Following is an excerpt from the prologue of the new Brett Favre biography by Jeff Pearlman, "Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre." The book is set to be released Tuesday.
In many ways, a biography is a search for definition of character. You can’t possibly recreate every moment, or enter the brain of a subject matter, or know what a man or woman was precisely thinking at a particular moment (this is something that has forever bothered me about sports media: “Joey, what were you thinking as you dunked that basketball?” is a near-impossible question to actually answer). What you can do is understand what causes a person to tick, and how he became who he ultimately became, and what he did to make the world a better, or worse, or more interesting place.
BOOK REVIEW: Favre biography goes deep and scores
Which leads to two of my favorite Brett Favre stories …
First: In 2003 the Green Bay Packers hired a young coach named John Bonamego to serve as the special teams coordinator. He and his family moved down the street from the Favre household, on a cul-de-sac filled with kids who always looked for the quarterback. Bonamego’s oldest son was named Javi. He was 5, and easily impressionable.
One day Favre pulled the boy aside. “Hey, Javi, you and I are buddies, right?” he asked.
“Yes!” Javi said.
“Great,” Favre said. “So there’s this special hand signal, but it’s just for really close buddies to use to say hello to one another. I want to teach it to you, and any time I drive by you can do it to me. How does that sound?”
“Great!” Javi said. “Just for us buddies!”
“Right,” Brett said. “You have to keep it a secret, OK?”
“Yeah,” Javi said. “I won’t tell anyone!”
“You promise?” Favre said.
“I promise!” Javi replied.
“Perfect,” Favre said. “So what you do is you hold your hand in a fist, like this, and then you just lift the middle finger so it’s all alone, and …”
Second: When Favre was late in his time with the Packers, he learned of a Wisconsin boy named Anderson Butzine, who in February 2006 was diagnosed with Ependymoma, a rare tumor of the brain and spinal cord. The quarterback wrote the child a letter, which—while cherished in the Butzine household—was merely one of hundreds of letters Favre penned to the ill and infirmed. “I never saw Brett not respond to a person in need,” says David Thompson, who handled much of the quarterback’s fan mail. “He was amazing when it came to that.”
As the years passed and his health worsened, the one thing Anderson clung to was his football hero. “By the time he was 5, he was not doing well,” said Michelle Butzine, his mother. “Anderson was bedridden, he couldn’t move his arms, he couldn’t speak, he was on a ventilator, he couldn’t hold up his head.” Thompson was updated on Anderson’s condition, and reminded Favre how there was a boy in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin who needed him. One day, out of the blue, Michelle was told that the quarterback (now a Viking) and his wife would like to fly in from Minnesota and visit their home. “The doorbell rings, and there’s this big guy, big smile on his face.” When Anderson saw Favre, he excitedly lifted his right leg into the air. He was wearing a purple-and-yellow Viking sock. “It took such an effort,” said Michelle, “but he always loved the stinky toes game, where we’d pretend his feet smelled.” She explained this to the Favres, and Brett bent to one knee, gently held Anderson’s right foot, took a whiff and said, “Aw, they’re not so bad.” Favre spent three hours with Anderson, at one point sitting by his side and stroking the hair atop his head, whispering warm words into his ear. He complimented the different pictures Anderson had drawn—many featuring Favre in a Minnesota uniform, wearing a backward No. 4 (as the tumor progressed, Anderson struggled to write numbers correctly). “It was the sweetest thing,” said Michelle. “Lots of people have heroes. Lots of people are fans. But to know your hero loves you as much as you love him … that’s special.”
Later that season, the Vikings hosted the Bears in what turned out to be Favre’s final NFL appearance. After the 40-14 loss, he was hit with questions from the press about a rough season and a potential concussion and whether he was, at long last, done with football. When all the pertinent material was supplied, and the media session wrapped, a reporter asked a seemingly meaningless inquiry about the white towel that had dangled from his waist throughout the game.
“Brett,” he said, “this might be a dumb question, but why was there a backward No. 4 written on it?”
Anderson Butzine died less than a year later.