Nov 02, 2013
I love the PACKERS & thought you guys might enjoy reading this...Can happen to anyone! On the afternoon of May 14, 1996, Brett Favre stepped to the podium in the Lambeau Field auditorium and dozens of reporters assembled for a scheduled news conference knew immediately that something was wrong.
Favre was wearing a sports coat instead of the T-shirt and sweaty baseball cap that had long defined him sartorially. Furthermore, he was flanked by his future wife, Deanna Tynes, and a very sober-looking Mike Holmgren, head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Favre was so nervous, he would write later in his autobiography, that he was "shaking more than Elvis in 'Jailhouse Rock.' "
Then the words came out, haltingly and in a trembling tone.
Favre, 26, who just months earlier had led the Packers to within one game of the Super Bowl, had voluntarily entered the league's substance-abuse program and would seek help at an inpatient treatment facility. He said he had "possibly become dependent upon medication."
He did not know it then, but he had reached a critical juncture in his life.
• • •
Favre sat in his cubicle in the Packers' locker room last week and shook his head at the memory of that May day mayday.
"I look back at that time, almost 10 years ago, and think, 'Did that really happen?' " he said, rubbing his closely cropped hair. "It almost seems like it wasn't part of my life, or it was a different part of my life."
Or maybe it's just that his life is so different.
No longer the self-described wild thing who "drank up Atlanta" as a rookie with the Falcons in 1991 and brought the party with him to Green Bay in '92, Favre is, by all accounts, a devoted husband to Deanna and doting father to daughters Brittany and Breleigh.
Once an indefatigable man about town, Favre now lives a near-reclusive lifestyle, according to his friends, and shuns an adoring but intrusive public whenever possible. The future Hall of Fame quarterback prefers to lay low during the off-season at his palatial house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg, Miss., where he almost obsessively tends to his emerald lawn.
Scott Favre said his younger brother quit drinking alcohol "six or seven years ago." It's been eight years since Scott himself had a drink, but he remembers the good ol' days, which, in hindsight, weren't all that good.
"When we drank, it was all or nothing," Scott said. "If we drank, let's go get a case and go till we can't go no more. We were out of control. Couldn't see it at the time. Now we look back at it - and Brett and I talk about it all the time - quitting is the best thing we ever did."
The Favres didn't touch alcohol while growing up in tiny Kiln, Miss. They didn't dare, because their father, Irvin, also was their high school football coach and would have cracked his boys' skulls had he smelled beer on their breath.
After Brett Favre went away to the University of Southern Mississippi on a football scholarship, however, things changed quickly. As a 17-year-old freshman nursing a massive hangover, he came off the bench to lead the Golden Eagles to a come-from-behind victory over Tulane and became the starter.
Favre drank beer throughout his college years, frequently to excess.
"I hate to say (coach Curley Hallman) turned a blind eye to it," said Chris Ryals, Favre's roommate, "but maybe the rules were stretched just a little bit for Brett on occasion where they wouldn't be for somebody else.
"We were playing down at (Louisiana) Lafayette and we had a few beers in our motel room the night before the game. Curley asked me after the season, 'Was Brett's daddy in the room down there with y'all?' I said, 'No, sir, why?' He said, 'When we checked out we saw they charged y'all's room six beers.'
"I just smiled. So Curley Hallman kind of knew."
Favre enhanced his reputation as the life of the party in Atlanta, where Falcons coach Jerry Glanville quickly tired of his undisciplined quarterback's antics and was not disappointed when the team traded him to the Packers.
Though Favre started taking football seriously in Green Bay, he continued to play as hard off the field as he did on it.
The beginning of his transformation can be traced to Nov. 15, 1992, when he suffered a separated left shoulder while being sacked by, of all people, Reggie White, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles then but would eventually help Favre lead the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
Favre had replaced an injured Don Majkowski just eight weeks earlier and didn't want Holmgren to know how badly he was hurt. After the game, which Green Bay won, 27-24, Favre asked the team doctor for a painkiller.
That night, he took his first Vicodin.
The powerful narcotic analgesic was distributed cautiously by the team physicians, one or at most two at a time, because of the potential for addiction. The players called the huge pills "vikes."
"Some players take it and get sick to their stomach, so they don't do it again," Favre wrote in his 1997 autobiography "Favre: For the Record." "Other players think it feels pretty good but they'd never take it enough to get addicted. Then there are players like me, who take it and get hooked."
Favre soothed various aches and pains with Vicodin throughout the 1992 and '93 seasons. By the end of the '94 season, however, he was popping six pills a day, which soon became eight, then 10, then 15.
He got the pills, he wrote, from unwitting teammates who offered up their own modest supplies when the likable quarterback confided that his shoulder hurt or his ankle was sore or his ribs were killing him. No one guessed Favre was fast developing a dangerous dependency.
He was plagued by many of the drug's side effects. He was constantly dehydrated, acutely constipated - he often went a week or longer between bowel movements - and endured bouts of nausea and vomiting. He choked down the pills at precisely 9 each night and when they kicked in, he was so wired up he paced the house or played video games until the early morning hours, while an increasingly suspicious Deanna slept fitfully upstairs.
Sometimes, he would vomit up the pills, then carefully wash them off and force them down again.
Favre's agent, James "Bus" Cook, began to suspect his star client had a problem. Favre wrote that one of his best friends, Clark Henegan, told him bluntly, "Man, you've got to stop with the pills. It's gone too far."
A few weeks after Favre led the Packers to the 1995 NFC Championship Game - and threw three touchdown passes in a 38-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys - he decided to quit Vicodin cold turkey. He polished off his stash of 15 pills and flushed the bottle down the toilet.
But his nightmare was just beginning.
In February 1996, Favre flew to Green Bay to have bone chips removed from his left ankle. After surgery, he was sitting up in his hospital bed, talking to Deanna, when he suffered a seizure. His eyes rolled back in his head, his arms and legs thrashed and his body stiffened. Brittany, who was in the room, asked Deanna, "Is he going to die, Mommy?"
The cause of the seizure was debatable, but the fact is seizures are one possible side effect of Vicodin. It was a wake-up call for Favre, who agreed to meet with NFL-appointed doctors at the urging of the Packers' medical personnel.
According to Favre's autobiography, the meeting took place in Chicago in March 1996. The league doctors asked him a lot of questions about his alcohol use. Finally, one of them said, "We know you're addicted to painkillers and we think you have a drinking problem, too."
They suggested Favre seek treatment at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan. He got up and walked out of the room.
The NFL doctors kept calling. Favre kept ignoring them. Finally, a league doctor called and said Favre had been classified as behavioral-referred instead of self-referred because the Packers' team doctors had contacted the NFL about his addiction to painkillers.
Now, Favre had no choice. He had to report to the Menninger Clinic or he would be fined four weeks' pay, or about $900,000.
It was time for Favre to let Holmgren and Packers general manager Ron Wolf in on his secret. They were stunned by their quarterback's admission that he had a problem with painkillers. Holmgren suggested Favre address the media, and on May 14 the team issued an 11-paragraph news release and Favre found himself standing before reporters who had mostly chronicled his meteoric rise.
"The hardest thing I've ever done was stand up there," Favre said last week. "It wasn't just the media I was telling. It was basically the whole world. I had done a lot of press conferences, good and bad, after wins and losses, but I had never done a press conference like that."
On June 28, 1996, Favre completed a 46-day stay at the Menninger Clinic, where he checked his celebrity status at the door, attended group therapy sessions and was evaluated by a psychiatrist. While he was in Topeka, coming to grips with his addiction, he proposed to Deanna, and they were married in July, just before the start of training camp.
Early in camp, trim and fit, Favre addressed the media in the same team auditorium where he had made his halting admission nine weeks earlier. This time his face had color, his voice was strong and he oozed confidence.
"Believe me when I tell you that this is going to be hard, but I have faced tougher trials and succeeded," he said. "I will not allow myself to be defeated by this challenge."
He also denied rumors he was an alcoholic, though he would have to abstain from alcohol for two years in order to comply with the league's substance-abuse program and eventually would quit drinking altogether. Ignoring Holmgren's jabs under the table, Favre set his jaw and vowed to take the Packers to the Super Bowl, challenging his detractors to "bet against me."
Six months later, Green Bay beat New England, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI at the Superdome in New Orleans, just 45 miles from Favre's hometown.
Over the ensuing years, while he established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Favre suffered several significant injuries and each time treated his pain with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol. Vicodin remains in his past, a distant memory from "another life."
There are no more nights out with the boys, at least none that involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Favre is a mature family man who has buried his father, stood by Deanna through her bout with breast cancer and pitched in to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
And today, he will start his 211th consecutive regular-season game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
The more things change, the more they stay the same