By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; D1
Usually, these are the dog days of summer in the sports news business.
If we're not being force-fed overstated Yankees-Red Sox stories, we're obsessing about some inconsequential football player missing a week of training camp. With a full month still to sweat through before pennant races become serious and before pro football and the U.S. Open begin, just the sight of Tiger Woods is like pennies from heaven. But Brett Favre and Albert Haynesworth have changed all that, haven't they?
The 24-hour news cycle, not to mention Twitter, was tailor-made for Favre and Haynesworth and their respective dramas, the back-and-forth, the need for constant updates. If, for example, you didn't check your PDA by 11:45 Tuesday morning, you wouldn't have known that Favre had told ESPN's Ed Werder that Monday's hysteria over him retiring was a waste of time, that he plans to play this season for the Vikings if his surgically repaired ankle holds up. And if you wake up and fail to jump right into your Albert Haynesworth update mode, how would you know whether Coach Mike Shanahan would allow the team's best defensive player to practice later that day?
You probably couldn't find two football players as different as Favre and Haynesworth, yet they've tag-teamed the first week of training camp.
They've defined the start of the 2010 preseason. With any luck, their shenanigans will completely overshadow the worthless August exhibition games we'll make far too big a deal of.
Very quickly we've switched gears this summer: from consuming stories about a sport where athletes have so much control (professional basketball) to a sport where very few have any control (professional football). Haynesworth, though paid like a king, is finding out that he nevertheless has little, if any, control. Favre already knew he has all the control, and he's one of the very, very few players in the NFL who does.
Favre is going to play for the Minnesota Vikings this season. Monday's retirement headlines were a waste of time. The Vikings, who have a Super Bowl-quality team and have never won one, are entirely dependent on Favre playing quarterback for them this season, if not when it opens Sept. 9 then certainly by the first of October. Not only that, but the club is actively engaged in lobbying for a new stadium, and it's easier to press local interests if you're en route to a 13-3 season than going 7-9 and constantly fretting over what might have been if you had Brett Favre.
So, as annoying as these "retirements" are every year - and I think this is the third in four years - the Vikings desperately need Favre. They need him more than any team in the league needs any player, with the possible exception of the Colts and Peyton Manning. Favre might be 40, but he's coming off a 33-touchdown, seven-interception season, easily the most efficient of his career. Given that, if I represented Favre, my starting point for his 2010 salary would be $30 million. Yep, Michael Jordan money. I'd let Favre say publicly every single day, "It's not about the money" while I was telling the Vikings, "Yes, I said $30 million. Make it a check payable to .â.â."
Thirty million to Favre, even if he has an off-season, is money well spent. Haynesworth? Not so much. While the Vikings are playing this perfectly, and saying nothing no matter how much swirl there is, the Redskins are once again demonstrating why the club has been utterly dysfunctional for the past 10 years.
Every single summer, the Redskins are involved in something goofy, something of their own doing, and make no mistake this is of management's doing. That doesn't mean Mike Shanahan's humiliation of Haynesworth won't work to the coach's advantage and the team's advantage over time. It might. Shanahan is a very, very smart man and knows how to take the temperature of a locker room. In this case he knew many of the veterans in the room were as fed up with Haynesworth as he is. So, if you make him run distances no defensive tackle in the history of football would have to run in a game - or, for that matter, in 10 games - to make your point, it might work.
Do I think Haynesworth could have passed these "tests" when he was the best defensive player in football, three years ago in Tennessee? No, not a chance. The tests are far less important than Shanahan showing Hayensworth (and every other player) who is in control. And if Shanahan wins points with 40 players while sacrificing Haynesworth, it could be the right move. This is what a coach can do in football that he can't in basketball or baseball.
It happens all the time in pro football; the big deal now is that it's happening front and center, right here. Remember a few years ago when Jon Gruden shut down Keyshawn Johnson for the final half-dozen weeks of the season, simply sent him away? Players much better than Albert Haynesworth have found themselves on the humiliating end of a control struggle with management. For every Emmitt Smith that wins a holdout battle with management as he did with Jerry Jones during the Cowboys Super Bowl run, there's a Marcus Allen, the brilliant runner whose career was essentially eliminated by Al Davis. Allen went from Super Bowl hero to a non-person after a salary dispute with Davis and the Raiders. It was a nasty story for seven years and lasted until Allen went to Kansas City late in his career. Seven seasons, poof!
A nightmare for an NBA or MLB star is dreaming he's playing in the NFL, where owners and coaches have all the control.â.â.unless you're a star quarterback who by not playing can get the coach fired. See, Haynesworth can't do that.
Good as he can be, he doesn't have that kind of influence over a game or a season (or a career) that Favre has. Few defensive players have had that kind of influence. Reggie White comes to mind. Lawrence Taylor. Mike Singletary. It's a short list.
The bet here is that Favre will start Game 1 for the Vikings and that Hayensworth will be in no better shape come mid-September than he is now, but will be on the field. The Redskins aren't so good that they don't need Haynesworth. But Shanahan wants Haynesworth on the coach's terms. And very likely, Shanahan can take just as long to make his point as Favre can take to make his, which is that training camp, depending on the hand you're holding, can be optional.