MAHOPAC, N.Y. -- Writing a book about Brett Favre hardly fascinated Jeff Pearlman.
“I had very little interest in Favre,’’ the Mahopac native and former New Rochelle resident said about the former quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. “I wanted to write a book about the USFL, and I couldn’t get a deal without a bigger seller.
"But I fell in love with the topic. He was fascinating. I loved the back story of him growing up in Mississippi, the obstacles he faced. He’s such a unique character, a Huck Finn type character.”
Pearlman’s book, “Gunslinger, The Remarkable, Improbably Iconic Life of Brett Favre,” was released late last month and has already been on The New York Times' bestseller list twice, marking the fifth of Pearlman's seven books to make the list.
Drawing on more than 500 interviews, Pearlman charts Favre’s journey from his rough, rural childhood and lackluster high school football career to the NFL, where he won a Super Bowl and became a Packers legend. He struggled with demons, such as addiction, infidelity, the death of his father, and ended with a prolonged exit from a game he couldn’t bear to leave.
“There’s a million things I didn’t know anything about when I started this book,’’ Pearlman said. “His upbringing is unbelievably interesting in rural Mississippi in the 1970s and '80s. His high school coach was his father, but the team never threw the ball. His dad was a run first coach. He was an unexpected superstar. There was no reason to think he would become what he became.”
Favre played collegiately at Southern Mississippi, the only school to offer him a scholarship.
“He was a nobody,’’ Pearlman said. “There were no expectations. Everything he did, he overcame some sort of obstacle. You take any high school athlete in the country and there is more interest in them than there was in Favre. If he didn’t go to Southern Mississippi, he probably would have had to have gone to a community college. Nobody was interested.”
Favre’s NFL career began in Atlanta, where he played for one year for the Falcons. He was traded the next year to Green Bay, where he played for the next 16 seasons, winning one Super Bowl and three MVP awards. He started a record 297 games from 1992-2008. He played with the Jets and Minnesota in the final three years of his career.
“He’s revered in Green Bay now,’’ Pearlman said. “When I started researching the book, there was still a lot of resentment toward him because he went to Minnesota.
"The only place you could get a Brett Favre jersey was at the Goodwill store. Now they’re popular again. He got his number retired, and he was very gracious and grateful. People needed time. When he went to Minnesota, it was a real wound.”
Before going to finish out his career in Minnesota, Favre played one undistinguished career with the Jets, where he seemed to be the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.
“He never really clicked with the team,’’ said Pearlman, a former writer for Sports Illustrated who also wrote about the Los Angeles Lakers, Walter Payton and Barry Bonds among his five other books. “He didn’t want to be there. He was an older guy, and it was never going to work. He’s not a New York guy.
"He’s a Green Bay guy, a small town guy. I think that was the biggest adjustment. You spend your whole life in one place, you get used to it, you’re comfortable. Then you come to New York, and you don’t know where you’re going.”
Pearlman jokes that he grew up on the “mean streets of Mahopac,” but he actually spent much of his time in Mahopac Library.
“I would go to the library and pull out all of the sports books,’’ said Pearlman, who lists The Freight House Cafe in Mahopac as his favorite writing spot. “When people are asked what influenced you the most, people will say something in college or their first job. For me it was going to the library and reading sports books. I read hundreds of them.”
That passion is reflected in the book on Favre, which has gotten mostly terrific reviews on Amazon.
“A straight ahead biography that tells the improbable story of a strong armed coach's son who overcame limited opportunity to become one of the greatest passers ever,’’ one reviewer wrote. “Pearlman’s in depth research and first hand accounts ring true throughout.”
Pearlman's original motivation for writing the book on Favre, to land a project about the USFL, has also paid off. He will publish a book next year on the former pro football league that was active from 1983-85.
While Favre had a Hall of Fame career, his on-again, off-again retirement plans took some of the luster off of his accomplishments. Pearlman said Favre simply played for as long as he did because he loved it. “He wasn’t doing it for money or fame,’’ Pearlman said. “He had a pure passion for playing.”
To order the book, click here to visit Pearlman’s website.
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