteen NFL seasons have taken their toll, and when he gets out of bed in the morning he feels every one of the hits he’s taken. His ankle barks at him as soon as his foot hits the floor, his knees creak as he stands up and his back groans as he stretches to get loosened up for another day as a 40-year-old quarterback.
“There’s nothing on me 100 percent,” Favre said. “There wasn’t anything on me 100 percent last year or the year before. The surgeries, I think, have made me a little better, but I’ve played 309 straight games, I can’t complain.”
He can’t quit, either.
As he prepares to enter his 20th season in the league, Favre is going where few quarterbacks have gone before him. And he’s looking to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a place even fewer QBs have taken this tortured franchise — to the Super Bowl.
According to STATS LLC, 17 quarterbacks in NFL history have started a season in which they turned 40 by Nov. 1. The vast majority of those players spent the waning days of their careers watching from the sidelines. George Blanda played until he was 48 as a kicker and backup quarterback who did complete 119 passes after turning 40.
Favre is the only 40-year-old quarterback to win a playoff game and one of only three to start more than six games in his 40s. He joins Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde, who each made 25 starts in their 40s.
How does he do it? And what makes him want to leave a cushy life on his 465-acre spread in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he has more money than he could spend in two lifetimes, to endure another season of punishment?
“I look at him and he’s a competitor,” former quarterback Len Dawson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “He loves the game. He loves the competition. He probably gets bored. What’s he going to do when he’s down on that farm in Mississippi? Run around on that tractor? That would get old real quick.”
If anyone can speak to the mentality of a 40-year-old quarterback, it’s Dawson. The Hall of Famer and Super Bowl winner is one of the select group to play the position at that age, when he started five games for the Kansas City Chiefs in his final season in 1975.
The Chiefs were rebuilding then, which made that final year painful in more ways than one for Dawson. He recalled taking a hit so hard in a game against Baltimore that he knew he couldn’t go on much longer.
Still, he managed to play in 12 games during that transition season, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,095 yards, five touchdowns and a solid 90 quarterback rating.
“At age 40, you’re not as quick and as agile as you are in your late 20s, but you can rely on your ability to think because you’ve been through it and know what it takes,” Dawson said.
Favre leans on smarts, instincts and gut feelings today more than he ever has, but that right arm of his still has plenty of juice.
“My arm felt like it was 21 last year,” Favre said. “Amazing.”
Yet as good as he felt physically for most of last year, Favre still had serious reservations about signing up for year No. 20. He had surgery on his ankle this summer for the third time in his career, but it wasn’t the physical demands of the job that played the biggest role in his indecision.
The loss to the Saints, especially the interception he threw at the end of regulation, ate at him like few others have.
“Everyone wants to talk about the physical toll in that particular game,” Favre said. “The mental toll is really what is hard to deal with.”
It certainly wasn’t all pain and suffering for Favre, though. He quickly bonded with the Vikings in a way he hadn’t connected with teammates for a few years, and his unbridled enthusiasm and playfulness made him a favorite in the locker room.
That’s what three of his closest friends on the team — Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell and Jared Allen — emphasized when they took a private plane to Hattiesburg to persuade him to come back.
The gray-haired Favre will turn 41 in October and his daughter gave birth to the family’s first grandchild this spring, so there is plenty of ammunition for the court jesters in the Vikings locker room. Teammates put a rocking chair in front of his locker last year and endearingly dubbed him the “Silver Fox.”
But when it was time to suit up, the old man put up numbers that would make any 28-year-old jealous.
He doesn’t hesitate to call 2009 the best season of a nearly unparalleled career. Coming off surgery to relieve the pain from a torn biceps tendon in his throwing arm, Favre threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns while setting career bests for completion rate (68.4), quarterback rating (107.2) and fewest interceptions (seven).
He started every game to keep his treasured streak at a record 285 regular season games — 309 including playoffs — intact and led the Vikings to the NFC title game.
“He’s still got the tools. He can still play,” Hutchinson said. “Everybody just has to step up around him and give him the opportunity.”
The Vikings are banking on it. Favre came back last year in large part to show his former team — the Green Bay Packers — that he still had something left. He beat them twice in convincing fashion and was one play away from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
“It’s amazing what he has done and what he’s continuing to do. It really is,” said Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who came into the league with the Packers 13 years ago, when Favre was in his seventh season as a starter. “The streak that he has going is just ridiculous.”
So what is the motivation this season? Favre said he’s got nothing left to prove, but Dawson isn’t so sure.
Toward the end of his career, Dawson kept going in part to show all the younger guys in the league that he could still play.
“Certainly, and I could,” Dawson said. “And so could (Favre). I’m sure that’s part of it. Sometimes you have to prove it to yourself. It’s in your blood and that’s all you’ve done all your life to age 40. Maybe it’s a little frightening to think about finishing and going out in the real world.”
It’s going to feel pretty real to Favre when he walks into the Superdome on Sept. 9 to begin his 20th season in the same place his 19th came to such an excruciating conclusion against the Saints.
“You should always be on your toes,” Favre said. “You should always be looking over your shoulder, especially when you’re soon-to-be 41 and a new grandfather. You should really be because everyone’s writing you off.
“It just seems like at 40, the guy’s a has-been. So in saying that, it’s motivation for me.”