When Brett Favre finally stopped playing Hamlet in shoulder pads and announced he would stay retired, Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Tarvaris Jackson did not burst into song or breathe a sigh of relief. For him, there is no relief. There are only competitors. What Jackson understands is that nobody in Minnesota trusts him with the football, and that includes his head coach, Brad Childress.
That was true before Favre began to make noises about coming to the Vikings and it remains true today, in the early days of a training camp battle for the starting position with Sage Rosenfels, a career backup the Vikings acquired from the Houston Texans before the dalliance with Favre began. Rosenfels was happy to be coming because in Minnesota he didn't see an incumbent starter in Jackson. He saw opportunity.
The "opportunity" was the chance to compete with young Jackson, who in three seasons of off-and-on starting has lost the job twice and never completed more than 59 per cent of his passes. That may sound like a lot but in the West Coast, short passing game offence that Childress favours, the acceptable minimum is 63-65 per cent. When you combine his inaccuracy with the fact Jackson has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions during the past two seasons you understand why the least of his concerns was Brett Favre.
"I went through it last year," Jackson said on the first day of training camp. "It wasn't any different. It wasn't a celebration [when Favre declined to become a Viking] like everyone was trying to make it." That's because a year ago Favre was nowhere in sight yet Jackson was still benched after two games in favour of the journeyman QB Gus Frerotte. He got the starting job back only after Frerotte was injured and now he's in another fight this summer for a job the Vikings would love to see him win but seem to doubt he ever will.
The fact that he played dreadfully in a play-off defeat to the Eagles last January, completing only 15 of 35 pass attempts with an interception and no touchdowns, did nothing to enhance him in the eyes of Childress and his staff. Because of Jackson's shaky career start and the trade for the untested Rosenfels, some felt the Vikings were unwise to pursue the 39-year-old Favre because if they didn't get him it would shake the confidence of the quarterbacks they do have. Amateur psychologists might believe that. Football coaches do not.
"If anybody thinks Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson are going to incomplete a pass or scuff a pass and turn to me and say, 'I wish you hadn't been talking to Brett Favre'... that's preposterous," Childress said the day before training camp opened. What is not preposterous is what Childress says will decide who finally runs his offence this fall. Athletically, Jackson seems far more gifted than Rosenfels, but winning in the NFL does not require you have a quarterback who could have won a decathlon. What it requires is you have a quarterback you can count on every Sunday to play like he belongs in the NFL.
"You want to know a standard of performance," Childress said when asked what he was most looking for from Jackson and Rosenfels this summer. "You want to know what you can expect each and every time you go on the football field." Thus far in his career all Tarvaris Jackson has allowed the Vikings to expect is the unexpected. If he can change that this summer he will be running the Viking offence this fall. If he can't, he'll be back in a painfully familiar place - on the bench watching a journeyman play his position for the second consecutive season.