Favre's now America's top 40

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mock him. Rip him. Despise him. But while you're at it, remember to respect him.

Brett Favre has earned at least that much, right?

If you're still wondering why Favre unretired for seemingly the billionth time, the Minnesota Vikings' 34-3 invasive surgery on the Dallas Cowboys is a nice place to start.

Scalpel, please.

Favre and the Vikings first cut out Dallas' heart, then Tony Romo's arm, and then removed the remaining body parts of the Cowboys from the playoffs. The Vikings advance to the NFC Championship Game. Organ donor Dallas advances to the offseason.

"No one's more surprised than me with the way the game unfolded," Favre said late Sunday afternoon.

It didn't unfold so much as it crashed on the Cowboys. The designated "hottest team in the playoffs" was extinguished by its own big mouth (thank you, strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh), by its inability to pass block (a jittery Romo was sacked six times and committed three turnovers) and by four Favre touchdown passes (a playoff-tying record three to wide receiver Sidney Rice).

Sometimes you have to remind yourself that Favre is 40 years old. His beard stubble is as gray as the T-shirt he wore to the postgame news conference, but his right arm is college sophomore and his enthusiasm is Pop Warner.

"He don't look no 40," said Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams, at 37 the second-oldest player on the Minnesota roster.

"Forty going on 25," said Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt.

Favre completed 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards, those four TDs and no interceptions. But those are just numbers. To appreciate what he really did, watch a replay of the 47-yard precision bomb he threw to Rice late in the first quarter. And let's hope Sensabaugh watches it too, since he missed it the first time.

"I don't even think he knew it was thrown," Rice said of Sensabaugh, who had popped off earlier in the week about beating the Vikings.

TD Pass No. 2 was better. Not better thrown, but how many times do you see a 40-year-old quarterback juke a 26-year-old defensive end out of his sani socks? That's what Favre did to Marcus Spears moments before finding Rice for a 16-yard scoring throw.

TD Pass No. 3 was another perfect throw to Rice for a 45-yard score. And TD Pass No. 4 came on a fourth-and-3 from the Cowboys' 11 with two minutes left in the game. Favre threw it. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe caught it. Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking hated it -- and showed great closing speed to the Vikings' sideline so he could tell Minnesota coach Brad Childress exactly that.

"It isn't our fault [Shiancoe] got open," said Vikings guard Anthony Herrera.

Favre didn't apologize for the pass. Then again, he wasn't the one who called it; Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did that. Was it another shovel full of rock salt in the Cowboys' wound? Sure. But it doesn't change the essential facts: Favre, Rice and the Vikings' offensive and defensive lines played well … Romo, the Cowboys' O-line, secondary and field goal kicker didn't.

Afterward, a beaming Zygi Wilf, the Vikings' owner, lingered in the locker room. He's the guy who OK'd the free-agent run at Favre and wrote the check. The payoff for the QB codger has been enormous.

"I'm approaching 60, so [40 is] young to me," Wilf said. "But the excitement he brings to everybody, the fun that he has with the players makes it a great time for everybody."

One more win -- next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome -- and the Vikings are in the Super Bowl. Just spitballing here, but Favre versus Peyton Manning isn't a bad storyline.

"This is why he was brought here," Williams said. "To prove a point to everybody."

And the point?

"Basically everybody was saying he was too old, [saying] 'Why you coming back?"' Williams said. "But he showed everybody why he came back."

So far during these playoffs, Favre has outlasted the other golden QB oldie, Arizona's Kurt Warner (38). He has outlasted his longtime employers, the Green Bay Packers, and his replacement Aaron Rodgers (through no real fault of Rodgers', though). And on Sunday, he outlasted the supposedly "new" postseason Romo.

"He's playing the best he's played his whole career," said Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, the NFL offensive rookie of the year. "He's just one of those anointed guys."

First of all, Harvin is 21. Favre has boxer shorts older than that. But he's right: If Favre isn't playing the best football of his career, it's close to the best.

Of course, the Vikings didn't know what to make of him before he arrived last summer.

"If everything they were saying about him was true, as far as him not being a good locker room guy, I didn't want him," Herrera said. "But from the first day here he was nothing like everybody was saying. The Green Bay Packers were trying to make him seem like a bad person. [And] whatever they were saying about him in New York -- they were trying to make him seem like a bad person.

"None of it's true. None of it, at all. I'm happy to have him as one of my teammates."

At this point, everything is playoff gravy for Favre. He wants to reach his third Super Bowl. He wants to prove 40 is the new football 30. And yeah, maybe he wants to stick it to Packers management.

But for now, love him or hate him, you can't deny what he's accomplished this season. Favre is channeling 1990s Brett.

"I was actually thinking about it last night," Favre said. "I'm like, 'OK, now I know when I look back at my career I will remember the 40-year-old year. No doubt.'"

Everyone will. The Vikings. The Packers. And now the Cowboys.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.