“Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre” by Jeff Pearlman; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (448 pages, $28)
It was the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1992, when the Pittsburgh Steelers — off to a 3-0 start that season — ran headfirst into history at Lambeau Field.
Looking for their first 4-0 open since the year they last won the Super Bowl, 1979, the Steelers were favorites against a Green Bay Packer team that was giving a young quarterback his first career NFL start.
That quarterback rolled over the Steelers rather easily, 17-3, burning the NFL’s best cornerback, Rod Woodson, on two impressive touchdown throws.
That quarterback was Brett Favre — the one-and-only, the man with the rocket arm, and most recently, the Pro Football Hall of Famer — launching his illustrious career by dismantling the Steelers’ defense in a way he’d do to countless others over 20 seasons.
Football fans can relive Favre’s life — from his early days growing up in rural Mississippi, to his often-forgotten season in Atlanta, to his Super Bowl win and rocky relationship with Aaron Rodgers — in “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre” by Jeff Pearlman.
Over nearly 400 pages, Pearlman, The New York Times-best-selling author known for his exhaustive reporting and researching process, puts readers inside the locker rooms where Favre became one of the most beloved and flawed players in the sport’s history.
The result is the most comprehensive biography of Brett Favre that exists. The book’s depth is no more apparent than in the poignant look at Favre’s rookie year in an Atlanta Falcons uniform, a year that the quarterback dedicated a whopping seven paragraphs to in his 1997 autobiography. Even die-hard football fans might not recall that Brett Favre ate and drank his way out of a job there, sleeping through team meetings because he was hungover.
They may also not remember the car crash that almost killed Favre in 1990, which was supposed to sideline him during his whole senior year at Southern Mississippi University. Instead, he came back in Week 2, about 30 pounds underweight, and led his Golden Eagles to a massive upset over No. 13-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Those moments as an underdog, teetering on the edge of football obscurity, sculpted Favre into a superstar. To compensate, it required talent that he undoubtedly possessed in the form of a near-nuclear throwing arm. He was barely coveted out of high school, though, because his father and coach, Irv Favre, only let him throw the ball four to five times a game, even when college recruiters were watching from the stands.
If stories like these — in which Favre overcomes adversity en route to an extraordinary career — are the book’s bread and butter, the main dish is in the quarterback’s rendezvous with scandal. There’s much about his propensity for alcohol and struggle with Vicodin use. There’s the time he sent nude photos to a New York Jets hostess, too.
And there’s riveting anecdotes about Favre’s uncomfortable relationship with his successor in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers. Pearlman’s reporting details the pair’s first awkward meeting, which set a precedent of animosity between the two players that has been a topic of much speculation, but not much fact.
That’s why “Gunslinger” is so outstanding: with a backbone of compulsive research and reporting, Pearlman succeeds in taking football fans deeper into the stories about Brett Favre that have been told so many times already — and after this all-encompassing biography, stories that won’t have to be told again.