By Mark Heisler
Thanks for coming.
At least we won’t have to worry about any more of those off-season Brett Favre Watches.
It should not be a surprise that the nature of Favre’s last comeback—don’t worry, after this nightmare there won’t be any more—has been revealed for what it was: a setup.
Not that the theme has changed since Icarus flew too close to the sun. Now, however, there are technologies and media outlets devoted to deconstructing heroes so nobody gets away with anything.
Favre—an icon from his arrival in the relatively innocent ’90s when John Madden’s reverence became the stuff of parody for Frank Caliendo (“You know the Greek gods? He’s one step above that”)—is just an Old School guy who stuck around long enough to get the New World treatment.
Favre is now a fireball streaking toward Earth, having seen it all go wrong in the last three months of a 20-year career.
In 12 weeks, he got the whole treatment, starting with the media’s annual stakeout of his Kiln, Miss., home, awaiting his decision on returning ... to the visit by Viking teammates ... to the O.J.-like coverage as Favre accompanied them back to the Twin Cities with TV helicopters following their drive from the airport.
Unfortunately, this was followed by the anguish—Does this m-m-mean you’re not taking us to the Super Bowl?—after the Vikings started 1-3.
Then, for the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of Favre’s ruin, there was The Sex Scandal.
Now, barring a bigger miracle than Favre pulled off for the Vikings last season, he’ll go home with even more arrows in his back than after his lost 2008 season with the Jets, and a new image replacing the Barefoot-Boy-From-Mississippi he left with.
There’s nothing new here, except us.
Favre didn’t just get old. His limitations are no surprise. If his surgically repaired ankle had been OK, he’d have announced his return months before. Old people playing QB in the NFL can get sore elbows.
As for the sexual high jinks, whether or not Favre sent pictures of his penis to a female Jets employee, crude behavior is nothing new in this subculture. If anything, it’s surely at a new, more exciting and perilous level with handheld devices to take and send pictures, part of a new mode of human communication called “sexting.”
It seems so harmless, sharing a pic of the privates with a close friend—even if it turns out to be the whole world—as have Evan Longoria, Grady Sizemore, Santonio Holmes, Greg Oden, George Hill, Dorell Wright and, of course, Chad Ochocinco.
If 24 percent of respondents ages 14-17 tell an Associated Press-MTV poll they’ve done naked sexting, you can imagine the implications for professional athletes.
The sports subculture runs on titillation, if not outright lust, from the field to the press box to the viewer, as illustrated by the naked horndog mentality in beer commercials, pitched to young males.
Favre’s alleged victim—or at least the subject of his advances—was Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger, who had posed nude for Playboy as a college cheerleader and has never stopped trading on her beauty (see JennSterger.com).
Fan interest in the story is, of course, keen. Now, luckily for prurient interest, there are alternatives to mainstream media that don’t observe niceties like “private lives.”
Deadspin.com, which came into being as an anti-ESPN, whose name it mocks, broke the story in August by outing Sterger, violating a confidence, as Deadspin Editor A.J. Daulerio noted forthrightly, because “I’m a dick.”
Now heading for TMZ-land at flank speed, Deadspin has maintained its lead on this story in time-honored tabloid fashion ... by paying for it.
In early October, it posted a follow-up bombshell: the video of the penis sent to Sterger, allegedly by Favre. Daulerio told Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson that Deadspin had purchased it—from a third source—for more than the site had ever before paid for such an item.
With the story out, the mainstream is obliged to react, right up to Commissioner Roger Goodell, loath as he seems to be to lump one of the NFL’s most beloved players—at least pre-2010—with the heavier-handed Ben Roethlisbergers.
Of course, it’s three months since the story broke and Sterger has yet to comment, file charges or, reportedly, talk to Goodell’s people. The commissioner is thus left trying to wriggle out of his own investigation, which is based to this point on an unconfirmed Internet report.
Meanwhile, at the Worldwide Leader ...
Once a phenom, itself, ESPN now functions as the national sports page, defining “mainstream.”
Accordingly, it does titillation in a low-key style with attractive anchors who are dressed to kill, sufficiently to keep Hannah Storm and Sage Steele, both terrific anchors, up there in media hottie polls, a staple of Internet coverage.
Of course, one Storm ensemble did trigger comment by PTI’s irreverent Tony Kornheiser, who was suspended before he could say “Oops!” for saying Hannah’s skirt was “way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe 50s.”
If that was undeniably ageist, no one challenged Kornheiser’s description of Storm’s “red go-go boots ... Catholic school plaid skirt” and “typically very, very, tight shirt ... [like a] sausage casing wrapping around her upper body.”
If you haven’t noticed, more and more stunning women are cast in the role of Sideline Reporter, a BS assignment unless someone as hard-nosed as Jim Gray was doing it with few or no opportunities to actually interview anyone down there.
The salient feature of the Internet, aside from sex, is competition.
ESPN’s many pundits not only battle rival networks, newspapers, websites, et al., for attention, but each other.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising if we get candor like that of ESPN SportsNation’s Colin Cowherd, debating Michelle Beadle (another gorgeous blonde) on the inevitable subject of the media role in the Favre story (duh).
Cowherd: I’m not saying it’s news. I’m saying it’s a story. I’m in the story business. This show is in the story business, the topic business. …
We’re talking about allegations, third party ... [but] I’ve never heard of a story that everybody complains is not a story but it leads every show.
Beadle: Is it juicy and sexy? Absolutely? Is it really anything? No.
Cowherd: I’m not Walter Cronkite. I’m your juicy, sexy guy. I love those kind of stories.
Hopefully, the juicy, sexy guy won’t ever find himself in one of those slimeball stories he loves.
By a 58-42 margin, respondents told SportsNation it was not a story ... with enough participants to prove beyond question that it was.
Not that the media is entirely BS, but it sounds like the health care debate, in which most people wanted change and everyone hated all the changes.
The definition of a big story is one everyone can participate in. Thus, the timing couldn’t have been worse for Favre, obliged to face the Jets on a Monday night a month into the season.
It was more like the gods were having a ball watching this as the Gotham press flew to Minnesota for the lead-in and a New York Post guy boldly confronted Favre about the Sterger allegations.
Favre, who’s extraordinarily gracious for a male slut if he is one, replied without rancor, “I’m not going to get into that. I’ve got my hands full with the Jets. ...”
This was like tea and crumpets compared with Deadspin’s coverage, which included a new twist on the dread man-in-the-street assignment.
Or, as its headline put it:
“The Adventures Of A Guy Walking Around Vikings-Jets Tailgates With Brett Favre’s Cock Photos.”
Actually, wrote Deadspin’s David Matthews, “It was a lot less awkward than it sounds.”
I decided on a group of fathers and college-aged sons in Jets gear [who] were receptive [wrote Matthews]. ... One of the fathers took me aside and briefly began telling me about a web venture he was planning but his sons quickly told him to shut up so I could show them pictures of a penis. ... Finally, I found [Viking fans]. One had what I think was an old Vikings Jim McMahon jersey; another had an Adrian Peterson. The women with them were wearing Vikings jerseys. ... I asked them what they had to say about the allegations.
“You need to leave.”
C’mon, guys, just a quick word.
“If you don’t get the fuck out of here, I’m going to punch you in the throat.”
Meanwhile, Favre was apologizing tearfully to teammates for the distraction he had become.
Of course, it quickly got out.
“That’s between me and my teammates,” said Favre dryly after the game, “although, apparently, not all of them.”
In keeping with the nightmare theme, Favre held the Vikes in the game while the Jets gashed the Minnesota defense for 328 yards, throwing three touchdown passes that included highlight-reel strikes to Randy Moss and Percy Harvin that recalled last season’s last-second game-winner against the 49ers that seemed to define their fairy tale run.
Trailing, 22-20, late in this game, Favre threw a interception that Jet corner Dwight Lowery ran in for the touchdown sealing the 29-20 loss.
Guess who became the lowest of the low?
“BRETT COMES UP SHORT,” said the New York Post front-page headline.
“EXPOSED,” said the Post headline on the back page.
“SORRY BRETT LOL,” said the New York Daily News, opting for text-message humor instead of referring to Favre’s manhood.
The game drew a monster-for-cable 10.7 rating, even after a 45-minute weather delay that pushed the start back to 9:15 p.m., Eastern time.
NFL ratings are on a new rising curve, a phenomenon attributed to HD and flat-screen TVs. More likely, it’s soap opera coverage and sensational weeklong lead-ins.
So, at least this works for someone, if not the participants.
Happily for Favre, in six years when he’s up for the Hall of Fame, his nightmare may well be forgotten ... because we will have moved on to so many others’ nightmares.
Last week, the 1-3 Vikings beat the 1-3 Cowboys in the so-called “Panic Bowl.” The buzzards turned toward Dallas and began flying lazy circles over the heads of Coach Wade Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo, like Favre a former media darling.
On “SportsCenter” the next morning Storm joked of Dallas’ plight, “If you take that Panic Meter that we love so much and push it, how high does it go?”
Expert Antonio Pierce said there wasn’t a number high enough.
Even if we have to send out for more heroes, or forgive the ones we just trashed, it’s an exciting time.
AP / Seth Wenig