SI Vault
December 10, 2007
The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better
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December 10, 2007

Brett Favre: Sportsman Of The Year

The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better

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But the success was leavened by personal setbacks and heartache. In 1996 the NFL sent him to rehab to kick an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin. Two months later Scott was involved in a car crash that killed his passenger, Mark Haverty, Brett's close childhood friend. Scott pleaded guilty to felony DUI and served a year of house arrest. Brett's own heavy drinking drove Deanna to consult divorce lawyers before Favre checked himself into rehab in 1999.

After Favre quit drinking, he settled into the comfortable second act of his career, during which life was quieter and his teams were good but not quite good enough. The drama, however, was far from over. In December 2003 Favre lost his father, Irvin, who suffered a heart attack at age 58. The day after Big Irv died, Favre summoned the defining performance of his career, passing for 399 yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders, and riveting a Monday Night Football audience. Grown men around Green Bay still tear up when recalling that game.

One dark week in 2004 set the Favres reeling all over again. In October, Deanna's younger brother, Casey Tynes, was killed when he crashed his all-terrain vehicle, leaving behind a girlfriend who was eight months pregnant. Four days after Casey's funeral, Deanna learned she had breast cancer. As always, the Favres were overwhelmed by the outpouring in Green Bay—bags of letters, innumerable prayer circles and many kind wishes murmured in the grocery aisle.

"People here treat us like family, and I think they care for us like family," says Deanna. "Because of everything we've been through, they don't see Brett as untouchable or as some kind of superhero. And they've been through it with us. The fans here feel close to Brett because they've all had their own similar struggles. Nothing against Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but I'm not sure their fans relate to them in the same way."

FAVRE GREW UP in tiny Kiln, Miss., "the Kill" as it's known on the Gulf Coast, a place his coach at Southern Mississippi, Curley Hallman, would memorably describe as "like The Dukes of Hazzard, minus the demolition derby." In a typical anecdote from Favre's youth, he was tossing a football to Scott but led him too much, sending his brother through a bay window of the family house. When the Favre boys weren't shooting each other with BB guns or feeding Oreos to alligators from the back porch or sneaking pinches of chewing tobacco—of baby brother Jeff, Favre once said, "That son of a bitch could chew and spit when he was three years old"—they were tagging along to sporting events with their father, who coached high school football and American Legion baseball in Kiln. Under Big Irv's watchful eye, Brett developed into a standout athlete, but he was imbued with none of the aloofness that the star quarterback has in every teen movie.

Credit Bonita for that. During her 16 years as a special-education teacher, Brett was a regular visitor to her classroom—and not just during the two years when Deanna was an aide and he wanted to flirt. (She and Brett met in catechism when they were seven; they began dating when she was a high school sophomore and he was a freshman.)

Of her students, whose conditions ranged from common learning disabilities to severe developmental problems, Bonita says, "There was a time when people like that were locked away, but they have value. They can be productive members of society. I always made it clear to my children they weren't any better than the kids I taught."

Around Kiln there was a developmentally disabled man named Ronnie Hebert, who served as an equipment manager on Brett's youth baseball team and helped out with Big Irv's squads. Sensing that the other players felt awkward about sitting next to Hebert on the bus or sharing a table at restaurants, Brett always made an effort to include him. The two forged a lasting friendship and remained close enough that a few years ago, Deanna surprised her husband by flying Hebert in to be the guest speaker at a fund-raising dinner for Favre's charitable foundation. Says Deanna, "That night is as emotional as I've ever seen Brett, aside from when his dad passed away."

Though Favre has never had difficulty connecting with people, he admits that early in his career he was too busy having a good time to reach out to others. Deanna had become pregnant when she was 19 and did much of the early parenting of daughter Brittany so that Brett could concentrate on football. Deanna and Brittany continued to live in Mississippi during Favre's first few seasons in Atlanta and Green Bay, leaving him unchaperoned. "It was out of control for a while," says Scott. "We'd go into a bar and just take over the place. Brett would be on top of the bar, pouring drinks. The people loved it, of course."

Favre's Vicodin addiction led to a 46-day stay at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kans. "I was able to see some things a little more clearly," Favre says of his time there. "I realized I had become sidetracked in a lot of important ways." In July 1996, shortly after he completed rehab, Brett and Deanna were married. That year he also started the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, with a charter to provide aide to disabled and disadvantaged children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

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