MINNEAPOLIS » Rookie Toby Gerhart sat in a meeting room with the other Vikings running backs yesterday morning when the door opened and Brett Favre stuck his head in.
"He said, ‘I just want to make sure you guys are doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the meeting room,’" Gerhart said. "Everybody started laughing."
Vikings players and coaches said Favre’s return brought a wave of energy to Winter Park. His presence on the practice field — and the large media contingent chronicling it — created a palpable buzz even for the veteran players.
"It elevates the entire building," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Look at all the camera people that are here. He excites everybody that has anything to do with football. And that’s the feeling. It wasn’t like last year where no one really knew him. We all know him. He’s a teammate of ours. He’s back."
Favre’s return was a new experience for the younger players, who sounded in awe and nervous at the same time. Wide receiver Logan Payne recalled watching with his Little League baseball team in Florida as Favre led the Packers to the Super Bowl title in January 1997. Payne was 11.
"It’s unbelievable, the fact that I’m on the same field with him," Payne said. "It’s more than a dream come true, more than I can ever ask for."
Payne admits he felt some nerves as he lined up to catch a pass from Favre during a one-on-one drill.
"I said, ‘I better not screw this up,’ " he said. "I ended up running a good route and catching the ball so that was good. Got the first one out of the way."
Gerhart had a similar experience taking his first handoff.
"It was cool," he said. "After the first one, I was like, ‘Ah, I got a handoff from Brett Favre.’ It was just a walk-through. I was like, ‘Don’t mess up.’ But it’s exciting."
Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said the defensive backs celebrated Favre’s return with a friendly wager.
"We had a little thing on the back end where first man to get an interception won a little pot, but no one got one today," he said.
How much money?
"I can’t tell you that," he said, laughing.
Not everyone did cartwheels over Favre’s return though. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson admitted he was disappointed to lose his starting job, although he knew all along that Favre’s return was expected.
"Of course, you go from being the starter to a backup it’s always disappointing," Jackson said. "But I knew the situation coming into this season. I knew it was a possibility and a strong possibility. I just have to roll with it now and make the best of it."
Winfield, for one, said he wasn’t buying recent news that Favre seriously considered not playing.
"I really wasn’t paying too much attention to it, but he’s a competitor," Winfield said.
Favre’s return means the Vikings have all 22 starters back from last season. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams called that "rare," but he said it doesn’t guarantee anything.
"It’s a great thing on paper to have 22 starters back, but we still have to play the game," he said. "If the guys don’t come up with the same attitude, things can go wrong and bad things can happen. But if we play the way we played last year hopefully we’ll have good things in the future."