Thursday Q & A: Author Phil Hanrahan, Life After Favre
We’re changing things up a little bit for this week’s Thursday Q & A, as our guest isn’t a blogger but an author. Joining us for this installment is Phil Hanrahan, author of Life After Favre – A Season of Change with the Green Bay Packers and Their Fans. Many of you may be familiar with or know Phil from Twitter, his guest appearance on Packers Transplants or maybe even in person. So without further ado, here we go.
Tell us a bit behind the idea for your book & why you decided to write it.
I wanted to tell the story of the first Packers season in the post-Favre era. I came up with the book’s premise while watching Favre’s March 2008 retirement news conference in my apartment in Los Angeles. I’d grown up in Wisconsin, and thought it was would a blast to move back for a season and follow the team. Here is where I should mention I truly believed Favre was done with football. I moved back to Sconnie in early July and a few days later he asked for his release from the Packers and I realized I would be writing a much bigger book. Aaron Rodgers was still the heart of my story – how would #12 succeed the legend? – but I realized the book would have to keep an eye on Favre. The trick was to let Favre shadow the book without taking it over.
You obviously had a level of access to the Packers that most of us fans can only dream of. What was it like to rub shoulders with the players?
It was as fun as I hoped it would be, and a lot more relaxed than I imagined. Being a locker-room newbie – and a book writer, not a journalist – I thought I might get verbally towel-snapped a bit by the players (I had locker-room images from football movies in my head, scenes from Any Given Sunday and so on), and maybe even mildly hazed by the beat reporters. You know, the Evil Eye from McGinn, a noogie from Bedard, and maybe a wedgie from Wilde.
But no. Everyone was really cool – players and media. The locker room was a lot mellower than I expected. Some of the biggest guys are really quiet – Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, then Packer lineman Colin Cole. Cole and Pickett have hands the size of a baseball outfielder’s glove; shaking with them, I felt like the Tiny Hands Guy in the Burger King commercials. Brady Poppinga walks around with an amused look on his face all the time, like he’s always about to laugh. When he’s not actually in the act of laughing. The wide receivers are always playing cards – spades – at the snack table near their lockers. When they play cards, they’re almost totally silent, in a bubble: Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and, that year, Ruvell Martin.
Donald Driver – surprise – is always smiling. My first day in there Driver was in a putting competition in the middle of the room, on top of the carpet’s logo “G.” He tapped the ball toward the cup then crawled after it on his hands and knees talking to the ball, blowing on it, laughing. Driver told me he never watches football on TV. When he’s not playing for the Pack or practicing or going to team meetings, he tries to get away from football. Hangs with his family.
Al Harris and Atari Bigby have a good rapport, and are pretty funny together. I didn’t put this in the book because it’s such a small thing, but it still cracks me when I think about it. I was talking to Atari and Al suddenly goes, “Hey Atari?” Atari says, “What?” And Al says, “What the hell day of the week is it?? I’m serious. Where we at?” They’d had a Monday night game, so that threw Al’s sense of schedule off a little. And they’d probably just been through a tough practice.
Speaking of players, how was our new QB Aaron Rodgers in your talks with him?
Impressive. He’s very smart, with an excellent, original sense of humor. He’s articulate, precise, and can switch fluidly between a bunch of different subjects quickly, going from a sophisticated discussion of “running quarterbacks” to the complexities of the Packers offense to his college career to the NFL players he most admires to favorite movies like The Princess Bride, which he can quote at will. He doesn’t get sidetracked or worked up; think of him as, if not the anti-Terry Bradshaw, just very different. The more emotion a question threatens to bring up, the fewer words Rodgers uses. He’s got an excellent deadpan, a super dry wit he keeps in reserve and then suddenly busts out. You see his deadpan humor on Twitter, too. He’s playful like that.
You traveled quite a bit when writing the book: why was that?
The traveling – to Jordy Nelson’s Kansas hometown, Aaron Kampman’s Iowa hometown, an Arizona Packers bar, Tramon Williams’ tiny hometown in cajun Louisiana, Favre’s hometown of Kiln, MS, the Superdome, the Metrodome, and Packer bars all over Wisconsin – was really fun. I did the traveling (5,000 road miles; 4,000 air) for three reasons: to make the point that Packer Nation has formidable scope; to explore the origins of some of the Packer players; and to give the book a journeying dimension, which is a plus in any story, and was something I thought would be extra important if the Packers ended up underachieving. When they started losing games, on their way to a 6-10 record, I was glad I’d done all the road-tripping. That said, the season had a ton of drama, including heartbreaking losses – powerful story stuff there, too.
It used to be that the big Packer rival was the Bears. These days it seems to have shifted west to the Vikings, even before Favre signed with them. Why do you think that is?
I totally agree, but don’t really have a good answer. The Vikings have seemed easier to hate in recent years. The Humpty Dump, Ragnar and his motorcycle, that damn horn, the goofy Viking ship, the coach, etc. Also, maybe it feels like more of a state-v-state rivalry. It feels like Wisconsin against Minnesota. A Big Ten matchup. When we play the Bears, I don’t really feel like we’re battling the whole state of Illinois. And it’s kind of hard to hate Lovie Smith. As a Packers fan, that is. Maybe if I was a Bears fan, I’d feel differently.
What is your opinion of the Packers’ online/blogger/Twitter community, as it were? More involved or the same as other teams’ fans?
I never cease to be amazed at how committed, smart, and just plain fun the Packer fan online community is – every single day, year-round. I haven’t done enough comparing with other teams’ fanbases, but I’d be willing to bet Pack World is a cut above – and possibly well ahead of most other online fan communities. I think its quality is reflected by the way Packer beat writers and even national NFL writers keep up with and have regular exchanges with figures in the Pack blogosphere and on Twitter.
I’ve taught college, worked in New York City publishing, worked in political media and in the L.A. movie industry, and some of the smartest, funniest, most talented people I’ve ever known I’ve “met” in the Packers online world in the past two years. Very good writers as well. And unbelievably passionate, not to mention tireless, when it comes to following the team.
While on the Twitter topic, I noticed you are, as am I, a fan of the World Cup. How do you feel about this year’s edition of it?
I’ve watched more World Cup action this time around than I ever have. It helps that I don’t have an office job any more. Being Irish and Portuguese, I was glad France lost, and pulled for Portugal. Then I switched my allegiance to Germany. I took German in high school and Milwaukee, where I grew up, is such a German city. You feel an affinity. Plus, Klose has been my favorite non-U.S. player since 2002. I was hoping he’d get to do another forward flip at the end of the match against Spain but no dice.
Now I’m pro-Netherlands. Amsterdam’s a favorite city, and I like that little dude, Sneijder.
This coming season, are you as high on the Packers prospects this year as many of the other MSM pundits?
Yup. I’m not ready to forecast the Promised Land yet, but right now I have them going 13-3, with losses only to the Bears, Jets, and Patriots at their places. We beat the Vikes twice, we beat the Cowboys at Lambeau, and in December we have just enough to beat … the Lions. For some reason the Lions scare me a little bit. They play us tough. And Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is terrifying, a Packer Killer. I can’t wait to see how the 3-4 defense does this year. If we can limit the best quarterbacks, and have a decent running game ourselves, we should be in good shape.
What are you working on now?
A screenplay. A basketball comedy. Partly inspired by the story of Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. But instead of playing a year in Italy like Jennings did, my rookie sensation played in Germany for a year. And met a gal. And left her behind. And – well, I better not say much more, but hijinks do ensue, with most of the action taking place in Milwaukee.
I usually ask the ‘mentor question’ as it relates to blogging, but I think the better question for you would be what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
When you read, focus on what the writer is doing in terms of story construction, sentence-making, word choice, and pace. Try to write at least a little something yourself every day, too. Learn to fail and throw stuff out. Know that it will take several years – five years minimum, probably more – before your craft is at a point where you are no longer writing like an apprentice. I used to think writing programs were too homogenizing, but now I would recommend them. The two most important things for a writer are 1) time to write and 2) people to learn from and a community to provide some support, and university writing programs are designed to provide both of these.
I actually think Twitter is a plus for writers. It’s a good place to hone your wit and learn compression and economy – just be careful not to link-click 10 hours a day. You’re in a verbal community on Twitter, a writer community of sorts; “voice” is important. Also, professional writers are always tweeting writing tips, links to interviews, publishing news, and so on.
…and now for the lighting round.
Your all-time favorite Packer player is:
Fuzzy Thurston. His memoir What a Wonderful World tells one of the greatest life and greatest football stories ever. Huge fan of another Sconnie O-lineman, too, Mark Tauscher. Like Thurston, a very funny, friendly, down-to-earth guy. Ask me in a couple years and it might be Aaron Rodgers, however. He’s on his way.
Your favorite blog to read:
If you weren’t an author you would be:
Either a literature professor or somehow involved in movie production.
If you were a professional athlete, your sport & position would be:
Hockey goon. No, actually, I’ve never played hockey. Basketball point guard.
Should I ever run into you at a bar, I should buy you a SPOTTED COW for taking the time to answer these questions.
I would like to thank Phil for coming on board this week and taking time to join us. Make sure to go buy his book, Life After Favre and also follow him on Twitter. Neither activity will leave you going away disappointed.