Two former superstar quarterbacks, both with dents in their public image, are hoping 2009 will prove a season of comeback. Brett Favre shirked retirement yet again to ink a two-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Michael Vick returned from an 18-month stint in prison for organizing dog fights and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The two stories are very different-Favre a Hall-of-Fame-bound veteran trying to squeeze a few more touchdown throws from his aging frame, Vick still a young gun eager to prove his best days lie ahead. The respective dips in fan appeal are different, too. Favre has irked many with his repeated retirement fake-outs each off-season. Vick incensed dog lovers everywhere with his callous brutality toward man's best friend.
Yet, despite those stark contrasts, the pair seems inextricably linked heading into this season, representative of the league's two biggest stories. Can the game's greatest passer lead a stacked Vikings team to a Super Bowl? Can one of the game's most gifted athletes still contribute after a two-year absence?
More intriguing perhaps than even those stadium-packing questions is whether either man should even be on the field.
In Favre's case, the issue is one of ethics: Is it right for a player to repeatedly go back on his word, putting teams in the impossible position of trying to guess if what he says is true? Former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton has called Favre's antics "an absolute circus" that distracts from the game.
For Vick, the controversy surrounding his return to the field is less a matter of ethics than one of policy. Should the NFL allow convicted felons to re-enter the league upon completion of their legal sentence? Commissioner Roger Goodell elected to reinstate Vick with only a four-game suspension due to the athlete's apparent contrition. The decision irritated many fans who consider playing in the NFL a privilege that felons ought to forfeit.
Other commentators contend that because Vick's crime did not sabotage the integrity of the game-i.e., betting or point-shaving-he should not be punished beyond his court-ordered societal debt.
Of course, NFL observers shouldn't kid themselves that such arguments were primary determinants. Most decisions are ultimately economic. And for the NFL, the Vikings, the Eagles, league sponsors, and television partners, Favre and Vick are worth far more in uniform than street clothes.
The commentary from CBS broadcasters over the final round of the PGA Championship fell a bit shy of objective. The team began telling the story of a Tiger Woods victory long before the world's best golfer had reached the final hole. After all, Woods had never lost a major tournament when leading after 54 holes. He was 14 for 14, and on this day at Hazeltine faced only a feeble threat from 110th-ranked Korean player Y.E. Yang.
But Yang proved formidable, chipping in for eagle to take the lead at 14 and sticking a 206-yard approach within 8 feet to seal his unlikely upset at the last. Woods bogeyed 18 to finish three shots back, a deficit that might have stretched much wider had his multiple tee shots into the woods on the back nine not found daylight with magical ricochets off trees and patrons.
The result triggered speculation that Woods may have forfeited his psychological advantage over other players in final round skirmishes. Mental performance coach Jim Fannin, who works with several tour players, said Yang's victory has put the tour "in a state of shock" and could help players "realize that they should simply relax and play their game and that is good enough even when playing against the best player in the world."
Maybe it'll convince a few commentators to get back on their game, too.