Biography delves into the real, bigger-than-life Brett Favre
BY JEFF ASH
SPECIAL TO PACKERLAND TITLETOWN USA
Jeff Pearlman fretted as he prepared to share stories from his new Brett Favre biography at an appearance in Green Bay in early November.
How, the best-selling sports author wondered, would this crowd react to Gunslinger, a book that unflinchingly addresses less savory aspects of Favre’s life off the field along with his successes on the field.
What Pearlman also didn’t know was that seemingly any Packers-related event in Green Bay is part pep rally. On this night, a couple of people wore No. 4 Brett Favre jerseys and plenty of others wore Packers green and gold.
That was a revelation to Pearlman, who nevertheless plunged right into the hottest topic of the moment, addressing the question on everyone’s mind: Did Aaron Rodgers really call Favre, “Grandpa,” at training camp in 2005?
Yes, he did, Pearlman says.
Even so, Rodgers took issue with the story, which was told to Pearlman by former Packers backup quarterback Craig Nall. The story was part of a book excerpt published on the Bleacher Report website. It didn’t happen as reported in the book, insisted Rodgers, who prides himself on having a photographic memory.
That also is true.
After Bleacher Report published the excerpt, Nall reached out to Pearlman to set the record straight. Yes, that happened as I told you, Nall told Pearlman, but not when your book said it happened. Turns out that Pearlman’s account was off by a month.
“I take incredible pride in reporting. I am passionate about reporting,” says Pearlman, 44, whose initial chat with Nall was one of 573 interviews for Gunslinger over 2-1/2 years.
“Brett Favre is the greatest guy I ever wrote about,” Pearlman says. “What’s the beauty of Brett Favre? You guys all know what kind of a screw-up he was. We’re all screw-ups. You have a beautiful, loving relationship. You accept Brett Favre. It’s unbelievable.”
With that, the friendly Green Bay crowd accepted Pearlman’s explanation and they were off to explore other stories from Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre.
The hardcover book is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and retails for $28.
“When you write biographies, you’re chronicling history,” says Pearlman, 44, who also has written books on Walter Payton, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, along with the 1986 New York Mets, the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers and the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.
“It was apparent to me early in the book that the relationship between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers was not very good. In the past, there had never been a threat to Favre’s job,” Pearlman says.
Pearlman traces the causes of that icy relationship to 1992, when Favre took over as the Packers’ starting quarterback, after Don Majkowski went down with an ankle injury.
“Don Majkowski’s injury gave Favre a lifelong sense of paranoia, especially when it came to Rodgers,” Pearlman says. “I can understand it. It’s the classic workplace dilemma. The new guy arrives and you teach him everything you know.”
It didn’t happen quite that way in Green Bay, of course, but Favre always was keenly aware of Rodgers’ status as the man who likely would be the Packers’ next starting quarterback.
Neither Favre nor Rodgers spoke to Pearlman for the book even though the author reached out to both of them for interviews. Favre, however, let it be known that he was fine with family members and friends speaking to Pearlman for the book.
“I friended Brandi Favre on Facebook,” Pearlman says of the quarterback’s sister. While doing research and interviews in Mississippi, he sent her a Facebook message, inviting her to talk over coffee.
“She responded, ‘Why don’t you come over to the house,’” Pearlman says. “It was the house Brett Favre grew up in.”
There, he also met Favre’s mother, Bonita.
“All right, what do you want to know?” Bonita Favre asked, and off they went.
“She is the best. She’s warm, kind, interesting and smart,” Pearlman says of Favre’s mother. “She sent me home with Brett Favre’s scrapbooks.”
Which begs the question: If Brett Favre won’t talk about his life, why would his family talk?
“Because I showed up and asked,” Pearlman says. “If you show up, they’ll talk. That kindness is so special.”
Pearlman shares the story of Brett Favre’s college football debut, parts of which Bonita Favre would just as soon forget.
Favre and a teammate drink a case and a half of beer the night before a game at Southern Mississippi in Sept., 1987. Favre figures he won’t play against Tulane the next day, but coach Jim Carmody puts him in late in the third quarter. Favre starts completing passes. Fans start chanting, “Great White Hope!”
Bonita Favre puts her head in her hands, embarrassed at the racial overtones of the cheers.
Of course, much of Gunslinger is about Brett Favre’s NFL career and his time with the Packers.
“One of the smartest things the Packers ever did was hire Ron Wolf and hire him during the middle of the season,” Pearlman says.
Wolf tells Packers president Bob Harlan that he’s going to scout Favre, who’s buried on the Falcons’ depth chart as their third-string quarterback, when the Packers play in Atlanta in December 1991. Harlan shrugs and says, “OK.”
When Wolf inquires about a trade, Falcons’ general manager Ken Herock – also a Favre fan – asks for two first-round draft picks. Wolf says that’s not happening. But they eventually agree on one first-round draft pick for Favre, who had cost Atlanta a second-round pick the previous year. The deal delights Falcons coach Jerry Glanville, who can’t stand Favre.
“Favre arrives in Green Bay,” Pearlman says, “and one of his first questions is ‘Where’s the best bar in Green Bay?’”
Pearlman doesn’t shy away from another hot topic with the Green Bay crowd, exploring Favre’s time with the archrival Minnesota Vikings at the end of his career.
“You guys booed the hell out of him, and rightly so,” upon his return to Lambeau Field in 2009, Pearlman says.
That lingering memory so unnerved Favre that he worried he’d be booed when he returned to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2015.
Pearlman also recalls Favre’s last season and his last game in Minnesota in 2010.
“Favre pretends he’s happy, but he’s just not feeling it,” he says.
Favre’s career ends on a cold December night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Bears defensive end Corey Wootton spins Favre around, slamming his upper body to the frozen turf. Wootton starts celebrating, then looks down to see Favre struggling to get up. Wootton immediately feels terrible. Favre winds up with a concussion.
Scott Favre, the quarterback’s brother, told Pearlman “this was an extremely important experience for Brett. He needed to be very clear that this was not for him anymore.”
So, Pearlman asks, “Is he the best quarterback ever?
“No,” he answers his own question, putting the Patriots’ Tom Brady ahead of Favre.
“But Favre was so enjoyable, so exhilarating, so electric for football. Favre’s story is the most amazing narrative ever.”
Pearlman wrote Gunslinger with no cooperation from the Packers.
“When I was doing the book, the Packers could not have been more paranoid. They were really, really nervous about his return,” Pearlman says.
“The relationship between the Packers and Brett Favre is fascinating. I was here two years ago and went into the team store. No Brett Favre jerseys. So I asked. ‘Go to any thrift store,’ they said. They were $6. Now the team store is overloaded with Brett Favre jerseys and they’re not $6.”
Pearlman, a native New Yorker who now lives in southern California, also was fascinated by the reception he received while promoting Gunslinger in Wisconsin in early November.
“Not been one rude question or comment. Not one,” he says.
Most remarkable was an event at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley in Menasha.
“I swear it was going to be an empty room. That’s the power of Favre,” he says.
“You got 60 people to show up during Game 7 of the World Series, Cubs and Indians, maybe the greatest game of all time. They come to a book signing. It’s unbelievable.”