Fans at Ford Field do the wave after coming from far and wide to see a free professional football game. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit— This was strange, in every way. There was Brett Favre, standing on the home sideline at Ford Field, purple all around, the Vikings horn blaring.
And here was the really strange part: Favre wasn't in uniform.
What began as a nice gesture by the Lions, to let the Vikings move in because their stadium had a hole in the roof, became shaded by a significant twist of drama. Detroit has been home to some bizarre football history, and now it can add this: It's where Favre's NFL-record playing streak ended.
It also could be where Favre's starry (and lately, tedious) story finally ends, because with an injured right shoulder, who knows if he'll play again. The Giants beat the Vikings 21-3 before 45,910 enthusiastic fans at Ford Field, which pulled off a flawless hosting effort.
Darn that Favre, huh? He has spent most of his 20-year career beating the Lions, and the one time — one time— he doesn't play in their stadium, the Lions aren't the opponent. (Add creepy curse music).
Afterward, Favre sounded like a guy who finally might have seen the end of his career. He wasn't willing to say it was over, with three games left in a miserable 5-8 season, but clearly, it's a distinct possibility now that the streak is over.
"I won't say it was time, but it probably was long overdue — there's probably a lot of times the streak should've ended," Favre said. "It's been a great run. I will not hang my head one bit."
If it ended here, well, quite a few Detroiters will say they were there. Give Detroit football fans and the Lions organization, led by president Tom Lewand, tremendous credit for putting on a great show on short notice. Fans lined up early in the morning for free tickets, and within 60 minutes, nearly 30,000 were gone. The crowd was festive and energetic, and actually seemed inclined to provide a true home-field advantage for the Vikings.
I could argue the Lions have served as accommodating hosts to division rivals for a long time, but that's just mean. And already outdated. The Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak against NFC North foes the previous day with a 7-3 win over Green Bay, and the party kept right on going.
It was a weird, cool and contemplative scene, the first Monday night game at Ford Field. Some will muster sympathy for Favre, the 41-year-old legend who returned one time too many. His streak of 297 consecutive starts is beyond amazing, launched in 1992.
But frankly, what a horrible mistake this comeback was, and Favre insists his retirement will stick after this season. Too bad it didn't stick the last time. He helped push out coach Brad Childress and threw a league-high 18 interceptions while battling foot and elbow injuries. Oh, Favre also was involved in a bawdy little controversy for allegedly texting suggestive messages to a female who didn't happen to be his wife.
It's probably blessed intervention he sat out Monday night, because the Giants' defense steamrolled Tarvaris Jackson. Favre said he had no regrets about returning this season, and really no regrets about how the streak ended. He had numbness and tingling in his right hand and simply couldn't play.
"I think it'd be foolish to even consider playing if you don't have feeling in five fingers," Favre said. "I'll see how I feel this week and go from there."
Students of coincidental facts will note Lou Gehrig's then-record streak of 2,130 consecutive major-league games ended in Detroit in 1939. This didn't have the same somber nobility, although it had a similar cause: The body broke down.
Favre had hoped the extra day of rest, as the Vikings and Giants dodged snowstorms, might allow him to play. But he reportedly sported a golf-ball-sized knot on his right shoulder, the result of a hit the previous week against Buffalo, and it caused the numbness.
The decision to sit ultimately was an easy one for Favre and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who called it a "no-brainer." It sure didn't seem to faze the crowd, which added to the atmosphere. The Vikings' fight song blared, "Vikings" was stenciled in purple in both end zones and the braided, horned Vikings guy was painted at midfield.
Lions good hosts
The Giants dominated, but it didn't really matter. The crowd unleashed a few "Let's go Lions!" cheers and helped make this a perfectly solid success. There were worries early in the day, when thousands of fans lined up outside Ford Field. People began to wonder if the free-ticket, general-admission gesture was such a good idea.
But the Lions handled it fine, not a surprise considering the raves for the 2006 Super Bowl here. Lewand said owner William Clay Ford insisted on accessibility for fans, hence the freebies. The Lions had to cut off the giveaway at 30,000 in case a lot of ticket stubs were used from the Lions-Packers game, as was permitted. That precautionary move probably was the only reason Ford Field wasn't full.
As the game began, Lewand was beaming, and the NFL was lauding the Lions' effort.
"It's a great testament to our fans and a great testament to the NFL," Lewand said. "I've talked to both teams and they're very happy."
When the gates opened about two hours before the 7:20 p.m. kickoff, fans hustled in and raced to the best seats. Their faces were red from the cold, their anticipation was obvious.
"I can't run — my feet are frozen!" one guy yelled and laughed at the same time.
It was that kind of night, when emotions got jumbled and team colors got blurred. Detroit fans came for a show and put on a show, as one of the NFL's longest-running shows ended. One more time, Favre was the spotlight story, written on a rollicking night when things seemed out of place, starting with the old quarterback on the sideline.