Monday, September 28, 2009

Brett Favre Fans... Loyal, Obsessed, Or Nuts?

Whether wearing Packer (or Jets) green, Viking purple, or any other color for that matter, fans have an almost bizarre emotional connection to Favre.

Take for example a woman from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, who speaks of Brett as if he’s one of her grandkids and even hangs a stocking with his name on it over the fireplace at Christmastime. Or how about another Midwestern woman who, in the throes of labor refused to enter the delivery room without “her Brett” — obviously it wasn’t possible for the hospital staff to produce the three-time league MVP in the flesh, but they did pipe the radio broadcast of the ballgame into the room for the birth. Then there was the grade school student who faithfully wore his Favre jersey every day for months on end to pay homage to his gridiron hero. None of these people have met Favre personally, yet their affection for him is every bit as real as that one typically feels for a beloved cousin or uncle. And stories like these are anything but rare.

Last summer, Wisconsin author Thomas Hapka teamed with “Bring Back Brett Favre” founder Erick Rolfson and his brother Adam to create “Letters To Brett Favre: A Fan Tribute” — a unique paperback tribute to the former Packer great, comprised entirely of heartwarming messages from his fans. Hapka and the Rolfsons hoped they’d be able to collect 100 letters for their project when they posted a solicitation at, but more than 2,000 messages poured in from all over the world.

“The moment our post hit the web site, the skies opened up,” Hapka said. “People sent us some truly amazing letters, speaking of Brett as if he’d been stopping by their homes for the holidays each year. Still others credit Brett with inspiring them to overcome cancer, unemployment… even the deaths of family members or friends. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m pretty sure it would make an interesting case study for a psychologist or sociologist.”

So where does this unusual fascination with a total stranger come from? Perhaps it’s because Favre has lived most of his football life in front of the cameras, sharing not only his gridiron triumphs, but his personal struggles as well. From his wife’s cancer diagnosis to his father’s death and his family’s brush with Hurricane Katrina, Favre’s most personal and painful challenges played out in living rooms across America, and those challenges were so much like those of everyday working people.

Whatever the reason, Favre has garnered the intense personal loyalty of fans across the nation and around the world. Though many in the sports world have fans, the Favre phenomenon easily transcends the normal affection commonly afforded to sports celebrities.

But not everyone is ready to throw a love-fest for the former Packer signal caller. Some have grown tired of Favre’s ongoing retirement saga. For those who missed it (there can’t be more than two or three of you) he tearfully retired from the Packers, then wanted to come back. Shunned by Green Bay, he accepted a trade to the Jets, but retried after one season. Then, after being courted by the Vikings earlier this summer, he turned them down and announced that he was staying retired, only to change his mind and come back after all. Through all of this, an increasingly angry sect of sports fans has emerged, annoyed with Favre’s perceived indecisiveness and selfishness.

Yet those who admire Favre and those who claim to loathe him are united in a common dynamic — their inability to look away. ESPN broadcasts and internet posts about Favre’s playing status consistently draw substantial audiences, and newspapers featuring Favre updates continue to fly off the stands. Bloggers and other cyberspace sports fans continue to generate traffic by sharing their feelings about the three-time league MVP with the masses online.

Favre’s life and career have become a sort of sports opera that countless fans from all walks of life simply can’t get enough of. That drama will undoubtedly take another exhilarating turn as Favre faces his former team for the first time as a Viking in Minnesota on October 5. It should make interesting material for all of those psychologists and sociologists... not to mention all of those fans who can't seem to look away.