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Favre isn't fading, even at age 40

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - To celebrate last week's victory, Brett Favre cocked his hat to the side and led the Minnesota Vikings in an off-key abbreviation of a song made famous by "American Idol."

His favorite greeting for unsuspecting teammates is a powerful slap on the backside that he has mischievously repeated countless times during the season.

Oh, and he keeps peeling himself off the ground after each hard hit, his durability at age 40 still as sound as ever.

Favre will become the oldest quarterback in NFL history to start a conference championship game in New Orleans on Sunday when the Vikings meet the Saints, but he's sure not acting his age.

"Brett's amazing," defensive end Jared Allen said. "He's out there having fun and playing like he's 20."

Favre broke the league's longevity records for non-kickers this season, for consecutive games and consecutive starts. With his right arm healed from surgery in May to repair a partially torn biceps tendon in his shoulder and the offensive line protecting him relatively well, Favre has looked as spry as he has in a long time.

"I was hoping that I'd be standing here with the same feeling," Favre said. "But you have to think that at 40, coming off surgery with a rotator cuff tear, that at some point it's going to show up. From that standpoint, it is a little bit surprising."

Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, in an interview with The Associated Press, described Favre as "one of the toughest guys" he has ever met.

"He can get through injuries and ailments different really than almost anyone else I've ever seen," Sugarman said. "He can get whacked in the game and get a big bruise in his back, and he'll come show it to me. I'll be like, 'Hey, let's go over here.' He says, 'Nah, I'm good. I'll get in the cold tub.' That's his deal. That's his treatment of choice."

Twenty minutes. Fifty-degree water. That's it.

"He'll come get his shoulder stretched, but as far as banging out rehab and stuff, nah, he doesn't have any to do," Sugarman said. "It's remarkable. I wish I could take some credit, but I get none for him."

The Saints might be able to take a comfortable lead and force Favre into a couple of frustration-fueled interceptions, but there's no evidence from this season to suggest he's vulnerable to a physical breakdown. The game will be inside, of course, not at frozen Lambeau Field, where Favre looked increasingly less comfortable in recent years.

"We can all think of players that have had long careers, but I can't think of someone who has played at the level he's playing at this many years into it," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He's in great shape. You see the velocity on his throws."

Safety Darren Sharper, Favre's longtime teammate with the Packers, said: "His arm speed and arm strength hasn't slowed down at all. He's still making all of the throws. He's still mobile in the pocket. I haven't seen him scramble as much and dive over the top of people like he did when I was with him in Green Bay, but I'm not doing those things either."

Perhaps the most impressive part of Favre's performance this season is that he's carried so much more of Minnesota's load than he or anyone else anticipated. The running game didn't work the way it was expected to.

"Enjoy every minute of it,'' Favre said, "and I know I have done that."

He's not only blessed with that bionic body but still is that stubborn boy from Mississippi with the ever-present stubble, even if it's now gray. The hundreds of thousands of online viewers of Favre's screaming rendition of the "Pants on the Ground" song can attest to that.

So can his teammates.

Linebacker Ben Leber estimated he's been targeted by Favre's backside slap about four or five times. "They sting every time," Leber said.

Though he came with an isolationist reputation, fair or accurate or not, the Vikings mostly warmed up to him right away.

"He didn't have anything to prove to anyone as far as his personality," Leber said. "I think everybody kind of got it. Playing against him all these years, I think everyone understood he was just kind of a big kid."

Guard Steve Hutchinson was sold.

"From Day One it's been the exact opposite of all the rumors that you've heard," Hutchinson said. "He's the oldest guy on the team, but I would say he acts like the youngest . . . All that stuff you see on TV, him running around after he throws a touchdown pass, that's all genuine stuff. It's infectious."

So if this Super Bowl run falls short?

"Forty smorty," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "I don't care. As long as he's slinging that ball the way he's slinging it, that's all that we care about . . . It's up to him if he comes back next year or not. I don't know. Who knows with him? It will be another Favre-a-palooza. You already know that."

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