Belly of the Beastby David Fleming
I rose at dawn and traveled more than 100 miles across the red clay of the Mississippi backwoods Packers quarterback Brett Favre calls home, just so I can bring you, dear reader, this kind of important information about the two-time NFL MVP: According to hi s college roommate, Chris Ryals, Brett had a variety of, uh, gastro-intestinal problems as an undergrad that Ryals recalls could "bring tears to your eyes."
This was just one of the many tidbits gleaned on this all-day Favre pilgrimage, which included a stop in Favre's hometown of Kiln (pronounced Kill), where his mother and father spoke at the local watering hole called Rooster's, and a jaunt to the Universi ty of Southern Mississippi, Favre's alma mater in nearby Hattiesburg.
We spent the morning in Kiln, population 1,000, where the town folks (including the 63 Favres in the phone book, among whom include Alphonse, Hugo and Nelius Favre, and the Favre Brothers Wrecker Service) have turned the place green and gold. You can get Favre t-shirts for 16 bucks at Dolly's Quick Stop or down the road a stretch at the Arcade/Oil Change/Tanning Salon. At Rooster's, where the house special is Veal Lobster, proprietor Lee Lott described the feeling that had swept over this tiny, rusted out roost as a "real hoot-n-nanny." (I point this out because using the term "hoot-n-nanny" always scores big points with the Pulitzer Committee.)
Across the street at the Kiln Library, which is roughly the size of my hotel room, the waiting list to check out Favre's autobiography consists of about half the town. Also on display here is Montel Williams's new book and a replica of a moonshine still. "Most of us don't need to read no book to learn about Brett," said a nice, older women with Oakland-Raider-like silver hair. "'Cause most of us have known him since he was just yea high."
Most of the best morsels came from Ryals and other associates of Favre at Southern Miss where a police escort greeted us and the list of speakers included one teammate who said Favre threw so hard you could "hear his passes coming." Also in attendance was Mark McHale, the guy who landed Brett by promising the coaching staff that Favre could punt in order to get him a scholarship.
"All I saw at first," said McHale, the school's offensive line coach, "was a slow white boy who handed the ball off a lot. But when he threw it, that ball had fire on it." Golden Eagle head coach Jeff Bower spoke just long enough to tell us that Brett packed lightly for team road trips. He usually just had a clip-on tie "and a toothbrush sticking out his back pocket."
There were also several other teammates, one dressed in his UPS uniform, a PR guy from the hospital that took out a large portion of Brett's intestine after a car wreck before his senior season, the president of the university, some current walk-ons, a gu y who had his finger broken by a Favre pass and the director of the Hattiesburg tourism department. Also appearing was the school's current QB Lee Roberts who had to admit, when pressed, that he had never actually met Favre but had "seen him on TV a coupl e of times."
But you can't learn stuff like this by watching the tube: Brett once had his family dog eaten by an alligator, he preferred to sleep on top of his bed sheets as a child so he wouldn't have to make his bed, that he was born during a power outage after a hu rricane and that the street sign honoring the Favres in Kiln is spelled wrong. The sheer volume of Favre factoids even inspired our bus driver to say, before returning us to New Orleans, "OK, now we'd like to show you a fire hydrant Brett once hit with hi s car." The way this trip had gone, I was certain that this hydrant actually existed and was, indeed, roped off, tended by a full-time curator and in possession of the keys to the city.
For if this trip taught me one thing, it is that just when you think the grotesque monster of Super Bowl hype has bloated to its full capacity, bursting at the seams with Bud Bowls, 40-ounce Hurricanes and $15 million halftimes shows, the Beast proves that it is never full. Its hunger is insatiable and will leave hamlets like Kiln on their ear and the innocent folks at places like Southern Mississippi scrambling to honor a fire hydrant. The Beast that is Super Bowl hype consumes everything in its path.
And, unlike our hero Brett Favre, it never suffers from gastro-intestinal problems.