A disclaimer: I’m not really so much a Brett Favre fan. I am, however, definitely a Jeff Pearlman fan.
Pearlman is the author of both the melancholy, elegiac Walter Payton biography Sweetness and the uproarious, unbelievable 90s Dallas Cowboys tell-all Boys Will Be Boys. Biographies are at their best when the writers get themselves out of the way, which Pearlman does, although he still leaves an impression with his skill and versatility. So, when I heard this fall he was releasing Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre, I knew I had to read it, because, truly, Favre was all three of those things, and I knew Pearlman would do him justice.
Brett Favre’s pro football career with the Falcons, Packers, Jets, and Vikings lasted an odds-defying 20 years (plus four more years at Southern Miss previous, as some around here will surely remember). Brett Favre’s Packers won the Super Bowl when I was in the fourth grade, and if the other boys in my class didn’t want to be Chipper Jones, they wanted to be Brett Favre.
As Favre’s career stretched infinitely on, he had to not only adapt to the shifting schematics on the field around him, but also to a new media landscape. Pearlman’s perfectly captures how he went from being able to perfectly play Peter King’s strings to having a target on his back at Deadspin. When he finally hung up his cleats for good in 2010, this internet video (warning: suggestive content), a send-up of slick contemporary Nike commercial for LeBron James) was a pitch perfect parody of his public persona and accompanying peccadillos. It hits upon his waffling on retirement, recent sexting scandal, and erratic decisions on field. This is what Brett Favre had become to my generation. Farve had matured a little bit off the field, but still loved attention and was now far behind the media curve.
Brett’s story is as old as Beowulf—the hero can do no wrong when he is young and strong, but as the cliché from numerous sports broadcast says: father time is undefeated. He tries valiantly one time for glory, but comes up short.
Look, if you are a Favre fan, rest assured: Pearlman is no takedown artist. But as he states at the end of the book, he isn’t trying “to write an ode to Brett, but an explanation of Brett.” Which he accomplishes very well. I feel I understand Favre as more of a three-dimensional person than the caricature he was in the above video. As fans, we don’t need to deify (or crucify) our athletes or celebrities to enjoy or appreciate the work they do. Pearlman has written another deft, dead-on examination of football’s ironman to help hammer home that thesis.