Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre

Jeff Pearlman wrote in this 2016 book:

* “The 8,000-pound gorilla in the room was Brett’s philandering and Brett’s drinking,” said Bill Michaels, host of the Packers’ postgame show. “We all knew it’s there. But most of us chose to ignore it.” Favre went out when he wanted to go out; he had sex with whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted. There was a Milwaukee bar, Taylor’s, with couches and a spare room designated for Packers players. Favre, Winters, and Chmura became frequent Tuesday-night attendees—Deanna and Brittany be damned. “It was widely known that Favre, Chmura, and Winters would come to Taylor’s, and they could do whatever they desired,” said Tom Silverstein. “You’d hear all types of stories.”

There was a Madison bar, Buck’s, overflowing with drunk, bubbly coeds from the University of Wisconsin. “I saw Brett and his guys there a lot,” said one Madison native who later, as a journalist, wrote extensively about the Packers. “They’d be down on State Street, drunk, surrounded. All the stories ended with Brett with this woman, Brett with that woman. I think half of Wisconsin has some Favre-drinking-woman story. An amazingly high percentage of this state saw Brett doing something, somewhere.”

Favre was trapped between being what he was supposed to be (a loyal partner and devoted father) and what he was (a 20-something football player with money to spend and women to please). Perhaps in other locations (New York, Los Angeles, Miami), the media would catch wind and investigate the titillating world of a superstar gone wild. But not Green Bay; not Wisconsin. Dating back to May 29, 1848, the day it gained statehood, Wisconsin’s predominant non-Indian ethnicity was German—“and Germans are not ones to look down upon drinking,” said Tom Oates, the veteran sports columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal. “When towns in Wisconsin were founded, they’d build a church, a mill, and a brewery. It’s the odd state where drinking is celebrated.” Hence, while many saw Favre and his friends stumbling from bars, or chugging pints, the behavior was never deemed problematic, even with football games to win.

The local press, meanwhile, covered the Packers with the hometown friendliness of a 500-circulation rural weekly. Most of the beat writers and columnists knew of their quarterback’s off-the-field wildness, but in Green Bay such information was not to be divulged. Unless there was a direct link between Favre’s partying and Favre’s Sunday performances, his late-night whereabouts mattered not. “I remember struggling, asking the editors, ‘How far do we take this? Do we find out details?’” said Silverstein. “We talked about sending an intern to the bars, but never did. And a lot of the stuff was exaggerated. You’d hear, ‘Someone saw Brett snorting coke off the bar,’ and you’d sort of sigh, assume it’s not true, and move on.”

“He was protected,” said Kyle Cousineau, a longtime Packers blogger. “You could write about Brett Favre’s play. But him drunk with some girl? Never. It wasn’t allowed.”

Multiple journalists who covered the Packers agree that, during Favre’s heyday, the team made it clear that reporting on his hard-living ways would result in restricted access and, ultimately, no access. This wasn’t New York, where the Post and Daily News would sneer at such an order, then blast the team in an editorial. No, this was Green Bay—where the townspeople owned the team, and victories trumped journalistic integrity, and being a Packer meant wide-ranging protections. “Green Bay isn’t a city,” said Jeff Ash of the Green Bay Press Gazette. “It’s a Packer city.”

Every now and then, a member of the team would get in trouble with the law. But it took something especially big for that to happen. A Packer who raped someone might wind up behind bars. Armed robbery? Also not a great decision. Otherwise, all was good. “If you’re a player here and you get arrested, it has to be by a cop who doesn’t want to be a cop for long,” said Jerry Watson, owner of the Stadium View, a bar near Lambeau. “Because they’ll fire him, and switch him to doggy patrol. Will the cops admit that? No. Is it the truth? You bet. If you’re a Packer and you get picked up for drunk driving, they’re gonna call the team and handle it quietly. The G on that building doesn’t really stand for ‘Green Bay.’ No, it’s for ‘God’—because that’s what the team is here.”

As far as the franchise was concerned, Brett Favre was not to be touched—unless “touching” meant supplying him with pills to numb the pain. Which the training staff and teammates did. As Favre’s play morphed from good to great to legendary, few people noticed that anything was awry. In the Packers locker room, he was the same guy he’d always been—snapping towels, pulling down shorts, spitting out rap lyrics like a hip-hop guru. LeRoy Butler, the star safety, calls him “the best teammate in the history of sports.”

* [1999] Now, however, Green Bay was 4-5 and sinking quickly. Sports Illustrated even featured the team on the cover of its September 27 issue with an accompanying headline, BOTTOMS UP. Wolf, the man who considered [Ray] Rhodes the solution to the franchise’s fortunes, was bewildered by his coach. Where was the emotion? The passion? Mostly, where was the discipline? Many of the team’s practice rituals reminded Wolf of the dreaded Lindy Infante era. Jerry Parins, the team’s longtime chief of security, was hearing more and more weird things about Rhodes’s behavior, so he did some investigating. “Ray was going out to the casino, and he’d stay there until 3, 4 in the morning,” Parins said. “Then people would call me and say, ‘Your head coach is in the casino.’ Everything that year turned relaxed, and the players knew what they could get away with. I love Ray, but he lost control.”

It was an awkward and uncomfortable thing—firing the first African American coach after a sliver of a chance, with a marred quarterback and an aged roster—but Wolf felt he had little choice.

* Though Irv was never diagnosed as an alcoholic, he was an unrepentant drinker whose dependence on alcohol went far beyond the occasional beer. Stories abound of an intoxicated Irv Favre falling asleep with his head slumped atop a wood bar; of him saying inappropriate things, doing inappropriate things….

A waitress at one of the more popular Green Bay bars recalled the evening Irv [Brett’s dad] offered her $100 for sex. When she declined, he upped the ante to $200. “He tried to pay me off, right there,” she said. “I said, ‘Do I have w-h-o-r-e written across my forehead?’”

One time, when the Packers played in San Francisco, Irv was in Brett’s hotel room when the phone rang. His son had stepped out, so Irv answered. A young woman was on the line, searching for the quarterback. “This is his daddy,” Irv said. “I taught him everything he knows. You bring that sweet little pussy over to the apartment and I’ll fuck it real good.”

She showed up later, clad in leather—looking for Brett.

“I think Irv hit on women because he was aging a bit and looking for acceptance,” Kelly said. “We’d drive, and Irv would say, ‘When women get older they don’t want it anymore.’ That was a disappointment to him, and it probably led him to straying.”

Irv’s father, Alvin Favre, hadn’t been faithful to his wife, and his father’s father probably hadn’t been faithful to his wife. Infidelity seemed to come naturally to Favre men. Brett’s came accompanied by guilt. Irv’s generally did not. “Love was a complicated thing with Irv,” said Kelly. “He never received affection from his dad, and he didn’t give much affection to his kids.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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