In the August 2010 Issue: Brett Favre
Posted By MJ On July 15, 2010 @ 12:00 pm In Cover Stories
It’s not quite 10AM, and the hamlet of Hattiesburg is already blowing things up. He has walked the grounds of his Monticello-on-the-Mayberry spread in Mississippi and dispatched two possums with his shotgun. “They were acting weird,” he reasoned. “Maybe they had ray-bees.” That was productive. He then returned an e-mail to an ESPN reporter. That didn’t work out so hot.
Three miles down U.S. Route 98, a visitor sits in the empty waiting room of a two-story office building. It belongs to Brett Favre’s agent. There are no magazines. There are no pictures of the prince. The visitor waits. And he waits. He watches a paint crew arrive. He watches a paint crew depart. He watches paint dry.
But he hears things. Phones ringing. Phones slamming. Cussing. Lots of cussing. An hour passes. A secretary apologizes for the delay. Finally, a Southern almost-gentleman appears. He’s the man behind the salty phone voice, and his face and ears are beet red. There’s no suit. Rather, he’s dressed in the uniform of the affluent adult child — shorts, sneakers, and golf shirt. He sticks out his hand.
“Bus Cook. I know you’re media, but do you know who I hate? The goddamn media! You watch ESPN this morning?”
“Brett talked to goddamned Ed Werder at ESPN, says he needs ankle surgery. Now why did he do that? I’ve got Childress calling. I’ve got reporters calling all damn morning. Goddammit, why does he have to be such a goddamned drama queen? Play, don’t play, goddamn, people are getting sick of it. I’m getting sick of it! Why does he have to talk to these people? What good does it do? Ed Werder at ESPN! What’s he ever done for anybody other than say, ‘Look, look, Mommy, I got this first, ain’t I special?’ You got problems with surgery, talk to your wife. Why talk to goddamned Ed Werder?”
A giant white pickup truck rumbles into the parking lot. The driver gingerly steps down from his perch. Cook looks out the window. He mulishly paws the rug with his sneakers.
“Goddamn, there’s Brett. This is going to be interesting.”
The silver-haired Favre is dressed in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, looking simultaneously like a kid and the grandpa he has just become. As he comes in the front door, his ruddy face breaks into a sheepish grin, one he’s flashed a thousand times, chinstrap undone, at head coaches after throwing across his body into double coverage. He didn’t flash it the last time he tried that maneuver on New Orleans turf. He was too tired, too broken. Actually, we may never see that smile again. That’s why we are here.
“Hey, Bus,” says Favre.
He speaks slowly, a boy trying to delay a spanking.
“I guess I screwed up. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I just told him that I might need surgery. He made it into a big thing.”
Bus stares him down, but his face crumples into an exasperated grin.
“Jesus, Brett. You never learn. You guys go talk. I’ve got goddamn phone calls to make.” He pokes a finger at Brett. “Thanks to you.”
Favre eases himself into a chair with the slight, obligatory groan of the middle-aged. (He turns 41 in October.) He knows what you’re thinking. On the field, you want him drawing plays up in the dirt, making things happen without a plan. You don’t want to know that’s how Favre lives the rest of his life. The ankle surgery kerfuffle — getting the procedure done, the speculation goes, may indicate he’s coming back — is just the latest production number in year three of “Will He or Won’t He Play,” Favre’s one-man show. At this point everyone is counting ceiling tiles and looking at their watches.
“You’d think I’d know better by now,” he says. He offers a different kind of smile: sad and weary. “I’ve learned a lot through the years. What I haven’t learned is what I’ll do and when I’ll do it.”
Read the full article in MJ’s August issue…
It was the fall of 1975, and I was having such a rough go of it that even my hair was depressed. Styled on David Bowie of Aladdin Sane vintage, it was long in back and purportedly spiked on top, but drooped like Three Dog Night in a two-day downpour. I stood 6-foot-1, weighed 150 pounds, and hadn’t been laid since Nixon’s reelection, making me, like George McGovern, a landslide loser. At the ripe age of 20, I had a mad crush on Ginger from Gilligan’s Island and organized my day around the 4PM reruns. I had plenty of time to watch, having dropped out of college and been fired from a series of flathead jobs, including two at which I actually volunteered.
And so that January, I did what middle-class kids do when life gets bored of beating them senseless — ran, hat in hand, back to college. Though the State University at Stony Brook billed itself as the “Berkeley of the East,” it was fairer, I think, to call it the “McNeese State of the North,” a school whose students were mostly interested in cars and picking up overtime at Sears. To walk the length of my residence hall was to know both the joys of a fierce contact high and the canon of Gregg and Duane Allman.
With the exception of mine, the one door on the hall kept closed belonged to a tall blond kid with big muscles. Actually, big doesn’t begin to give a sense of the guy. The first time I saw Mark, he was leaving the john, wearing a towel so small it gaped at the hip and thigh. He had cannonball shoulders that looked carved from brass — burnished arcs at the top of his arms that flowed into half-moon biceps. His chest was a slab of T-squared boxes, beneath which knelt columns of raised abdominals that bunched and torqued as he moved. I turned around, slack-jawed, and watched him go; it took all my self-control not to applaud.
For weeks I watched as girls trooped by in hopes of scoping Mark in low-rise briefs. Finally I knocked on his door. He listened to my spiel about being an asthmatic who’d grown up skinny and phobic, and allowed that he himself had been gangly until the summer before his senior year of high school. “What,” he asked, “do you want at the gym? D’ya want to get big or you want to get strong?”
My head in a sweat, I pondered the question like a man who’d just rubbed an old lamp. “What I really want is… I want to get laid.”
The next day I bought my first pair of Nikes and met Mark at the bottom of Stony Brook’s field house. Behind airshafts and pump rooms was a tiny space that constituted the campus weight room. It reeked of old mold and stagnant air, and the sum total of its apparatuses — two aged Universals — had oxidized a rusty ambergris. I followed Mark back to the rear machine, where, after a stern lecture about “respecting the room,” he had me lie on the bench.
Drawing a breath in, I whistled it out and hefted 70 pounds in the air. They hung there a moment, eyeing the view, then came down much too fast. “Slowly!” Mark yelled at me. “You lift the weight; the weight isn’t s’posed to lift you!” Chagrined, I shoved the bar up again and offered some push-back when it dropped. I did a third rep, and a fourth, when something strange happened. A radiant heat began filling my chest, as if someone had draped a compress across it. I did another rep and the feeling spread, inching past the collarbone toward my throat. I kept on going, losing track of reps, attuned to the muzzy, pins-and-needles buzz that was setting up in my ears. It was sharp and soft, then hot and cool. I forgot who I was and even what I was, imagining myself as a two-stroke engine and my arms as pistons firing. Dropping that last rep, I lay there, clinically stoned, wrists hanging limp at my sides, watching fireworks on the back of my lids.
“Up,” Mark ordered. “No sleeping between sets.”
I stood in a daze, savoring the burn in my chest and the wash of lactic acid down my arms. It was cold enough to see my exhaled breath, and the only sounds that intercut the noonday silence were Mark’s bellicose grunts while benching. But when I looked at myself in the unframed mirror mounted crookedly on the wall, I thought, This is the thing I’ve been searching for; I’ve found it, and I’m not leaving.
I’ve been paying for that fix, very nearly with my life, ever since.
Read the full article in MJ’s August issue…
On the day his ship exploded, Captain Curt Kuchta arrived to begin his three-week hitch aboard the Deepwater Horizon, $350 million of the best seafaring and oil-drilling technology the global petroleum industry can buy. He’d flown from his home outside Baltimore to Houma, Louisiana, where he jumped a helicopter for the 48-mile flight out over the Gulf of Mexico to Mississippi Canyon Block 252 — the location of the deep-sea oil well where the huge vessel had been drilling for the previous two and a half months. At these depths, the drilling rig didn’t anchor into the seafloor, but floated on two massive pontoons. After several stressful weeks in which the crew struggled to secure the intractable well, which began on the ocean floor 5,000 feet below and penetrated, incredibly, another two and a half miles into the Earth’s crust, it appeared that they were days, or even hours, from capping it. Once they had done so, a less sophisticated rig — a pumping station, really — would arrive to extract the crude while the Deepwater Horizon moved to a new location to bore a new well. That’s when Kuchta would assume full command of the ship from the on-site drilling managers and once again become the literal captain of this great machine.
The morning of April 20, 2010, began overcast but bright, calm, the surface of the Gulf glassy. Viewed from a chopper 1,000 feet up and a mile out, the ship appeared almost toy-like, the way all ships look small against the immensity of the sea and sky. Platforms and rigs of all sizes could be seen out the chopper’s windows, sprinkled like poker chips across the blue waters of Louisiana and her neighbors. Helicopters are the primary way crews commute to and from the rigs, and the choppers come and go all day long, adding their thwop thwop thwop to the constant thrum of the ship’s giant engines. Although automation has made life on offshore rigs safer, working out there is still a hard, dangerous duty. Those who work in oil and gas extraction are eight times more likely to die on the job than average Americans. Many of the men actually dread the helicopter rides most of all.
For most of the men, though, the risk was worth it. The Deepwater Horizon was a proud, high-tech beast with a proud, courageous crew: In 2009, the ship had dug the deepest oil and gas well in the world at another site, the Tiber well, almost seven and a half miles (39,180 feet) beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Longer and wider than a football field at 396 by 256 feet, the main platform had a 24-story-tall derrick at its center, with cranes, mud pumps, and stacks of pipes in virtually every direction. The vessel had a life of its own: It throbbed and clanged and hissed around the clock, and in some respects it was like a giant relay station, too, tapping into an almost incomprehensible amount of ancient energy 18,360 feet below while taking constant navigational cues from satellites miles above the Earth’s surface.
When Kuchta arrived that Tuesday, close to half of the 126-member crew was on duty, while the other half slept or relaxed before their shift began at 6. The rig never slept; everyone aboard worked 12-hour shifts for the length of their 21-day rotation.
Working offshore makes for a strange, on-again/off-again way of life, more military than civilian. The pay is good, and few quit; the roughly $50,000 salary for entry-level roustabouts and roughnecks goes a long way in the hot, flat Gulf Coast towns where most of them live. Working on an oil rig is also one of the few remaining careers where a guy can start at the bottom, chipping paint below the waterline, and reasonably expect to make his way up the ladder.
But the greatest appeal for most of the guys was the camaraderie. A core group had been with the Deepwater Horizon since its launch in South Korea in 2001. They hunted and fished together and had fraternity-like rituals, such as shaving a guy’s head the first time he crossed the Equator. Often, the men told their families, they thought of fellow crewmen as brothers more than co-workers. Plus, two to three weeks off at home wasn’t so bad, either; for every Kuchta on his first day back, there was always someone going home or transferring to another site the next day, as Jason Anderson was. As a senior tool-pusher, Anderson was responsible for the drilling operations during his shift. A 15-year veteran and father of two kids back home in Midfield, Texas, Anderson had been promoted internally eight times and was just two steps away from becoming a rig manager with an office job on the mainland so he could see his family each night.
That day, word had gone around that everyone should be at the top of their game because executives from the Deepwater Horizon’s owner, Transocean, and the owner of the well and Transocean’s client, BP, were coming to check on the well’s progress. The visitors weren’t CEOs, but VPs with real clout: Don Winslow and Buddy Trahan from Transocean and Pat O’Bryan and David Sims from BP. Whether their presence confused the decision making during that night’s emergency (the BP execs held ultimate authority over the well) remains at the center of investigations by Congress, the Coast Guard, and the Minerals Management Service. But, according to Miles “Randy” Ezell, who spent most of the afternoon showing them around, the four execs were there mostly to pat the crew on the back for a job nearly done and to celebrate a superlative safety record — no serious accident in seven years.
Read the full article in MJ’s August issue…
Five Meals Every Man Should Master
MJ presents America’s best chef, Thomas Keller, as he walks us through five dynamite dishes and dispenses his master secrets along the way.
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