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Yet as good as he felt physically for most of last year, Favre still had serious reservations about signing up for year No. 20. He had surgery on his ankle this summer for the third time in his career, but it wasn’t the physical demands of the job that played the biggest role in his indecision.

The loss to the Saints, especially the interception he threw at the end of regulation, ate at him like few others have.

“Everyone wants to talk about the physical toll in that particular game,” Favre said. “The mental toll is really what is hard to deal with.”

It certainly wasn’t all pain and suffering for Favre, though. He quickly bonded with the Vikings in a way he hadn’t connected with teammates for a few years, and his unbridled enthusiasm and playfulness made him a favorite in the locker room.

That’s what three of his closest friends on the team _ Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell and Jared Allen _ emphasized when they took a private plane to Hattiesburg to persuade him to come back.

The gray-haired Favre will turn 41 in October and his daughter gave birth to the family’s first grandchild this spring, so there is plenty of ammunition for the court jesters in the Vikings locker room. Teammates put a rocking chair in front of his locker last year and endearingly dubbed him the “Silver Fox.”

But when it was time to suit up, the old man put up numbers that would make any 28-year-old jealous.

He doesn’t hesitate to call 2009 the best season of a nearly unparalleled career. Coming off surgery to relieve the pain from a torn biceps tendon in his throwing arm, 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).

He started every game to keep his treasured streak at a record 285 regular season games _ 309 including playoffs _ intact and led the Vikings to the NFC title game.

“He’s still got the tools. He can still play,” Hutchinson said. “Everybody just has to step up around him and give him the opportunity.”

The Vikings are banking on it. Favre came back last year in large part to show his former team _ the Green Bay Packers _ that he still had something left. He beat them twice in convincing fashion and was one play away from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl.

“It’s amazing what he has done and what he’s continuing to do. It really is,” said Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who came into the league with the Packers 13 years ago, when Favre was in his seventh season as a starter. “The streak that he has going is just ridiculous.”

So what is the motivation this season? Favre said he’s got nothing left to prove, but Dawson isn’t so sure.

Toward the end of his career, Dawson kept going in part to show all the younger guys in the league that he could still play.

“Certainly, and I could,” Dawson said. “And so could (Favre). I’m sure that’s part of it. Sometimes you have to prove it to yourself. It’s in your blood and that’s all you’ve done all your life to age 40. Maybe it’s a little frightening to think about finishing and going out in the real world.”

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