I though I had seen it all by the time the teams took the field on Sunday, but there it was in the Superdome, in brilliant green and gold, the strangest sight of Super Bowl week in New Orleans: a grown man in a number 4 Green Bay Packers jersey who wasn't falling-down drunk.
Everyone has his or her personal vision of hell, and surely there were times last week when Brett Favre felt as if he had taken a wrong turn into his worst nightmare. In a city where the beer practically flows from the fire hydrants, at an event that has become the Cannes of beer commercials, Favre, a renowned lover of libations, was forbidden by the NFL to touch a drop.
It was irony bordering on cruelty that the toast of the town wasn't allowed to raise a glass. What is the league going to do next? Lock Nate Newton in a Häggen-Dazs factory for a month and then test him to see if there is any Midnight Cookies and Cream in his system? As he strolled down Bourbon Street, Favre, who on Wednesday of Super Bowl week was named (of all things) Miller Lite Man of the Year, could only look up at the Budweiser blimp and wonder, Is there a good movie on TV tonight?
Favre underwent treatment for addiction to the painkiller Vicodin last off-season, and as part of his aftercare program he was also required by the NFL to be tested for alcohol. It was a stipulation he had not bargained for when he came forward and admitted to his addiction last May, and this off-season he intends to petition the league to release him from that prohibition. In other words, he will fight for his right to knock back a couple of cold ones.
Favre didn't understand the drinking ban, especially after a report from the clinic in which he was treated concluded that he is not an alcoholic. Last week it must have been particularly tough for Favre to accept the NFL's connection between alcohol and prescription drugs. When we last checked, the NFL didn't endorse a Vicodin Man of the Year award.
There were reports early last week that Favre already had been cleared by the league to consume beer, but Packers coach Mike Holmgren denied them, and the league said Favre's aftercare status was confidential. "I actually can't talk about it until the season's over," said Favre. The NFL is expected to rule on his request in the off-season.
Of course, if Favre made it through last week without a drink, he could probably remain dry for the rest of his life. They don't call it Bourbon Street for nothing. Everyone there appears to have consumed at least a fifth of Wild Turkey. "To be honest, Bourbon Street is not a lot of fun if you're not drunk," said New England Patriots tackle Bruce Armstrong last week. "You go out there to imbibe and enjoy." How would Armstrong describe a good night in the French Quarter? "That comes when you can't remember it," he said. "If you remember it, it wasn't much fun." It's not only legal to walk down Bourbon Street with a drink in your hand, but it's also encouraged. Abstaining from booze while in New Orleans for the Super Bowl is like going black-tie to a nudist camp.
There were thousands of people in the French Quarter wearing jerseys with Favre's name on the back, and he appeared to be the only one with a leg under him. As Favre made his way along Bourbon Street with tipsy friends and teammates, packs of raucous fans raised their plastic beer cups and shouted adoringly to him. Every last one of them would surely have given the cheese off his head for the chance to buy Favre a bottle of Dixie.
While the madness was enough to knock any man off the wagon, Favre at least proved to be no dummy. He knew that the paparazzi were never far away, and he knew that a snapshot of him with a longneck to his lips would trigger a pregame eruption. The rumors swirled, but the hottest question of the week—Has Brett had a beer?—remained essentially unanswered. But ABC's Dick Schaap spent an afternoon with Favre at Hooters in the French Quarter and said Favre never slipped. "My limit is two beers and I went over my limit, but Brett was perfectly sober," said Schaap. "He had nothing but Pepsi or ice water."
After Green Bay's 35-21 victory over New England on Sunday, Favre was asked how the beer was going to taste. Favre gave the reporter a look that nearly knocked the wind out of him. "What beer?" he said, with no trace of a smile. "There is no beer." NFL rules prohibiting alcohol in the locker room spared Favre the peril of even a champagne shower during the postgame celebration.