At the end of his 14th NFL season, there's a lot of little boy in Brett Favre, but he knows even he can't play forever.
That's why Sunday's wild-card game against the Vikings is as big as they come for the Green Bay quarterback, who realizes he won't have many more opportunities to return to the Super Bowl.
"I've been fortunate to play in a lot of playoff games, and each one of them is precious," Favre, 35, said. "I understand and realize that if you win, you continue. If you lose, you're gone. I know, as you get to the latter part of your career, you run the risk of it being the last game you ever play in. You never know when you're going to go back, if you do. So I consider it a luxury to be in the playoffs."
The playoffs seemed a long way off three months ago, after the Packers began 1-4, but they rallied to win nine of their final 11 games to retain the NFC North title.
This team bears little resemblance to the powerhouse squads Favre led to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances following the 1996 and "97 seasons, but he likes his chances.
"I'm as optimistic as I've ever been," he said. "I don't think I can look at it any differently. There are some things we need to get better at offensively, defensively, special teams. We're not the team we were in "96 and "97. I don't know if this team will ever be that good again. I don't know if any team will be that dominant. But we are in, and that's a lot different than our 1-4 start."
Off the field, this has been another trying season for Favre, who has had to deal with the death of a brother-in-law who flipped an all-terrain vehicle on the quarterback's property in Mississippi and wife Deanna's breast cancer.
On the field, it has been business as usual for the three-time league most valuable player, who wasn't voted onto the NFC Pro Bowl team but passed for 4,088 yards and 30 touchdowns while running his streak of consecutive starts to 224 games, including playoffs.
"I thought he's had a heck of a year; I really do," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "We've been through some tough times early on and hung in there together. He's an amazing guy. Once you think he's reached his level of excellence, he shows you another area he's working on and then he works on something else."
As far as Sherman is concerned, there's no one he would rather have under center with the game on the line.
"The one thing I've always said that you have with Brett Favre, you have hope," he said. "When you start the season, you have hope that you're going to be in the playoffs and hopefully get to the Super Bowl. When you're in a game, you have hope you're going to win. He brings an awful lot to this team."
RAMS: Before practice, coach Mike Martz said guard Tom Nutten probably wouldn't play Sunday against Seattle after spraining his left knee in the season finale.
After practice, even though Nutten was listed as doubtful, Martz said Nutten would practice today.
"He may play this week," Martz said. "There's a chance. I was very, very surprised."
Nutten has started six of the last seven games at left guard. Martz said if pressed earlier in the week, he would have assumed Nutten would be out several weeks.
"If he goes out in pregame and practices well, he'll play," Martz said. "He's got too much experience and he's too good of a player."
Rookie Larry Turner, who started at Arizona Dec. 19, is the likely replacement at that position if Nutten is unable to play. Turner was a seventh-round pick this year and is one of four players to start at left guard this season.
_ TIMES WIRES