MAYBE I JUST HAVE a hidden "man-crush" on Brett Favre.

Over the past 2 years, it seems that the popular opinion of Favre has morphed from all-time-great competitor into selfish manipulator for self-aggrandizement.

On Sunday, during the Minnesota Vikings' upset loss to the Carolina Panthers, it was reported that Favre and Minnesota head coach Brad Childress got into a heated discussion because Childress wanted to yank Favre out of the game with the Vikings leading 7-6 in the third quarter.

Since then I've heard some analysts criticize Favre for fussing with Childress.

ESPN's Merril Hoge and Trent Dilfer had a spirited exchange, with Hoge saying Favre should have accepted Childress' decision because what the coach decides goes - end of story.

Dilfer argued, you don't bench Favre, not when you signed him knowing the warts that come with him.

In a fan vote by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, nearly 70 percent said either Childress was right, or that even if Favre were right, he should have listened to the coach.

I'm with Dilfer.

Really, how did anyone expect the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, a guy with a Super Bowl ring, to react when informed that he was being pulled with his team leading by a point?

Of course, he's going to argue to stay in the game. Favre is not only a competitor but also a proven winner.

As he said after the game, "It's not 70-6, but we're up 7-6. So, I said, 'I'm staying in the game. I'm playing.' ''

Can you imagine if the reverse would have happened, if Favre were the one who suggested he come out of a one-point game with the Vikings fighting for a bye in the NFC playoffs?

He would be vilified in the media and by the fans. He would lose all respect in the Vikings locker room. Despite Favre's extensive resume, he would be remembered as a quitter. He would be the Roberto "No Mas" Duran of Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

What's funny is there was a time not too long ago when a more beloved Favre would have been praised for arguing to stay in a game that was still very winnable. It would have been universally touted as part of the competitive nature that helped him excel as one of the all-time great quarterbacks.

But that was before two summers ago when Favre had the audacity to change his mind about retirement and decided he wanted to play again.

The Green Bay Packers' front office decided it did not want Favre back but didn't want to release him out of fear he would sign with an NFC North opponent.

I understood why the Packers, who eventually traded Favre to the New York Jets, made their decision, but I never understood why many media members and fans proclaimed that Favre had committed some great sin against football.

Favre was chided as being wishy-washy, arrogant, manipulative and selfish for wanting to resume his career.

I thought the guy was being held hostage. I thought the Packers should have released him if they didn't want him.

So today, I can't understand why anyone would criticize Favre for Sunday.

The Vikings were 11-2 with Favre as the quarterback and still had a chance to catch New Orleans for the top seed in the NFC. No matter how much Favre was struggling, why would Childress consider pulling him from a game that they led by a point to put in Tarvaris Jackson?

Childress is well aware of Favre's nature. He had to know that his quarterback would tell him to take that idea and shove it.

Why would Childress risk causing this kind of controversy at this point in the season?

If Minnesota had been locked into its playoff position I might agree with Childress' postgame excuse that he wanted to save Favre from more of the pounding he was taking from the Carolina defense.

But it's leaking out that Childress has considered yanking Favre before because of the quarterback's well-known propensity to go off-script and audible out of designed plays.

Favre had reportedly checked out of a run play moments before his "heated" sideline discussion with Childress.

Childress tutored under Andy Reid. He has Reid's inclination to want strict control of the offense and quarterback. When Childress was the Eagles' offensive coordinator, it was frowned upon whenever Donovan McNabb audibled. Childress took that philosophy to the Vikings.

But it's one thing to keep Jackson under tight reins and quite another to do it with Favre.

Favre is the ultimate gunslinger. His decisions to sometimes go off-script have produced some of his greatest highlights and lowlights.

The good produced from Favre's style, however, has far outweighed the bad. With the Vikings headed to the playoffs as NFC North champion, I don't see how now is the time to doubt him.

Man-Crush Alert.

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