It's not quite 10 am, and the Hamlet of Hattiesburg is already blowing things up. He has walked the grounds of his Monticello-on-the-Mayberry spread in Mississippi and dispatched two possums with his shotgun. "They were acting weird," he reasoned. "Maybe they had ray-bees." That was productive. He then returned an e-mail to an ESPN reporter. That didn't work out so hot.
Three miles down U.S. Route 98, a visitor sits in the empty waiting room of a two-story office building. It belongs to Brett Favre's agent. There are no magazines. There are no pictures of the prince. The visitor waits. And he waits. He watches a paint crew arrive. He watches a paint crew depart. He watches paint dry.
But he hears things. Phones ringing. Phones slamming. Cussing. Lots of cussing. An hour passes. A secretary apologizes for the delay. Finally, a Southern almost-gentleman appears. He's the man behind the salty phone voice, and his face and ears are beet red. There's no suit. Rather, he's dressed in the uniform of the affluent adult child – shorts, sneakers, and golf shirt. He sticks out his hand.
"Bus Cook. I know you're media, but do you know who I hate? The goddamn media! You watch ESPN this morning?"
"Brett talked to goddamned Ed Werder at ESPN, says he needs ankle surgery. Now why did he do that? I've got Childress calling. I've got reporters calling all damn morning. Goddammit, why does he have to be such a goddamned drama queen? Play, don't play, goddamn, people are getting sick of it. I'm getting sick of it! Why does he have to talk to these people? What good does it do? Ed Werder at ESPN! What's he ever done for anybody other than say, 'Look, look, Mommy, I got this first, ain't I special?' You got problems with surgery, talk to your wife. Why talk to goddamned Ed Werder?"
A giant white pickup truck rumbles into the parking lot. The driver gingerly steps down from his perch. Cook looks out the window. He mulishly paws the rug with his sneakers.
"Goddamn, there's Brett. This is going to be interesting."
The silver-haired Favre is dressed in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, looking simultaneously like a kid and the grandpa he has just become. As he comes in the front door, his ruddy face breaks into a sheepish grin, one he's flashed a thousand times, chinstrap undone, at head coaches after throwing across his body into double coverage. He didn't flash it the last time he tried that maneuver on New Orleans turf. He was too tired, too broken. Actually, we may never see that smile again. That's why we are here.
"Hey, Bus," says Favre.
He speaks slowly, a boy trying to delay a spanking.
"I guess I screwed up. I didn't think it was a big deal. I just told him that I might need surgery. He made it into a big thing." Bus stares him down, but his face crumples into an exasperated grin.
"Jesus, Brett. You never learn. You guys go talk. I've got goddamn phone calls to make." He pokes a finger at Brett. "Thanks to you."
Favre eases himself into a chair with the slight, obligatory groan of the middle-aged. (He turns 41 in October.) He knows what you're thinking. On the field, you want him drawing plays up in the dirt, making things happen without a plan. You don't want to know that's how Favre lives the rest of his life. The ankle surgery kerfuffle – getting the procedure done, the speculation goes, may indicate he's coming back – is just the latest production number in year three of "Will He or Won't He Play," Favre's one-man show. At this point everyone is counting ceiling tiles and looking at their watches.
"You'd think I'd know better by now," he says. He offers a different kind of smile: sad and weary. "I've learned a lot through the years. What I haven't learned is what I'll do and when I'll do it."