As far as Brett Favre was concerned, he was finished.
Last we saw the 40-year-old quarterback in action, he was barely able to walk off the Superdome turf, his body aching from the beating the New Orleans Saints delivered in January's NFC title game.
Favre was one play away from his goal — taking the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl — when he threw an interception in the final minute of regulation, then watched from the sidelines as the Saints kicked the winning field goal in overtime.
"Believe me, when I left New Orleans, a big part of me was — I don't want to say done — but the fact that we lost that game, how hard it is," Favre said, his voice trailing off.
"We need an answer, yes or no," they told Favre. "We're either going home with you or moving on without you."
So here we are, with Favre about to start his 20th NFL season.
"I've done it all. There's nothing left for me to prove," said Favre, who joined the Vikings for practice Wednesday. "I'm here to have fun, help these guys win. I really enjoy this group of guys like you wouldn't believe. I think the feeling is mutual."
The decision to return was nearly as agonizing as that gut-wrenching loss to the Saints.
Indecision is part of what comes in the Favre package, along with his laser-like throws into the end zone and go-for-broke playing style. He spent the last seven months going back and forth on whether or not he had anything left to give to a team he enjoyed playing with as much as any other in his 19-year career.
"I could make a case for both playing, not playing," Favre said. "This is a very good football team. The chances (of going to the Super Bowl) here are much greater than other places. From that standpoint, it was always going to be easier (to return).
"Part of me said it was such a great year, it would be easy to say, 'Hey, can't play any better, why even try?' Then the other part is, 'Guys are playing on a high level. Why don't I go back out?' The expectations are high here, as they should be."
Favre underwent left ankle surgery on May 21 and just a few weeks ago texted several teammates and Vikings officials that he would not return because the recovery was slower than he expected. But he said Wednesday that wasn't the main concern.
"There is nothing on me that's 100 percent. There wasn't anything that was 100 percent last year or the year before," Favre said. "The surgery made me a little better.
"I have played 309 straight games, I can't complain."
What was really holding him up was what Favre called a fear of failure. He was coming off what he called the best season of a record-setting career that includes a Super Bowl title and three MVP awards. He will turn 41 in October and wondered if he could defy the odds yet again.
"I can only control what I do, but I don't want to fail," Favre said. "And you know what? I'm just being honest with you."
The gray-haired Favre threw 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions to lead the Vikings to the NFC North title last season. He passed for 310 yards and a touchdown against the Saints in the Superdome, but also threw that fateful interception.
Now after being cajoled by Allen, Hutchinson and Longwell, Favre will have one more shot at redemption and a second Lombardi Trophy. The journey could begin as soon as Sunday night in the Vikings' exhibition game at San Francisco.
Longwell, who has known Favre for years dating back to their days together in Green Bay and spoke to him often this summer as the drama unfolded, put the chances of Favre returning at "about 0.2 percent" before they knocked on his door.
"He's pretty at peace down there," Longwell said. "And so with his family around and the way he was thinking it was pretty open and shut that he was comfortable there and we were going to have to come up with something else to get him back."
Hutchinson said coach Brad Childress asked all three players if they would be willing to make the trip down on Monday after practice to get an answer once and for all.
"Really, it was a message from our locker room," Hutchinson said. "We're down here to find out what you want to do. The guys on this team want you here. Everybody wants you here. Basically that's what we told him."
The coach's willingness to let one player skip all of training camp before sending a group of prized veterans to personally ask him to come back has drawn some criticism from analysts. But Childress knows that Favre gives the team the best chance to win the Super Bowl, and that's all that matters to him.
"You can say, hey, we're pushing it all to the middle of the table. That's how we feel every year," Childress said. "Any team in the National Football League that doesn't start by saying, 'We want to go to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl' there's something wrong."
Win or lose, Favre said that this will be the last time he holds a welcome back press conference, believe it or not.
"I can promise you this: Not that I have ever set out as a goal to play 20 years, it's 20 years and I'm done. This is the last year of my contract. I'm sure a lot of people are like, 'Yes!'" Favre said, pumping his fist.
Then, of course, he hesitated.
"Did I just say that?" he said with a grin. "I do believe it now. I do. I'm going to fall apart sometime."