EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Even Brett Favre was amazed by what he did last season as a 40-year-old quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
In his 19th season, 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).
Remarkable numbers at any age.
"Never in my wildest dreams when we sat here last year would I have thought I would've played the way I did," Favre said Wednesday after rejoining the Vikings. "I mean, look at 18 years previous. I never played that good."
So Brett, can you do it again?
Favre will turn 41 in October and is just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to play 20 seasons. George Blanda (26), Earl Morrall (21) and Vinny Testaverde (21) are the only QBs to play in more seasons than the gray-haired Favre.
Favre led the Vikings to a 12-4 record and the NFC North title, then became the first 40-year-old quarterback to win a playoff game when Minnesota thumped Dallas at the Metrodome in January.
The magical season came to a painful conclusion in the NFC title game in New Orleans, where the Vikings lost in overtime after Favre threw an interception at the end of regulation.
"I was even amazed," Favre said. "To think that I could surpass that this year, first of all I don't need to. Because as well as I played, by far the best of my career, it wasn't enough. And that just goes to show you that all phases have to be hitting at the right time.
"But I need to play well obviously and be a great leader, the intangible things that I really thought would be more important last year than the statistics."
The Vikings are betting on Favre delivering another stellar season. The team wanted him back so badly that coach Brad Childress sent Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell and Jared Allen to Hattiesburg, Miss., on Monday night to get an answer. The three veterans convinced their close friend to make one more run at the Super Bowl and put off retirement for at least one more year.
"He's in shape, all that," Hutchinson said. "He's still got the tools. He can still play. Everybody just has to step up around him and give him the opportunity."
Coming off surgery to relieve a torn biceps in his throwing arm, Favre topped 300 yards passing six times, threw at least three TDs in six times as well. He had so much success that the run-oriented Minnesota offense morphed into a pass-first attack in the second half of the season.
Childress joked to Favre that "maybe you've finally got it."
With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, NFL offensive rookie of the year Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, who is still recovering from a hip injury, coming off a breakout season and speedster Bernard Berrian, the Vikings return all 11 starters from an offense that finished second in the NFL in scoring last season.
"I think sky's the limit," Childress said of Favre's potential. "Everybody's always got to play around the quarterback, but he's got a good football team around him and he won't have to do it all himself."
That's what everyone said last year when he arrived in Minnesota, yet he ended up carrying the offense for large stretches of the season.
Even more so than his performance on the field, the Vikings wanted the charismatic Favre back in the locker room. After quickly ingratiating himself to the team in the preseason, Favre was voted a captain and the rest of the veteran group gravitated toward his leadership style.
"Brett, the kind of player that he is, the kind of leadership that he brings to this team, it elevates the entire building, it really does," Allen said. "You can see it every day."
Said Childress: "I think that's the definition of a leader — somebody that people want to play for and play well for. Just at the time he was coming back yesterday, sitting in our cafeteria, the buzz was palpable. It elevates everyone in the building and that's what a franchise QB does."
Whereas last season Favre eased into the year with gimmes against Cleveland and Detroit the first two weeks, he'll need to be ready right from the start in 2010. The Vikings open the season on Sept. 9 at New Orleans and also play Miami, at the Jets, Dallas, at Green Bay and at New England in the first seven games.
Given his familiarity with a team that brings virtually every key performer back from last season, Favre should have an easier time getting back into the swing of things after missing another training camp.
"Last year all the things he had to worry about — trying to win over the guys, trying to make an impression, earn their trust, I said, 'Brett, that's all done. The guys, they want you here. Everybody knows you and you're comfortable. That's one less thing you have to do. Just come out and have fun,'" Hutchinson said.
There were plenty of doubters when Favre got off a private plane last year and arrived to a staggering amount of pomp and circumstance.
There likely will be even more this year, and the grandpa jokes will be plenty after his 21-year-old daughter Brittany gave birth to Favre's first grandchild in April.
"You should always be on your toes. You should always be looking over your shoulder, especially when you're soon-to-be 41 and a new grandfather," Favre said. "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. I don't feel like I have anything to prove, but if I'm going to play, I want to play at a high level."