MINNEAPOLIS — Brett Favre's performance this season for Minnesota has defied much skepticism. He still has work to do.
When the Vikings take the field for Sunday's playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, the pressure for Favre to deliver a victory will never be more clear.
"I know how difficult it is to get here. I know how difficult it is to go on," Favre said. "I'm sure that's one of the reasons why I'm here, is to help this team advance."
During a lifetime of watching Favre work, Tony Romo has also dealt with doubt about his ability.
The Cowboys just won their first playoff game in 13 years, and now they've got another goal of ending a streak: Their last postseason victory on the road was all the way back in the NFC championship game at San Francisco after the 1992 season.
That sent "The Triplets" — Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith — to their first Super Bowl. This Dallas team is suddenly the trendy pick to get back there, with a rare December surge and two decisive victories over division rival Philadelphia behind the push. Just as with Favre, the focus will be on Romo.
"I think the standard just gets higher and higher for him," tight end Jason Witten said. "He realizes that, and he doesn't really worry about it."
Earlier in the season, Favre described a startling depth of insecurity still present for him at age 40 as the uncertainty of his arm's response to surgery complicated his decision about playing another year.
This week, Favre acknowledged he deals with that regularly despite a season that went better than everyone anticipated.
"I think it's human nature," he said. "For me, I know it's always been a source of drive or a sense of always needing to prove myself, not ever being satisfied. I think it's OK to be confident. I don't think it's OK to be overconfident. Doubt to me at times is a good thing. It makes you work harder. You never get complacent.
"I just know for me it's worked for me, but it teeters. Just like you wake up some days and you have better days than others."
Romo is from Wisconsin, raised in Burlington not far from Milwaukee, where it's blasphemous for a boy to root for any team but Green Bay. Favre quickly caught his attention, but John Elway was a star in Denver then who also gave young Romo plenty to study and be awed by. That Broncos-Packers Super Bowl after the 1997 season? Tough to choose who to cheer for.
"I went back and forth throughout the game," Romo said this week.
Perhaps out of respect for Favre, or simply because no two quarterbacks can truly be the same in such a complex game, Romo has publicly brushed off all the attempts at comparisons to a decade-ago Favre.
"Brett's in a class by himself," Romo said. "No one is really similar to him. A lot of people try to create some similarities, but when he's done you're not going to see a guy like him. That's a testament to how great he's been for so long."
Romo defended Favre's all-time record for career interceptions, including a couple of costly gaffes for Green Bay in recent playoff games, as a product of healthy confidence and a competitive drive rather than recklessness.
"He takes chances when he thinks it's a healthy chance," Romo said. "I don't think he randomly throws the ball up in the air. If you feel like you can fit a ball through a hole, you throw it."
Romo also issued a challenge to the portion of the Packers cheering section embittered by Favre's touchy departure.
"I'm sure there are some that are hurt that he left the team, but some of that is out of his control," Romo said. "I think his place up there should be cemented. He gave too much to that team and turned that organization around. I think if you're a Packer fan, that needs to be where it stands with you."
Clearly, despite Romo's attempts to downplay his affection for Favre, this game will mean a lot to him.
"No question, that was Tony's idol," said Witten, a close friend. "I think he really got into football because of Brett Favre, but I think when you get to this level you really have to look at it from a different standpoint. I think Tony's done a good job. That's the opponent now. It's a chess match between him and Brett."
In Romo's maturation this season he has learned to make safer throws and picked up more of the nuances of the position. His fourth year as the starter was certainly his best, with only nine interceptions and a sterling performance from Thanksgiving on. That the Cowboys are still playing this weekend is no coincidence.
Romo has been in the kind of quick-passing rhythm that has been a problem at times for the Vikings.
"All you can do is try to get your hands up and knock some balls down," said defensive end Jared Allen. "It comes down to the same things. Fundamentally we have to stop the run, put them in third-and-long situations and force them to beat us down the field."
These teams faced each other twice in first-round playoff games in the last generation of Cris Carter's sure hands and Emmitt Smith's slithery running, with Dallas winning at home after the 1996 season and Minnesota doing the same three years later.
This, though, will be the most meaningful meeting between them since Dec. 28, 1975, when Roger Staubach's last-second heave to Drew Pearson lifted the Cowboys to a contested victory and eliminated perhaps Bud Grant's best team in Minnesota during that dominant-yet-disappointing decade. Vikings fans are still sore that pass interference wasn't called on Pearson for that play.
They'll have another chance Sunday to cheer for redemption — this time, with Favre as the central figure in the story.
"He knows what he's doing," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "I mean, we signed up for it."