Living Arts: Contact Improv Dance

My hipbone digs into the shoulder of my contact improvisation dance partner. My trembling hands are extended towards the polished wooden floor, and as I tentatively extend my legs towards the ceiling I find myself balancing like a teeter-totter in what, to me, feels like an imminent state of freefall.

Although realistically, I can’t be more than five feet from the ground, I’m overwhelmed with a boggling head rush and a sensation of flight. Somehow I’ve managed to find myself quite literally picked up out of my sedentary—and largely misanthropic—urban lifestyle, and lowered into a tight-knit community of dancers who thrive on communication with strangers through touch, movement, and eye contact. I’m the kind of girl who pretends to text on the subway to avoid awkward human interaction—and now I’m balancing precariously on the shoulder of my stony-faced, six-foot dance partner as he takes slow steps around the gym of the Trinity St. Paul Centre.

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I slide back down to the floor, and with my feet safely planted ask my partner sheepishly for some feedback. He advises me to “commit more,” which essentially means that the next time I swing my weight onto his shoulder, I need to reach for the floor. This seems like a surefire way to take advantage of the universal health care system in Canada with a smashed nose or broken neck, and, needless to say, I’m not wild about this critique. Instead, I take a moment to survey the room.

The high-ceilinged, makeshift dance studio is filled with about 20 other students of contact improvisation, a hodgepodge of men and women of various ages and physical types. Although I’m probably the youngest person in the room, I can only watch with envy as the part-
ners complete their lifts with impossible grace, shifting their weight, rocketing into space and then returning to the ground with an overriding sense of serene concentration.

“The best contact dancers are usually in their sixties,” instructor Suzanne Liska explained to me before the class, “It’s because they were around when the form of dance first started. You don’t need any technical training for contact improvisation, but it still takes
years to perfect.”

Contact improv began in the early 1970s as a project of Steve Paxton at Oberlin College in Ohio. For this kind of dance there is no choreography; instead, it requires the dancer to engage with his or her surroundings and partner with an emphasis on gravity, momentum, and resistance. In laymen’s terms, that essentially means that people support each other’s weights through lifts as they attempt to move together through space, typically in groups of two.

Liska, who was introduced to contact improvisation in St. John’s, Newfoundland, continues, “Contact improvisation really heightens your senses: it’s all about choreography in the moment. You have to be in touch with your body and your partner. There’s an endless range of things that you can do. It’s really new territory in movement.”

Toronto also plays host to the longest running “Contact Jam” series in the world, based out of the Dovercourt House. “Jams” are a common way for contact improvisers to perfect their skills, engaging in an hour or two of completely spontaneous movement among peers. The Dovercourt House runs a jam on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. And although the jams are open to newcomers, I wanted a little bit more structure for my introduction to the postmodern dance form.

In theory, contact improvisation is right up my alley. It emphasizes expressing yourself through authentic movement, without the constraints of technicality, or having to be a pawn in someone else’s choreography. Instead, you are completely free to move your body in accordance to your own vision and your own emotions. With years of technical dance training under my belt, and a penchant for relaying my emotions to friends with impromptu interpretive dances, I thought that I would be the perfect candidate for a form of dance that just required me to express my emotions through movement.

Turns out, the hardest part about contact improv is the contact. Working with a partner to simultaneously express your perspective and tell a story requires sensitivity and com-
promise. Partnering happens organically, which means that as you start to dance, you have to get a feel for the person who is moving at your pace and moving in the same direction. Making eye contact, and touching another person with both force and sensitivity while improvising a dance that you want to look at least a little bit graceful is intimidating as hell—and when my partner asked me what it was that I wanted out of this partnership, I almost screamed that I wasn’t ready for anything serious right now.

But God, when it’s done right, it’s done right. In moments, I managed to lose my inhibitions and get a sense of the organic rawness that makes this form of dance unique. But watching Suzanne Liska work with partner Pam Johnson, a jam facilitator at the Dovercourt House, I realized why this is a form of dance that, while it doesn’t necessarily require technical prowess, takes years to perfect. The two of them managed to move effortlessly across the floor, forming shapes with their bodies, and hoisting each other’s weights in impossible positions, creating an emotional movement that was both fluid and dramatic.

Inspired, I turned back to my partner, this time determined to leap onto his shoulder with the same effervescent ease. And hey, although I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, at least I managed to commit to something without snapping my neck.

Photos by Alex Nursall

Rain man

I usually think of myself as a heterosexual male, but let me tell you something about Korean pop star Rain: he is hot. He is in Toronto promoting Ninja Assassin, the first American film in which he has a starring role, and as I go up to shake his hand before a roundtable interview, I am so struck by his high cheekbones and perfectly-styled hair that I neglect to remember that I’m holding a pen in the hand I’ve reached out.

Here’s another Rain tidbit I can impart: he’s also obscenely charming. “Thank you, thank you for coming out,” says Rain to the four assembled journalists. “It’s my honour. It’s my first time, you know, in Canada. I really love Toronto.” I’m not sure how that reads in print, but hearing it from the ever-smiling most-famous-musician-in-Asia and Stephen Colbert’s arch-nemesis…well, it’s enough to make a journalist blush.

Directed by V for Vendetta’s James McTeigue and produced by the Wachowski brothers, Ninja Assassin tells the simple story of Raizo (Rain), a ninja raised in a monastery to be an assassin who then turns against his old master (grindhouse legend Sho Kosugi) and basically goes freelance. Ah, if there’s one thing an evil old master doesn’t like, it’s betrayal, and pretty soon Raizo is fighting off an endless stream of enemy ninjas. The film’s second half is wall-to-wall action, with Raizo taking more punishment than any movie character since The Passion of the Christ and still managing to kick an overwhelming quantity of ninja ass.
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“I loved Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan—you know, my heroes,” Rain says. “I saw a lot of Bruce Lee movie from when I was young, and I’m so powerful, I’m so faster, I’m so young, I’m so [much more] handsome than them, and you know…I’m just kidding!”

This is only Rain’s third movie, following a starring role in Park Chan-wook’s interesting but little-seen I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK and a supporting role in the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer. “Were you intimidated at all, carrying an entire movie?” asks a journalist.

A brief moment of reflection. “No!” he says cheerfully.

Indeed, if Rain can be described in a single word, it would be “confident.” Though he is accompanied by a translator and occasionally requires his assistance, Rain speaks English with such vigour and confidence that one almost forgets he doesn’t totally understand it.

He is asked about his Hollywood ambitions. “Yes, it’s big opportunity for me. I’ll do my best…I’ll do my best…and if I’ll do my best, Americans would love me, too, and I definitely would like to continue my career in Hollywood. That’s all.”

I ask if he keeps in mind how his Asian fanbase might react to his Hollywood films. He reflects for a moment: “Uh…yes, I agree. And I hope people like it. You know, actually, it’s hard to even walk in street in Asia. I hope [for] the same here. I hope.”

“He looks like he belongs in a boy band,” says one of Ninja Assassin’s minor characters about our hero, but Korea’s top pop star did his training. “I had to make my body fit, you know, like Bruce Lee. I trained for…eight month? Five days a week, eight hours a day. It was hard, and I ate just chicken breast and vegetable, no sugar, no salt—it was horrible. And second of all, I learned a lot of martial art—Tai Chi, Taekwando, Kung Fu, kickboxing—with sword and double-sword…yeah, I learned a lot.”

“When I was doing stunts I have lots of cuts on my body. You know, even though everybody took care of me, I still got hurt. One day I pretend [I] broke my legs. I said, after the stunt, ‘Oh my god, I can’t feel my legs!’ And people said, ‘Are you okay? Are you alright?! Are you alright?!’ I said, ‘I’m just kidding.’ It was fun—so fun.”

“Are you worried that some of your music fans might be put off my some of the violence?” asks a journalist.

Rain responds: “I understand you… you know, I never worried, because I hope they like it, and I hope that I will have more fans after this film.”

“Bruce Lee was mentioned, and you’re attached to the Enter the Dragon remake,” asks the same journalist. “Could you tell us anything about that?

Rain shifts in his chair. “Uuuuuuh…I haven’t decide yet. I haven’t decide yet. And…I can’t tell you, because…it’s secret. If I tell you…my producer will kill me.”

“Does a project like that seem intimidating to you?” I ask. “Because, Bruce Lee is a legend, and Enter the Dragon is his most famous movie, and you’re sorta setting yourself up for comparison.”

A long pause. “Uh…there is a real opportunity…but I told you, I haven’t decided yet. BUT, I will very soon.”

Ninja Assassin is now in theatres.

Freshly pressed: Northern Europe edition

Kings of Convenience—Declaration of Dependence
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On their third studio album, childhood friends Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe have done something no one thought possible: they got quieter. Five years after the success of their previous album, Riot on an Empty Street, Declaration of Dependence falls short of their stylistically comparable, advice-driven earlier efforts. However, this is only because of the sheer excellence of the last album. Declaration remains consistently strong and an easy, relaxing, enjoyable album.

There are no drums on this album, just a perfect balance of acoustic guitar, cello, violin, and most calming of all, the delightfully well-matched singing voices of Øye and Bøe. Their voices are underrated and often get lost behind the soft yet influential instruments.

Kings of Convenience set the mood early with opening track “24-25,” which makes even the softest, oft-compared Simon and Garfunkel song seem too noisy. Lead single “Mrs. Cold” is complex, offering a new favourite part upon each listen. The album gets stronger with “Boat Behind,” “Renegade,” and “Freedom and its Owner,” but then gets dryer towards the end. Still, these tracks are positive overall and add to the calm mood throughout the album.

Ultimately, Declaration will suit you if you’re the kind of person who thinks this world is more hectic than it needs to be, and that life often feels like a race to a never-ending finish line. Only when listened to in solace can one can hear the intricate guitar strums and the hard-to-replicate sound of fingers sliding on an acoustic.—Josh Staav


The Script—The Script
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Known to me as “the band that opened for U2,” I was prepared to write about The Script as an Irish trio of ingenious talent and versatility. Sure, they’re talented, but versatile? Hell no!

In their self-titled debut album, singer Danny O’Donaghue, guitarist Mark Sheehan, and drummer Glen Power create a fusion of rock, soul, R&B, and hip hop. Incorporating funk-inspired percussion and semi-rapped vocals, The Script mirrors a style comparable to white soulsters Robin Thicke and Jason Mraz.

The album reeks of personal emotion, while using classic song construction and contemporary storytelling. But from love to break-ups, many of the songs share lyrical ground that’s too similar. O’Donaghue is either struggling to hold a relationship together (“Talk You Down,” “Before the Worst”) or struggling to accept that it is over (“Break Even,” “If You See Kay”). Although the music and lyrics are catchy—even borderline addictive—they lack diversity.

“The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” is the only highlight of the album—
following O’Donaghue on his mission to win back a former lover, it is captivating and powerful, and this would be a good song to crank on your Ipod as you lie in bed post-break-up.

The relatable lyrics and larger-than-life choruses make it inevitable that we’ll be hearing this album all over the radio and featured in mainstream television shows—it’s already made appearances on The Hills, Ghost Whisperer, and 90210. In its entirety, though, the album is nothing more than good. Next time around, The Script needs to deliver more substance to match their commercial success.—Jessica Tomlinson

Making a movement for Movember

As a student, have you ever taken the time to stop and observe your surroundings on campus? Probably not—most of us are speed walking just to make it to class. During your sprints between buildings, some of you may think you’ve been hallucinating, saying to yourself: “Either I’ve had too much Red Bull, or that guy missed a really big spot when he shaved this morning.”

Believe it or not, you aren’t hallucinating. The moustache, popular in the ’80s, is making a comeback. There is a perfectly good explanation for this, and no, it isn’t because Tom Selleck is bringing back Magnum P.I.

November has been designated as “Movember,” an annual celebration promoting awareness of men’s health issues, particularly prostate cancer. The idea, originating in Adelaide, Australia, is for men to grow moustaches during November to raise money for prostate cancer research.

A “Mo Bro” is someone who looks for donations from friends, family, or essentially anyone they run into. He starts off the month clean shaven, and over the next 30 days lets loose the beast that his wife, girlfriend, or mother would never allow to come out of hibernation.

At U of T, we have quite a few “Mo Bros,” and one in particular is making a ’stache splash. Nick Snow is a member of a U of T’s men’s basketball team, and is currently sporting the horseshoe-style ’stache. “It’s [part of] a fund-raiser for Prostate Cancer Canada, called Movember, where guys grow moustaches for a month and get people to sponsor them,” said Snow.

As for the rest of the team’s moustaches, Snow said that “some of them are a little shy, and some might not be able to fill one out.”

At the men’s basketball home opener on Nov. 6, the support for Movember was almost as strong as the support for the team itself. The first few rows of bleachers were full of “Mo Sistas,” females who, for obvious reasons, can’t grow a moustache but show their encouragement by taping on a fake one.

To date, Nick Snow and his PHE team, made up of students from the faculty of physical and health education, have raised $1,230 in donations for the promotion of prostate cancer research, detection, and treatment, as well as support for families of men diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Much like the pink ribbon for breast cancer or the orange ribbon for leukemia, the moustache is becoming a symbol for prostate cancer awareness. Money raised by Mo Bros could potentially aid someone you know. Who knew that a few Aussies looking for a way to justify growing out their moustaches over a few beers would initiate a worldwide movement?

To make a donation, go to movember.com, where you have the choice to donate to the cause in general, an individual (i.e. Nick Snow), or a team (i.e. PHE at U of T).

Jet force

Even before Radiohead announced that they were offering their album In Rainbows as a download in 2007, British Columbia’s Jets Overhead was experimenting with online album releases. In 2006, the band released their debut record, Bridges, as a free download, letting it hit stores a year later. Lead singer Antonia Freybe-Smith explains that the band was excited to follow a new trend in the music industry, as they would rather listeners download a high-quality version of their tracks than find a pilfered rip-off on the Internet. Gaining a following was more important than making a profit, says Freybe-Smith, though she does admit, “not getting paid is frustrating.”

Luckily, Jets Overhead built an online fan base with Bridges, and the album release was followed by an international tour that included destinations in China and across the United States. In 2007, they earned a Juno nomination for New Group of the Year, and have gone on to open for acts including The Dandy Warhols, Broken Social Scene, and Our Lady Peace.

Heavily influenced by British bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead (and not only in promotional strategies), Freybe-Smith explains that Jets Overhead’s sound is “ambient and full of swirly noises…a heavy but not aggressive sound.” Last May, Jets Overhead released their second full album No Nations and went on to play Bonnaroo and other “twenty-something” gigs, as Freybe-Smith calls them. She describes this city tour as having been “amazing but exhausting.”

Jets Overhead has since turned to smaller, more intimate venues on their second tour, with the notable exception of this year’s Bridge Tour Benefit. Freybe-Smith says that playing with the likes of Neil Young and No Doubt was “such an honour, and felt like a dream—I was completely blown away by the opportunity.” It was an honest and heartfelt musical experience, she explains, more centred on connecting through music than at the typical concert.

As Jets Overhead gear up for their show in Toronto this Thursday, what has Freybe-Smith learned from their tour so far? “It’s an interesting existence,” she says. “There’s lots of thinking and meeting people. It’s all about a creative exchange.”

Jets Overhead play the Kool Haus with Lights on Nov. 26. For more information, visit jetsoverhead.com.

One ball short

The University of Toronto Table Tennis Club men’s team missed two opportunities to close out critical wins at the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association’s Eastern Division tournament this past Saturday, while the women’s squad finished second behind a very competitive Western team.

The afternoon’s biggest story was the battle between the U of T, McGill, Ottawa, and Waterloo men’s teams for supremacy. Toronto came painstakingly close to glory, dropping a best-of-five set 3-2 to Waterloo in which at one point they held a 2-0 lead in the fifth game.

A close but comfortable 3-1 victory over McGill followed, but they were again bested in five during their final match of the afternoon, this time to Ottawa. While they held a 2-1 advantage in the series and a 2-0 lead in the clinching game, they couldn’t close it out.

McGill wound up the surprise victors, cruising past Waterloo and Ottawa. Toronto finished fourth. The other three schools that participated were Queen’s, York, and Western.

The women’s team, despite losing many members of its 2006-2008 squads to graduation, managed to place a solid second. They were victorious against McGill and York before the experienced Western club took them out in the final.

UTTTC joined the NCTAA in 2005 because table tennis is not a varsity sport. The club played in the New York division up until last year because there were never enough teams to field in Canada. This year, NCTAA launched an Eastern Canada division, consisting of seven universities. “We at UTTTC are happy to have been and continue to be a strong influence in the development of table tennis in Canadian universities,” said club director Oscar del Rio in an email to The Varsity.

The club’s teams have performed remarkably well in the past. Representing their division in 2006 at the North American championship, the women’s squad dropped the championship in a 3-2 heartbreaker to Stanford to take second place, while the men’s team finished an impressive fifth. Two years later, the women’s team fell just short in the championship match, this time to Texas Wesleyan, while the men came in sixth.

The next Eastern Division tournament will be held on Feb. 6. As for UTTTC’s prospects, del Rio was coy in his prediction. “We still have hope of qualifying for the Nationals, although the competition will be tough,” he said.

Questions surface over UTM proxies

Proxy votes at last Thursday’s UTSU annual general meeting were subject to last-minute and discretionary decisions. The majority of UTM’s votes at the meeting came from proxies.

Proxy forms allow students who can’t attend a meeting to designate a representative. The UTSU website gives the location where forms can be picked up, but does not specify who can sign off on them. According to Adnan Najmi, UTSU’s VP internal and services, a union executive or staff member must number the forms and sign off on them once they are returned. One student can hold up to 10 proxies.

There is no late policy for proxy forms and it is at the VP internal services’ discretion to decide what to do with forms that are late or fail to arrive.

Proxy forms for the AGM were both received and returned late. They were due from UTM on Nov. 16 and 5 p.m., but weren’t delivered to the UTM student union until 5:30 p.m. that day. Najmi gave UTMSU a one-day extension to return the forms.

“The UTSU director who was given the task to take the proxies [sic] forms to UTM got sick and unfortunately failed to inform me that he could not deliver the forms,” Najmi wrote in an email. “I heard about the forms on the Monday the forms were due. It was my decision to increase the deadline for UTM proxies.”

UTMSU executive director Mohammed Hashim also made a last-minute change over the distribution of proxies. The UTSU website instructed students to go to room 115 in the Student Centre, run by office administrator Linda Feener. Feener said her office did not hand out or receive any proxies. Nor was she informed of the changes or required to count or verify the accuracy of the proxy forms—her responsibility for UTM’s own AGM, which took place last Wednesday.

According to UTMSU president Joey Santiago, while some forms were given to Feener, the rest were given to campaigns co-ordinator Dhananjai Kholi in room 100. Both offices are run by UTMSU. Both Hashim and Kohli declined to comment for this article.

Kholi was given full authority to distribute and sign the forms. They were faxed back to the UTSU office at 12 Hart House Circle instead of the usual hand-delivery. “[The faxes] were excepted [sic] in good faith as true copies of the original forms,” wrote Najmi in an email.

Santiago said UTM students had about 253 votes at the AGM, of which 230 were proxies through 27 forms. Most St. George students at the meeting did not have the maximum number of proxies allowed. Najmi said St. George had over 93 students with 27 carrying proxies and did not respond with the specific number of votes. The forms have been destroyed. “Forms are shredded once the AGM is over due to confidential student information on those forms,” Najmi said.

In an editorial on Monday, Alain Latour, editor-in-chief of UTM student paper The Medium, raised the issue of transparency in the proxy collection process. Latour argued that UTSU and UTMSU execs have too much control over proxy distribution and collection, questioning Kholi’s authority to oversee the process independent of Feener and why the proxies were destroyed immediately.

UTM has seen allegations of proxy mismanagement before. Last year, The Medium reported accusations that UTMSU executives distributed nameless and signed proxy forms to students prior to their AGM, filling out many of the names and student numbers themselves to ensure they had enough votes to pass their own motions. At UTSU’s AGM this year, no special motions were put to a vote. Business consisted of routine matters such as passing the budget, approving last year’s minutes, and approving the appointment of auditors for this year’s budget.

On two occasions, speaker Ashkon Hameshi noticed students holding up voting cards that belonged to others who had left the meeting.

“I notice students holding up voting cards that are not theirs—and you know who you are. If you do it again, you’ll be asked to leave.”

After a quick break during the AGM, Hashemi noted that quorum was maintained “by the slimmest of margins” with only 76 votes present. Seventy-five votes are required for quorum, of which 50 must come from students present.

Favre fever fervid

alt text Despite my love of Detroit, The Lions and the Tigers (and the Chicago Bears—oh my) are to blame for Brett Favre’s comeback success this season. No wizard of odds would have favoured the Brett Favre quarterbacked Minnesota Vikings as the team of the year in the National Football League.

The Detroit Tigers—a baseball team—may seem a strange recipient for Favre-bashing, yet their stunning collapse at the end of the regular season allowed the pesky Minnesota Twins to sneak back into contention. If the Tigers had been able to clinch the American League Central, baseball fans would have been happy to say goodbye to the biggest eyesore of a baseball stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome . Next year, the Twins are moving to the outdoor Target Field, though the Vikings are going to continue playing in what should have been only a football stadium. The Twins and Tigers ended the regular season tied, and of course, the Twins had home field advantage for a one-game playoff.

Traditionally, the baseball season ends on a Sunday, so sudden-death playoffs are scheduled on the Monday. However, the NFL already booked the Metrodome for the Vikings Monday Night game against the Green Bay Packers. Because of the Tigers’ ineptitude, the Metrodome hosted two huge games in a row. Favre playing his former team for the first time was already a big story, but the baseball playoff being pushed to the Tuesday made it even bigger. The Minnesota teams won both games, yet the Twins were much easier to cheer for, especially after Favre refused to acknowledge the difficulty of facing the team for which he played for 15 years. He might as well as have been playing the Detroit Lions, for all the emotion he demonstrated.

Placing the Favre blame on the Detroit Lions seems to make sense, especially because it would be the first time in a while that the Lions were on the receiving end of anything. Last year, as a member of the New York Jets, Favre sat down with Lions coaches for over an hour before Detroit was set to play the Packers in the second week of the 2008 NFL season. Favre was kind enough to donate his time, to give the Lions a scouting report. This would have been fine if he was retired (which he often was), or if he played for Lions, but Favre had an upcoming game of his own. In the end, the Lions lost to the Packers, 48-25.

Just for the record, how did Favre’s team, the Jets, fare in Week 2? They lost 19-10 to the New England Patriots in their first game featuring Matt Cassel as their quarterback—the same player that had not started a game since high school. Naturally, the Jets missed the playoffs last year. Favre seems to have developed a knack for screwing over teams other than the Green Bay Packers.

But what about the Chicago Bears? What role did they play in the Favre saga? Well, that will wait until they play their upcoming games against the Favre and the Packers. On paper, the Bears should be tearing up the NFC North. But the Bears have been a middling team at best this season, despite getting a new quarterback of their own, Jay Cutler—the pride of Santa Claus, Indiana. Yet it has not been a jolly year for Cutler. He has already been sacked more times than all of last year with the Denver Broncos, and he has seen his quarterback rating drop 10 points. Perhaps if they were a better team, the Vikings would have some internal competition, and Favre would choke under the pressure.

Cutler’s got it easy compared to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers who was sacked an astounding 43 times through 10 games—and Favre’s replacement to boot. In all of Favre’s last season in Green Bay, he was sacked only 15 times. It’s not like Da Bears managed to win the NFC North last year when Favre was missing the playoffs in New York.

Last year, the division was won by—you guessed it—the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback of the future, Tarvaris Jackson, finally came through for the Purple and Gold, leading the Vikings to the playoffs on the last day of the season. Now that Favre has been brought in, Jackson takes a seat on the bench, forced to sit behind the legend. It is the Aaron Rodgers story all over again.

It’s still not clear what the Green Bay Packers management did or said to Favre to make him so bitter and hell-bent on revenge. What is known, is that despite having almost all the quarterback records, the consecutive games streak, the comebacks, being 40, and seeming like a good guy in There’s Something About Mary, Brett Favre is now the enemy. Even though a lot of bad guys seem to be winning the championship—Kobe, A-Rod, Crosby—the Vikings have never won the Super Bowl, and Favre, for all of his career accolades, has only won once. The MVP of that game, Super Bowl XXXI, was kick returner Desmond Howard, who naturally, played at the University of Michigan, and ended his career with the Detroit Lions.