GREEN BAY, Wis. — I accept two talents in life.
One is the flipping and communicable of aerial amaranthine of abode off my elbow.
The added is cheating into places.
I’ve sneaked into some crazy spots. Aback in 2003, while autograph for Newsday, I somehow ducked through a badge barricade, accomplished a bouncer and into the MTV Christmas activity in the Hammerstein Ballroom. Four years later, during the final advertisement stages of my book on the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, I slid below a barricade, accomplished two off-duty badge admiral and into Michael Irvin’s clandestine post-Hall of Fame consecration back-bite (musical guest: the Pointer Sisters!).
But as I angle actuality in advanced of the D2 Sports Pub on a Saturday morning, I acquisition myself stymied. Inside, bottomward a anteroom and in a baby feast allowance to the left, sits one Brett Lorenzo Favre, signing autographs at anywhere from $150 to $500 a pop. To be in the band that now numbers 312 people, you charge to accept acquired a ticket. I accept no ticket. You additionally charge an account for Brett to sign. I accept no item.
What I do have, however, is a guy in a Clemson T-shirt with an about 2-foot-tall artificial Brett Favre doll. He is continuing here, cat-and-mouse with the others, and he is cartoon bags of attention. Spectators pat the doll’s head, rub the doll’s belly, beam at the doll, booty photographs of the doll, booty photographs with the do—
And I accelerate through.
Just like that. As the iPhones are snapping and the bodies are animated and the half-dozen or so aegis guards are, well, twiddling their thumbs, I artlessly backpack myself assimilate the line. Nobody asks for my admission or my clearly accountant Brett Favre item. Nobody wonders why I’m captivation a pen and notepad.
I already heard Barry Bonds explain the ability of “walking like you belong,” and he was 100 percent correct. I am walking like I belong. Which is why now, about bristles account afterwards sidling up abaft artificial Brett Favre, I am inside, sidling up bristles anxiety to the larboard of the absolute Brett Favre, the quarterback Blooming Bay loved, afresh worshiped, afresh hated, afresh forgave and now—it appears—loves and worships again.
I hover there, debating my aing move, aback I opt to artlessly put bottomward my pad and booty in one of the weirdest/most altered spectacles I’ve anytime witnessed. With the bald afterimage of Favre, struts about-face into tiptoes and strong, able-bodied men are adapted into puddles of wuss.
Planned statements (“Brett, I was at the d in ’96 aback you…”) veer a aciculate larboard at the tip of the tongue, replaced by “Um…” and “Er…” and “Welcome back.” A ample guy in his 50s sobs. Another’s easily are quivering. From fear. From excitement. From too abounding synapses bustling at once.
The man they are actuality to see is abandoned a man. Blue T-shirt, abominable baseball cap, shorts. His beard is silver, his appearance a bit ashen with time. In Blooming Bay, however, the weekend of Brett Favre’s acknowledgment to accept his basal retired and to be inducted into the franchise’s Anteroom of Fame is no bald weekend.
It’s a religious resurrection.
One I was able to attestant firsthand…
Friday, 4:20 p.m.: Continued day. Flew the red eye from Los Angeles to Chicago, collection three-and-a-half hours to Appleton, arrested into Allowance 326 of the La Quinta Inn, afresh headed 30 afar up the alley to Blooming Bay. Aloft arriving, I fabricated assertive to banquet at one of the city’s finest eateries.
Behind the cashier’s board at Pizza Hut are three affected photographs of Brett Favre. I ask Karen, my waitress, whether the images were strategically placed for the big weekend.
“Nah,” she says. “They’ve consistently been there.”
“Do bodies animadversion on them?” I ask.
“Only sometimes,” she says. “Almost consistently allurement us why we haven’t taken him down.”
Friday, 5:40 p.m.: I’ve absolved a few blocks bottomward to Lambeau Acreage and into what charge be America’s best ample amphitheater store. Name a Packers item, any Packers item, and it’s here. Shirts, hats, masks, makeup, capes—all blooming and gold, (almost) all fabricated in China, all overpriced.
This is absolutely my additional appointment of the year. Aback I came in May, my eight-year-old son, Emmett, requested I acknowledgment home with a Brett Favre jersey. So I entered the boutique to find…nothing. Bags of Aaron Rodgers, bags of Eddie Lacy and Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb. No Brett Favre. I asked an agent breadth the No. 4 breadth was located. She looked at me and, in a semi-hushed tone, whispered, “Your best bet is to try some bounded austerity stores.”
Twenty account later, I abandoned $5 at the Bethesda Austerity Boutique on a acclimated Brett Favre No. 4, admeasurement 10 (I additionally snagged three packs of gum, two candles and a T-shirt for the Blooming Bay East Aerial Academy Class of 1988 20th reunion—all for $7.23).
But now it’s retirement weekend, and the Packers abundance is overflowing with both shoppers and green-and-gold, made-in-China, cher Brett Favre merchandise. For $39.95, there’s a Brett Favre commemorative coin. For $6.95, there’s a Brett Favre cream hand. There are T-shirts for $25, Christmas timberline ornaments for $8.95, a “limited edition” photograph for $124.95. Appetite a Brett Favre lanyard? Aloof $7.95. An accurate jersey? $129.95.
“Or you can go to the abundance beyond the way,” a bounded tells me, “and get the s–t at bisected the price.”
Friday, 8:30 p.m.: I am sitting at a table central Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, with a scattering of accomplished advisers adequate an atramentous of remembrance. Two of the women served in authoritative capacities. Addition was a freelance photographer. They’re all bedlam and bubbler and accepting a accomplished time, but a gray billow seems to hover aloft the proceedings.
Two decades back, Packers players fabricated the steakhouse a home abroad from home. They’d eat here, booze here, authority christenings and baptisms and all sorts of anniversary shindigs. Some of the players were abundantly admirable (Robert Brooks), some were awfully abrupt (Mark Chmura)—but they came. And came. And came.
Now, the abracadabra doesn’t feel the same. It’s still a nice steakhouse, but not a home.
“I don’t anticipate players stop by any longer,” one of the revelers says. “The camera buzz afflicted everything. Times are aloof so different.”
Saturday, 10 a.m.: Afore cheating into this morning’s autograph signing, I allocution with bodies on the D2 Sports Pub line. It’s, at best, a arbitrary scene. Booty Comic-Con and baptize in some football, and you’ve got the delay to accommodated Brett Favre. There are 1,001 altered genres of Brett Favre jerseys, Brett Favre photos.
Several men I allege with assert aloft absent to “just agitate Brett’s duke and attending him in the eye”—but the fantasy chat (Brett looks up and says, “[FILL IN THE BLANK NAME], I absolutely acknowledge that. Let’s grab a brace of algid ones later.”) array of ends there.
I try to pry a bit more—“Do you appetite to acknowledge him for the Super Bowl title? Ask about the 2003 Monday night d in Oakland? Acquisition out what Na’il Diggs smells like?”—but no one bites. The beggarly demographic: 40-year-old white man with an affection for sports jerseys and an credible agitation aback placed in the appearance of celebrity.
Then, I spot…her! Candace Seib from Farmington—long albino hair, active cheeks, decked out in, of all things, a amethyst Favre Vikings jersey. Now this is addition different! “I aloof adulation Brett,” she says. “All I appetite is to attending him in the eye and acknowledge him for…”
I already had coffee with Na’il Diggs.
Terrific guy. Smells like lavender.
Saturday, 10:41 a.m.: I am continuing adjoin the wall, watching Favre assurance big-ticket items for aghast fans, best of whom accept absent 98.7 percent of the blush in their faces. Suddenly, Aaron Popkey, the Packers administrator of accessible affairs, spots me and walks over. “Hey, Jeff,” he says.
“What are you accomplishing in here?”
“Well, I sorta snuck in.”
An awkward pause.
“OK.” He easily Brett his final abstract for the night’s big emphasis and walks off with a smile.
Saturday, 11:22 a.m.: “We arrive Brett and Deanna to our wedding,” the man says.
“Ah,” I reply. “They’re accompany of yours?”
“No,” the man says. “We don’t apperceive them. We just…”
I alpha abetment away, slowly. He stops me. His name is Chris Weis. His wife is Nicole. They adulation the Packers. Like, love, love, love, adulation the Packers. He’s cutting a blooming No. 4 jersey. She’s cutting a We Adulation Brett catchbasin top. So, aback in 2009, Chris and Nicole beatific an allurement to the Favres’ Mississippi home. Aloof on a lark. A few weeks later, they accustomed a reply: THE FAVRES REGRET THEY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ATTEND.
That agenda is affected and on affectation in the Weis’ house. That, in a sense, is why they waited two hours and paid a brace of hundred dollars to get an autographed thingamajig.
“He agency article in our life,” Chris says. “Bigger than you ability think.”
Saturday, 11:54 a.m.: A aegis bouncer spots me. He is now apprehensive how the guy with the block sneaked through. I aback pretend I accept a buzz alarm and avenue the room. I neither bid Brett Favre adieu nor return.
Saturday, 2:22 p.m.: My wife generally complains that actuality affiliated to a sports biographer has brought her 13 years of non-perks. My acknowledgment is, admittedly, appealing thin. “Thanks to my career,” I say, “you’ve answered the buzz aback James Carville and Ed Hearn accept called. You abounding balderdash benumbed at Madison Square Garden. You went to a Sports Illustrated Christmas party. You stood aing to Derek Bell’s boat…”
At continued last, a advantage has arrived—albeit for me. Tickets to sit in the Lambeau Acreage atrium for this evening’s Brett Favre anniversary were crazily adamantine to score. They awash out aural a brace of hours, abounding activity to corporations that purchased abounding tables.
Thanks to a acquaintance of a friend, however, I was able to acreage one seat—for $180.
The good: Huge night in football history.
The bad: I accept to abrasion a suit. I won’t apperceive anyone at my table. I accept to abrasion a suit.
Along with the $180 ticket, I’m able with a canyon to the pre-banquet VIP brawl at Club 1919 central the stadium. As I birr through the parking lot in my suit, afraid like Shaq at the abhorrent band (one of Favre’s old jokes) in the 95-degree Blooming Bay heat, a anticipation crosses my mind: If I’m a VIP abandoned because I accept a acquaintance of a friend, who the hell isn’t a VIP?
Then I accommodated him. His name is Kurt Groshek, and he’s dressed in a blooming Favre jersey, chicken Packer d pants, aerial blooming socks, d shoes, advanced receiver gloves and a hat with the G logo.
“You attending like a appealing big fan,” I note.
“You could say that,” he replies. “What do you anticipate my son is named?”
I don’t alike adventure a guess, admitting “Phillip Epps Groshek” crosses my mind.
He smiles. “Brett Aaron…”
I aback away.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Not all that continued ago I had a chat with Basil Mitchell, a above brilliant active aback at Texas Christian who had spent some time with the Packers. I asked him what it was like actuality an African-American amateur in a boondocks that’s about 80 percent white. “There was consistently a joke,” he said with a laugh. “If you’re atramentous in Blooming Bay, anybody knows you’re either a Packer or beeline out of the penitentiary.”
Mitchell’s words access my arch as I aberrate through a VIP activity that, for the best part, feels like the hors d’oeuvres aeon at Brett Farvowitz’s Bar Mitzvah. There are chargeless drinks and chargeless feel foods and a army of subdued, well-dressed white people.
Suddenly, with nary a chat spoken, above Packers arresting aback Charles Woodson joins the party—and anybody notices. Woodson is neither decidedly alpine nor decidedly magnetic, but for a spell he’s the abandoned African-American in the area, and chat of his appearance spreads like a Southern California blaze.
Before long, he’s assuming for a ceaseless beck of pictures (I counted 37 afore giving up). At one point, I tap him on the shoulder, acquaint myself and activate to ask what it’s like to affectation for a ceaseless beck of pictures. However, I am disconnected by a aging woman’s appeal that Charles Woodson affectation for a picture.
Saturday, 5:10 p.m.: An advertisement is made: We are to advance to our tables central the atrium. I advance to my table central the atrium.
It’s No. 55, and I am placed alongside Brett Favre’s banker, Brett Favre’s banker’s wife, Brett Favre’s old bounded golf pro and Brett Favre’s beforehand bounded golf pro. Every bedfellow receives a agglomeration of gifts, including a Brett Favre coin, a Brett Favre canteen and a canteen of Brett Favre special-label beer—somewhat acrid in that Favre no best drinks alcohol.
The allowance is spectacular. The aliment is scrumptious. Over the aing hour or so I jot bottomward a account of accidental observations…
• Bonita (Brett’s mom) in atramentous dress; looks lovely.
• Ahman Blooming has world’s coolest goatee.
• Chicken undercooked.
• Who’s the ex-Packer in jeans and T-shirt?
• Why is the accumulated guy from the bounded bazaar actuality accustomed to allege for 30 minutes?
• Awesome abracadabra band from priest—“Lord, we acknowledge you for abundant brats and algid beer…”
• Donald Driver looks like he can still play.
• Why is Antonio Freeman cutting sunglasses indoors?
• Why is Antonio Freeman’s son application an iPad at the table during a $180 dinner?
Saturday, 7ish p.m.: I accept absent clue of the exact time, because, absolutely frankly, I am absolute away. With no admonishing central the atrium, Favre has larboard to airing out assimilate Lambeau Field, breadth added than 67,000 admirers paid $4 a pop to sit and watch the diplomacy on a behemothic screen. Now we’re the ones watching on a behemothic screen, and the affect leaps through the pixels. Favre looks to be crying. Bisected the bodies about me attending to be crying. I afterwards allocution with Brandi Favre, Brett’s adolescent sister, and I’m appealing abiding she was crying.
It’s during this aeon that I grab about six accolade from the ambrosia tray.
Saturday, 9 p.m.: Brett Favre is sitting with his ancestors adjoin the advanced of the room. The speeches are acceptable a bit endless, and I can’t advice but admiration how he feels. He’s cutting a dress shirt and jacket—Brett Favre abundantly hates dress shirts and jackets. The activity is a bit stuffy—Brett Favre abundantly hates stuffiness. It’s absolutely about him—and I’m appealing abiding Brett Favre doesn’t adulation things actuality absolutely about him. He’s still a country boy from Mississippi.
And, as that anticipation fades, Brett Favre rises to accord his speech. He receives a continuing acclaim that lasts a solid bristles minutes, afresh addition one. He looks a bit afraid and somewhat overwhelmed—hard to accusation him, aback the amphitheater is still arranged with admirers watching from their seats.
Then, with the allowance quiet, Brett Favre starts to talk. And talk. And talk. And talk.
It’s a bad emphasis by best accepted emphasis measures—long, rambling, unfocused. And yet, it’s perfect. Over his 46 account abaft the podium, Favre makes assertive to acknowledgment acutely every agent who formed for the Blooming Bay Packers during his 16 seasons. Equipment managers, trainers, accessible relations staffs. On and on and on.
And he doesn’t artlessly name them. He tells a bright story. Or drops a nickname. It may able-bodied be the best across-the-board Anteroom of Fame emphasis of any blazon anytime given, and aback it concludes, Favre is, again, accepted an ovation.
For a few seconds, my close carper arises. I about-face to the banker’s wife at my table and say, “So what’d you thi—”
She has tears alive bottomward her cheeks.
Saturday, 10:56 p.m.: Addition has baseborn my Brett Favre glass. Which is OK, because the facial carving looks added like above Dodgers aboriginal baseman Greg Brock than it did Brett Favre. I’ve additionally confused my Brett Favre coin.
The acceptable news? Matt Hasselbeck, adept NFL quarterback and Favre’s above backup, is continuing abandoned a an elevator. As I approach, I apprehend him answer to addition that, yes, she’s accomplished but, no, Elisabeth Hasselbeck is not his wife. “She’s affiliated to my brother, Tim,” he says unenthusiastically.
“Does that arise often?” I ask.
“Man,” he says, “you accept no idea…”
Hasselbeck is a trip. Boston accent, talks with his hands, loves the three years he spent in Blooming Bay. “I’m abiding I abstruse some things from talking to Brett,” he says. “But the absolute acquaint came from watching. The way the guy did things—always accepting fun, but consistently professional—that rubs off.”
I leave, afresh about-face moments afterwards to see him speaking with a stranger. “Thanks,” he tells the man, “but she’s not my…”
Sunday, 10 a.m.: I analysis out of the Appleton La Quinta to drive two hours to Madison for the Brett Favre Legends Game—a flag-football affray amid a agglomeration of ex-Packers and a agglomeration of ex-NFLers.
Now, there are those in Blooming Bay who anticipate Favre’s 2008 abandonment was absolutely his fault, and those who accredit the accusation to Ted Thompson, the team’s aloof accepted manager. Some accept been apathetic to absolve Favre; some accept been apathetic to absolve Thompson.
All, however, assume to accede that there’s article absolutely off in the Packers’ not acceptance this d to be played at Lambeau. The official aggregation excuse: Abhorrence that the players will rip up the field. The acumen the official aggregation alibi is lame: Aftermost ages Kenny Chesney captivated a concert at Lambeau, and he and his admirers did rip up the field.
So the d is actuality played in Madison, a air-conditioned academy boondocks with a big academy ability (Camp Randall Stadium). And admitting the $34-to-$55 admission prices, bodies assume absolutely excited. A acceptable six hours afore kickoff, the streets are arranged with association in green-and-gold garb.
I am absorbed my own business on a sidewalk aback I run into John O’Neill and Mary Beth Johnson, who accept been affiliated for 34 years. John calls himself “Saint Vince” and dresses in a Packers-themed basal outfit. Mary Beth is “Cheese Louise.”
“We did this the aboriginal time at Super Bowl XXXI, but aloof as a lark,” says John. “It was aloof declared to be a accolade to Vince Lombardi. But anybody admired it—so actuality we are.”
Sunday, 3:20 p.m.: So the d is declared to pit a aggregation of Packer “greats” adjoin a aggregation of NFL “greats.” And, indeed, “greats” are in attendance. The Packers band includes Favre, Andre Rison, Frank Winters, Dorsey Levens. But it additionally has, well, Craig Nall. And addition called Steve Warren. The Greats, meanwhile, are quarterbacked by Donovan McNabb (great) and Sage Rosenfels (not so great). The active d is stered by ex-49er Roger Craig (great) and ex-Bronco Reuben Droughns (not so great).
The crowd, meanwhile, is aloof OK. In Blooming Bay, anybody agrees the d would accept awash out in a brace of hours. Here, however, in 80,321 accommodation Camp Randall, the architecture feels quiet and abundantly empty. Addition puts appearance at 21,000. Later, I’m told 17,000. A bounded anchorman says it’s the aforementioned array of army big aerial academy playoff matchups draw.
As anon as Brett Favre is introduced, however, no one cares. He is the aftermost amateur to run assimilate the field, and the moment is, simply, electric. In his columnist appointment from a day earlier, Favre explained how he didn’t absence playing, he absent the experiences. The jokes. The bus rides. The companionship.
Now, he was actuality adored with one final taste. He hugged Javon Walker, high-fived Chmura, laughed at Winters and told belief to Nall. Some of his passes were aciculate and crisp. Others were not. One aggregation won, one aggregation lost—nobody decidedly cared.
No, this was about Brett Favre.
Afterward, those of us in the accumulated media were promised a “solid bristles account with Brett.” Indeed, it was bristles minutes. Surrounded by a sea of cameras and miniature recorders, he talked about throwing the brawl and seeing old accompany and activity accomplished with a cornball and affecting weekend. Then, with his absolute word, the best acclaimed quarterback in Blooming Bay history jogged off adjoin the locker room, breadth his teammates awaited.
For the final time.
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