SI Vault
 
Bitter Pill
Peter King
May 27, 1996
Packer Brett Favre tells SI how the pain of playing in the NFL led to his addiction to painkillers and, nearly, his death
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 27, 1996

Bitter Pill

Packer Brett Favre tells SI how the pain of playing in the NFL led to his addiction to painkillers and, nearly, his death

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

"I'm sure there are a ton of NFL players out there—I mean it, a ton—who'll watch me come out and say to themselves, 'Man, that's me,' " Favre said last week. "That's one reason I'm talking. I hope I can help some players get help. I realize now how dangerous it is to keep using these things."

It didn't seem so dangerous to Favre when he first experienced the wonder of painkilling medication, in his seventh NFL start, on Nov. 15, 1992, against Philadelphia. A second-year player at the time, he had separated his nonthrowing shoulder in the first quarter, and the pain was so intense that he didn't think he could go on. "I saw [backup] Don Majkowski rarin' to go, and if he'd gotten back in there, I may never have gotten my spot back," Favre said. "At halftime the doctors said, 'It's your choice, but we can shoot it up [with Novocain] without further injury.' I said, 'Let's do it.' They had to pull my shoulder out, and they stuck the needle way down in my shoulder. In a little while I didn't feel any pain. I played well, and we won the game. I thought, damn, that was easy."

He was thinking much the same thing in the wake of surgery in January 1995 to repair a herniated muscle in his right side. Doctors estimated it would take 12 months for the muscle to heal normally: Favre played a preseason game less than eight months after the surgery.

As the injuries mounted during the 1995 season, Favre began using Vicodin heavily. By Week 7 he had a throbbing turf toe, a bruised right shoulder, an arthritic right hip, a bruised left knee and a sore lower back. "I knew there was something wrong," Tynes said last Saturday. "He'd ask me to ask friends for Vicodin, but I wasn't going to do that."

Favre said he believed he was hiding his addiction well, but Tynes, then-Packers quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci, and best friends and teammates Mark Chmura and Frank Winters sensed late in the season that he had a serious problem. Mariucci even told the Green Bay training staff to monitor Favre's Vicodin use. However, according to Tynes and Favre's agent, Bus Cook, in addition to the prescribed doses he received from the team, Favre also scored Vicodin from teammates who didn't finish their prescriptions and from doctors outside the organization, including one who had treated him for a past ailment. "I started finding pills everywhere," Tynes said. "I'd catch him throwing up so badly, I'd be looking for blood. And he didn't come to bed at a normal time all season long. He'd just sit there in front of the TV for hours. Sometimes I'd wake up at four o'clock and find him in front of the TV or playing solitaire on the computer. I'd say, 'What's wrong with you? You've got meetings at eight, and you haven't been to bed.' "

Despite the heavy use of painkillers, Favre was playing the best football of his life, and that complicated Tynes's efforts to get him to quit taking the pills. He was also working out like a madman with strength coach Kent Johnston. "I'm in the best shape of my life," he said in October. When Tynes would beg him to stop—she flushed down the toilet countless pills she found in his hiding places—he would reply, "Why should I stop what's helping me get through this?"

Said Chmura, Green Bay's Pro Bowl tight end, "We'd tell him time and again: 'You've got to cut this out.' But players think they're invincible, and Brett was no different. He'd be fine for the games because I think he didn't do much of it on the weekend. But some weekday nights he'd be zapped."

Tynes, whose relationship with Favre dates back to 1985, said she considered leaving Favre but worried that he might increase his Vicodin consumption if she did. Finally, at the Pro Bowl in early February, she demanded that he quit taking the pills. Favre promised he would. He didn't. At the ESPY Awards in New York on Feb. 12, she noticed that despite the fact he had not been drinking, he was slurring his words more and more as the night went on. When they returned to their hotel room Tynes confronted Favre. "Why are you acting like this? What have you been taking?" she said.

"I took a couple of Vicodins," he said.

"A couple? No way!" she said angrily.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4