Interview With Phil Hanrahan, Author of “Life After Favre”

On the most recent episode of Cheesehead Radio, we were fortunate enough to be joined by Phil Hanrahan, author of the must read book “Life After Favre” in support of it’s digital release.

The digital release, which contains  1,000 new words by the author and 39 color photographs, is a fascinating examination of one man’s journey as a Packer fan. With stories from Lambeau Field to rural Kansas, it is in my opinion “the best book ever written on the Packers.”

I have spoken with Phil several times before our most recent interaction on Cheesehead Radio, beginning with an interview I did with him in August 2010, shortly before Brett Favre announced he was coming back for a 20th season with the Vikings. I thought it would be fun to revisit that interview, and see if any thoughts or opinions may have changed over the past few years.

* The interview below appears in it’s enterity as it originally did at greenbaypackernation.com *

life after favre cover

1. You mentioned on Twitter (@lifeafterfavre) that you were thinking of seeing the summer preview of this Fall’s Broadway play “Lombardi.” Did that happen?

Best laid plans. I had a ticket for the opening night. But the preview was up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in the Berkshires, and I couldn’t get up there and back down to NYC in time. I love the David Maraniss biography that the play is based on – in my opinion it’s one of the greatest biographies ever written, of anyone – and Lombardi is exactly the kind of forceful personality you want to see an actor embody on stage. The only good thing was the ticket didn’t cost a Broadway price. I plan to see the play in NYC this fall.

 

2. It’s a good time to be a Lombardi fan – and Packer fan – isn’t it?

It’s amazing. I can’t wait for all the Lombardi talk – and Packer talk; and Green Bay talk – we’ll encounter as the Broadway play arrives, followed by December’s HBO documentary. And then it will all kick up again with Robert De Niro playing Lombardi in the movie scheduled for early 2012. Screenwriter Eric Roth – Munich; Michael Mann’s Ali; Forrest Gump – is one of Hollywood’s better writers, so it should be a good script.

I was lucky enough to share a Brooklyn book event with Maraniss last December. We talked about this coming play – Maraniss, in his very low-key way, was excited that the play was actually going to happen. I got to tell him that for a second straight football season I was living in an apartment (extended-stay wing of the downtown Quality Inn) almost directly above Lombardi’s first Packers office on Crooks Street off Washington. Lombardi was there from 1959 until 1963 when team offices were relocated to the stadium. It was a great location to begin writing the book and I was back in the apartment again in 2009 for book promotion.

Many many times I looked out the window and thought, “Lombardi had this same view.”

That night in Brooklyn – the borough where Lombardi grew up – was a great time. Maraniss read from his book’s terrific section on the “Ice Bowl.” I read about my trip to a Packers bar in Bloomer, Wisconsin north of Chippewa Falls (the ’08 game against Tampa Bay; I watched it with a Packer fan called Skeeter who had an unlimited supply of jokes mocking Minnesota and the Vikings). It was a little surreal, talking Packers in a hipster art gallery almost directly beneath the Manhattan Bridge where the event took place. The whole place shook every time a subway train roared across the bridge overhead. By noon the next day I was back in my apartment above the office where Coach Lombardi did his first Packers gameplanning.

3. I have called your book Life After Favre the best book ever written on the Packers. Why do you think it has such an appeal with fans?

Well, first of all, thank you. Wow. I guess my initial response would be to say if you like reading books about the Packers, make sure you check out Instant Reply about the ’67 season written by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap, and then move on to Schaap’s followup, Green Bay Replay, about the ’96 Super Bowl season. Two great books – and both inspirations for Life After Favre. As to your question, I guess I could tell you the things I hear most often from readers.

The hardcore Packer fans – the ones who spend a couple hours every day following the coverage – most often single out the 30-page chapter on Aaron Rodgers as their favorite part of the book. It tells his whole story in the most extensive way yet to be published. Another thing readers like is the fact that although I document the drama surrounding the 2008 Summer of Favre in journalistic fashion, and write game stories for all sixteen 2008 contests like a beat reporter, I also write as the lifelong Packers fan that I am. I’m not a professional sportswriter. I’m a writer who happens to love the Packers. So I think Packer fans respond to the book’s background story: a Pack fan who moved from Los Angeles back to his home state and followed the team for a season, but who also got weekly access to the locker-room and players. A fan who got to hang out with Jordy Nelson’s family in Kansas, and have dinner with Atari Bigby at Tony Roma’s.

Other things readers like: the mixing in of Packer history, including the way Favre’s departure echoed aspects of the departures of Curly Lambeau and Lombardi. And the book’s love for Packers culture, reflected, for example, in my trips to Packer bars around Wisconsin and the country. I try to celebrate the awesome things about being a Packer fan, but without getting schmaltzy or sentimental. I was hoping to write a book that would weave all of this stuff together, and in that way would be a kind of “one-stop” volume for any football fan with an interest in the Green Bay story, and of course any Packers fan. I was really pleased when veteran football writer Rick Gosselin at the Dallas Morning News, one of the book’s first reviewers, said the book would be read with enjoyment by all football fans, not just fans of the Green and Gold.

4. Your book visits numerous locations around the country important to current and former players. Which journey was your favorite and why?

Probably my visit to Jordy Nelson’s tiny Kansas hometown of Leonardville, 20 miles north of Manhattan (home to Jordy’s alma mater Kansas State). All of the travel was fun (9,000 total road and air miles), including trips to a Packer bar in Scottsdale, Arizona, Tramon Williams’ little cajun town of Napoleonville, Louisiana, and Favre’s Kiln, Mississippi, but the day I spent in Leonardville is the one I remember most often. I drove 750 miles from Green Bay (with stops in the even tinier town of Kesley, Iowa, where Aaron Kampman grew up, and Parkersburg, where he played HS football) the weekend the Packers played the then-undefeated Titans in Nashville and watched the game on TV in the sports bar and restaurant Jordy’s farmer parents had recently opened called Nelson’s Landing. Every person I met in there was either Jordy’s friend, relative, former teacher, or coach. Jordy’s Mom Kim is great company: super witty and a great storyteller. And Jordy almost caught a ball that could have set the Pack up for a winning field goal (the pass was deflected at the last moment as Jordy dove on a cross). The cheeseburger I had – made from never-frozen beef from Nelson farm cattle – is the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It was Indian summer that weekend – 75 degrees and sunny in early November. After the game, I went over to the high-school football field where Jordy played. It was just kind of a perfect day.

Except for losing to the Titans in overtime, of course. The drive home was not fun. I spent the entire way thinking of all the little things that could have given the Pack a W, not a loss.

5. How do you think Lombardi would have reacted to the actions of Favre not just in 2008, but the years prior to that summer?

That’s a great question – I should have asked Maraniss that when I had the chance. Lombardi was complex, so I don’t think the answer is as simple as, “He would have come down like a ton of bricks on Favre early and often.” Though a legendarily tough-guy disciplinarian, Lombardi was coach to a couple of legendary party-boys as well, Hornung and McGee, and there’s no way Lombardi didn’t realize these two guys were having a whole lot of fun. From everything I’ve read, the combination of their on-field excellence and sense of humor off the field created a situation where Lombardi treated them with a certain amount of affectionate tolerance. Favre’s humor, exceptional toughness, and skills would have appealed to Lombardi. The boneheaded plays, the gunslinging, and the mind-changing, not so much. But Lombardi loved winning more than anything – so if he felt Favre gave his team the best chance to win, would he have accepted Favre back to take another shot at a Super Bowl? Let’s get Maraniss on the phone!

The thing I’m sure of, though, is that Lombardi would never have gone the Childress route and let Favre waltz in late to training camp or miss it altogether. No. Cannot see that happening.

6. Being a Wisconsin native and Packer fan equals a special relationship with the team and organization. There’s almost a kind of mystique. What do you think drives this?

There’s an extraordinary alchemy to this relationship that’s the product of multiple factors, I think. You begin with this unprecedented story of a small-town team with its almost miraculous beginnings and a subsequent remarkable championship history that is deeply meaningful to an entire state – central to the state’s culture. Watching a football game with your buddies or family is a perfect fit  for Wisconsin life – a tavern culture; a beer-and-brats culture. Throw in some larger-than-life personalities: Lambeau, Lombardi, and, yes, Favre. The story gets better. Add to this unequalled media coverage: pages and pages of Packers analysis in state newspapers; hours and hours of Packers talk on the radio. And this intense, sophisticated coverage is year-round.

Love for the Packers is in our bones. It’s in our DNA. Spend a couple days simply following the intense Packers discussion in the blogosphere and on Twitter and you’ll come away thinking that for many Packers fans nothing else in this world compares to their passion for the team. Okay, maybe their children or their spouse. Maybe. On some days. You’ll also come away hoping these fans hold onto their jobs, given the amount of time they spend on matters Packers.

7. The name Lombardi has such an aura surrounding it. Are there any other Packers whose lives you would like to see get turned into either a movie or Broadway play? My personal choice: Reggie White.

How about a horror movie devoted to the post-Lombardi era called “The Gory Years”? Get Wes Craven to direct it. No, in all seriousness, you could get a pretty good movie out of Curly Lambeau’s epic story. As someone who does some screenwriting, I’d like to pen the scene where Lambeau bussed his 1935 team to the woods outside Rhinelander for a week of training camp and one night it got cold enough to snow. Another fun scene would be when the Lambeau-era Packers went hogwild in Tijuana after road-tripping from Los Angeles where they had a game.

We’ve had Leatherheads, where George Clooney plays a guy partly modeled on Lambeau-era Packers star Johnny Blood. (A couple months ago I tweeted the story of my dad getting hammered with Blood and his wife at the Milwaukee bar The Safe House in the 1970s.)

8. Aaron Rodgers has made a seamless transition as QB and leader of the team. Did you sense this would have been so easy for him while writing the book?

Yes, both while interviewing him and just watching him interact with teammates and reporters in the locker-room, you could tell this guy had everything required to lead a team, even though he was only in his mid-20s. Along with his bigtime walk-the-walk skills on the field, he is articulate, intelligent, witty, and personable, with a knack for getting along with different kinds of people. And he not only accepts a leadership role, he seems to study it, for maximum awareness and to get better at it. He’s eloquent on the subject of how during his freshman year at Butte Community College near his hometown of Chico (before he transferred to Cal-Berkeley), he was quarterbacking – he was leading – a team of players almost all older than him, some of them guys from tough urban backgrounds in their middle 20s, one guy even an ex-con. And Rodgers was just 18 years old, a Bible-camp hometown kid with his parents in the stands. And yet he was a strong enough personality, and good enough with the ball, to set QB records and lead his team to a 10-1 record and a #2 juco ranking in the country.

9. A few rapid fire questions:

Favorite Packers memory?

Gotta be that touchdown pass to Rison to open the Super Bowl against New England.

Favorite Packer player?

Fuzzy Thurston’s my favorite retired Packer. Tauscher’s my favorite current player. The Sconnie connection helps, but I love their senses of humor and light approach to life. It was fun reading in today’s Journal where Tom Silverstein said Tauscher has been “impenetrable” in one-on-one blocking drills at camp. Tausch still has it! Hope he keeps it!

Best game you ever saw, either live or on TV?

The “snow-globe” playoff game against Seattle was amazing obviously (I watched it on TV from Los Angeles) but I’m gonna go with the playoff loss to Arizona last season. For sheer entertainment value. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes – all the scoring. Sometimes I like to watch big games alone – for maximum concentration and savoring. I watched this one alone, in the basement of my dad’s house, in a chair about four feet from the TV. My dad and brother watched the game on another TV upstairs. Every time the Packers scored a touchdown, I would run maniacally up the stairs and high-five my dad and brother, roaring things like, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT FREAKIN’ AWESOME PASS?!” Or, “FINLEY’S ON FIRE! THEY CANNOT STOP THAT DUDE!” But my last time up the stairs I walked real slow. And any yelling I did had to do with a couple missed calls there at the end.

How was shoveling snow at Lambeau?

What a blast. It was worth waiting two hours in line, although that’s the coldest I’ve ever been. But once I got inside the bowl of Lambeau and saw the field covered with bright snow and watched snow cascading down the aluminum slides and took in the sight of 300 people shoveling under a bright blue sky, I forgot all about the fact that my face was numb. And I warmed up quickly once I started shoveling. Plus, I met some really cool Packer fans while waiting in the line. “Lambeau is my Graceland,” said one of them, Scott from Neenah, who drove up just for the experience of shoveling inside Lambeau. That quote was on my wall as I wrote the book, alongside some Lombardi quotes and one from Ron Wolf:  “In the dark hours after a loss, I am a madman.”

10. Final question: Your book is based on the Packers moving on from Favre, so I have to ask: Will you cheer for Favre when (if) he returns to Green Bay some day to be honored?

Yeah, I will. I’m all for booing him right now, when he plays in purple. But if in ten years (or whenever), he returns to Green Bay for a jersey ceremony, I think by then I’ll be enough at peace to feel ready to honor what he did for the team and town during his Packer years. I think so. I guess we’ll see. I do respect the hell out of his longevity and the fact that at his age he still carved us up and some other teams last year. And he does have a sense of humor – I gotta give him that. I met a lot of people who grew up with him when I was down in Kiln, some really good people. But Aaron Rodgers and the 2010 Packers can make that future Favre Day – if it happens  – a little easier on all of us by beating Favre’s ass this year in the Packer-Viking matchups.

To purchase the new digital edition of “Life After Favre” please visit Zola Books

John Rehor is a  staff writer at PackersTalk.com and co-host of  Cheesehead Radio. To contact John follow him on Twitter @jrehor or email johnrehor@yahoo.com

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