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I thought I had seen it all by the time the teams took the field
on Sunday, but there it was in the Superdome, in brilliant green
and gold, the strangest sight of Super Bowl week in New Orleans:
a grown man in a number 4 Green Bay Packers jersey who wasn't
falling-down drunk.

Everyone has his or her personal vision of hell, and surely
there were times last week when Brett Favre felt as if he had
taken a wrong turn into his worst nightmare. In a city where the
beer practically flows from the fire hydrants, at an event that
has become the Cannes of beer commercials, Favre, a renowned
lover of libations, was forbidden by the NFL to touch a drop.

It was irony bordering on cruelty that the toast of the town
wasn't allowed to raise a glass. What is the league going to do
next? Lock Nate Newton in a Haggen-Dazs factory for a month and
then test him to see if there is any Midnight Cookies and Cream
in his system? As he strolled down Bourbon Street, Favre, who on
Wednesday of Super Bowl week was named (of all things) Miller
Lite Man of the Year, could only look up at the Budweiser blimp
and wonder, Is there a good movie on TV tonight?

Favre underwent treatment for addiction to the painkiller
Vicodin last off-season, and as part of his aftercare program he
was also required by the NFL to be tested for alcohol. It was a
stipulation he had not bargained for when he came forward and
admitted to his addiction last May, and this off-season he
intends to petition the league to release him from that
prohibition. In other words, he will fight for his right to
knock back a couple of cold ones.

Favre didn't understand the drinking ban, especially after a
report from the clinic in which he was treated concluded that he
is not an alcoholic. Last week it must have been particularly
tough for Favre to accept the NFL's connection between alcohol
and prescription drugs. When we last checked, the NFL didn't
endorse a Vicodin Man of the Year award.

There were reports early last week that Favre already had been
cleared by the league to consume beer, but Packers coach Mike
Holmgren denied them, and the league said Favre's aftercare
status was confidential. "I actually can't talk about it until
the season's over," said Favre. The NFL is expected to rule on
his request in the off-season.

Of course, if Favre made it through last week without a drink,
he could probably remain dry for the rest of his life. They
don't call it Bourbon Street for nothing. Everyone there appears
to have consumed at least a fifth of Wild Turkey. "To be honest,
Bourbon Street is not a lot of fun if you're not drunk," said
New England Patriots tackle Bruce Armstrong last week. "You go
out there to imbibe and enjoy." How would Armstrong describe a
good night in the French Quarter? "That comes when you can't
remember it," he said. "If you remember it, it wasn't much fun."
It's not only legal to walk down Bourbon Street with a drink in
your hand, but it's also encouraged. Abstaining from booze while
in New Orleans for the Super Bowl is like going black-tie to a
nudist camp.

There were thousands of people in the French Quarter wearing
jerseys with Favre's name on the back, and he appeared to be the
only one with a leg under him. As Favre made his way along
Bourbon Street with tipsy friends and teammates, packs of
raucous fans raised their plastic beer cups and shouted
adoringly to him. Every last one of them would surely have given
the cheese off his head for the chance to buy Favre a bottle of

While the madness was enough to knock any man off the wagon,
Favre at least proved to be no dummy. He knew that the paparazzi
were never far away, and he knew that a snapshot of him with a
longneck to his lips would trigger a pregame eruption. The
rumors swirled, but the hottest question of the week--Has Brett
had a beer?--remained essentially unanswered. But ABC's Dick
Schaap spent an afternoon with Favre at Hooters in the French
Quarter and said Favre never slipped. "My limit is two beers and
I went over my limit, but Brett was perfectly sober," said
Schaap. "He had nothing but Pepsi or ice water."

After Green Bay's 35-21 victory over New England on Sunday,
Favre was asked how the beer was going to taste. Favre gave the
reporter a look that nearly knocked the wind out of him. "What
beer?" he said, with no trace of a smile. "There is no beer."
NFL rules prohibiting alcohol in the locker room spared Favre
the peril of even a champagne shower during the postgame

Favre passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third in the Super
Bowl, but his most impressive accomplishment came in the days
leading up to kickoff. He did the Big Easy the hard way: clean
and sober. In the end he proved Armstrong wrong. Favre had a
great time and the next day remembered every wonderful minute of
it. As for all those other people wearing number 4, it's
probably better if they just forget how they acted down here.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of Brett Favre in uniform with padlock attached to his helmet and pitcher of beer in front of him]