Do anything fun this summer?
Did you ever wish you could re-live your childhood? That you could turn back the clock, have just one more day to spend in a world that hasn’t yet been drained of all its magic? Who among us hasn’t? This country is obsessed with nostalgia, and sports fans are certainly no exception. I’d wager all of you little Chicagoland brats would trade the keys to your dad’s BMW for the chance to go back to the early ’90s and watch a Bulls team that could actually finish in the postseason. Or maybe you’d like to go back to 2009, before you started spending all money on that Blackhawks gear (you know, to show everybody what a diehard, lifelong fan you are)? Or maybe you’d like to go all the way back to the 1940s, when the Bears had a competent quarterback (Love ya, Jay!) and the Cubs last won the pennant. Regardless of when or where you’d point your time machine, we all want to revisit the “good old days.”
This summer, I had the opportunity to do just that. But it wasn’t just a fanciful trip back in time; it was a three-way collision of my past, present and future.
When I read Brett Favre was hosting a charity flag-football game at Camp Randall Stadium, and the event would feature a slew of Packers from the ’90s, I knew I needed to be there. The chance to see my boyhood hero go out and sling it one more time was just too exciting to pass up. I was all set to click on the “Buy Tickets Now” button when I noticed there was a link for media requests. Without much realistic hope of my request being granted, I submitted an application for a media credential.
Almost a month went by without any word from the event’s PR people, and I pretty much took their silence as a rejection. Honestly, why would such a high-profile event grant access to the sports editor of a tiny college newspaper in Iowa? Then, about two weeks before the event, I got an e-mail from the event organizers. Much to my delighted surprise, my request for a media credential was granted. I’d be covering “Brett Favre’s Legends Game” from the sideline.
Did I care that it was the middle of the summer and The Lorian’s first issue of the year was more than two months away? Hell no. I was going to see my childhood hero. Maybe, I allowed myself to hope, I’d even get the chance to interview him.
I felt like a real sportswriter when I got to the media check-in table at Camp Randall and found a manila envelope with my name and The Lorian’s on it. I had arrived.
Most of the players participated in a practice the day before the game, and credentialed media were invited to attend. Favre didn’t participate in the practice, as he was still in Green Bay being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, but there were many familiar faces from Sunday afternoons of yore. I interviewed a big handful of former NFL stars after the practice, and I’d like to share a few of my reflections on the experience with you.
First of all, it’s really, really easy to refrain from cracking jokes about Donovan McNabb’s drunken-driving habit when you’re standing next to him. It’s not hard to see why DBs didn’t like tackling him in the open field. Also, he finally apologized to Packers fans for 4th-and-26, saying it was “nothing personal, just business.”
Former Packers wide receiver-turned-pro-bodybuilder Javon Walker gave me the strangest interview experience I’ve encountered in my short time as a journalist. Apparently, bodybuilders have this thing where they like to “feel up” other men to check out their muscles and make comparisons. Because of this awkward practice, I conducted the entire interview from within Walker’s strong, muscular embrace. It was quite literally the most touching interview I’ve ever done.
I also learned that Frank Winters’s New Jersey accent is distractingly thick, Nick Barnett is a whiskey drinker and Sage Rosenfels has heard of Loras College.
But that was just practice; I was only warming up for the next day’s game.
The football played in “Brett Favre’s Legends Game” was predictably ugly, but nobody cared. Favre was taking snaps from Frankie “Bag-a-Donuts” Winters and throwing passes to Antonio Freeman and Mark Chmura. I felt like I was 14 again, but I had to snap out of it; there was a job to be done.
Following the game, a media mosh pit formed around the Ol’ Gunslinger, and I dove right in. I knew it would be my only opportunity for an interview with #4 himself. I threw a couple elbows and I listened a string of banal questions from reporters far more experienced than I. Then I struck.
“Brett,” I shouted, hoping to get the man’s attention, “What’s your streak of consecutive starts in charity flag-football games up to?”
My boyhood hero and the NFL’s all-time ironman locked eyes with me and chuckled. “I’m one-for-one,” he said. “If I had to go again next week … I don’t know.”