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How the Jets Stole Favre from the Bucs


Excerpt from Steve Serby's book, "No Substitute for Sundays: Brett Favre and His Year in the Huddle with the New York Jets."


Now it was a Monday night in the first week of August — three nights before the preseason opener in Cleveland — and GM Mike Tannenbaum, in his office at Weeb Ewbank Hall, was on the telephone giving Favre, at home in Hattiesburg, the sales pitch of a lifetime. It lasted twenty minutes.

Tannenbaum: "Look, you won't be practicing in Times Square. The only time you'll see a big building, Brett, is when you want to see one, I promise you. It's not what you think it is. In terms of where we're gonna be is rural New Jersey. There are a lot of good people here ... we have four first-round picks on the offensive line ... You can make your own judgment, I think Green Bay has good skill players, but so do we. I feel like we have a good team ... you give us an opportunity to make it better. You don't know me, I don't know you, but from everything I understand about you, we have a lot of things in common in terms of how we see building teams, and people, and things like that."

Did Favre, a notorious hunter, have any specific concern at that point? "I think the area, the media, the traffic," Tannenbaum recalled.

Finally, Favre told Tannenbaum: "We'll talk soon."

Indeed, in a November 1997 Playboy magazine interview, Favre had expressed reservations about playing in New York.

Playboy: When Atlanta drafted you in 1991, the Jets were poised to take you on the next pick. Would you have liked being Broadway Brett?

Favre: I didn't want to be. You can own New York if you do great, but if you screw up the media and fans will disown you. Atlanta was closer to home. I was relieved to hear, "Atlanta takes Favre with the 33rd pick."

Woody Johnson, no stranger to hunting himself, delivered his pitch the next day from his Manhattan office. Johnson was a supporter of President Bush, and in 1998, he impressed pro-Bush business leaders in Texas by showing up for a bird-hunting trip with a powerful elephant gun he had used to hunt game in Africa. And it just so happened that Johnson had an invaluable bargaining chip in his hip pocket — his six hundred acre farm compound in Bedminster Township, some ten minutes from Jets headquarters. A veritable Hattiesburg North.

"There's a lot of rural qualities in New Jersey that people just don't know about, or in New York," Johnson would say. "They just don't think it's here."

For Favre, Johnson's compound would indeed serve as Hattiesburg North. It was the perfect escape on Mondays or Tuesdays, the players' day off, and was welcome to all Jets. "He did bow and muskets," Johnson would recall about Favre. "He liked to go by himself. It's great for bird watching — we've had bear there, there's coyotes, all kinds of wildlife ... turkey ... deer."

Eric Mangini's pitch came later that night, after 8 p.m., in Tannenbaum's office. "It was really funny," Tannenbaum remembered. "Eric had done a lot of work on hunting ... he had all sorts of statistics about the state of New Jersey and hunting. He was like a chamber of commerce guy. He had like a script ready. He just ripped it out of his shorts pocket." Tannenbaum was fairly certain that Mangini didn't know the difference between a buck and a lamb. "And here he is, enumerating all these seasons, and licenses, and what you can kill, and where you can kill 'em. He was really on his game." Mangini talked about the team he would be coaching, of course. "We have a lot of good people in the lockerroom," he told Favre. "We have a lot of people that really care about football. You'll be very comfortable in our lockerroom."

His pitch lasted an hour. Tannenbaum chimed in with a second pitch that lasted another thirty minutes.

It only helped change the course of NFL, Jets and Packers history.

It was a two-horse race, but speculation was mounting that the Packers were on the verge of trading Favre to the Bucs. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden, a notorious collector of quarterbacks, wasn't enthralled with incumbent starter Jeff Garcia.

Grant Goetsch, vice president of Wisconsin Aviation, was the pilot on the Wednesday noon flight that took Favre, his wife and agent from Green Bay back to Hattiesburg–Laurel Regional Airport. "He didn't want to really go to the Jets ... The comment was made that he wasn't as interested in the Jets ... It was a somber trip," Goetsch told the Watertown Daily Times.

The Jets were boarding for their Wednesday Delta charter to Cleveland. "I was standing right outside the gate; I'm like ten feet away from getting on the plane," Tannenbaum said. That's where he answered a cloak-and-dagger call informing him that Favre was leaving Green Bay and flying home to Mississippi. "But Tampa Bay is breathing down his neck," the man said. "If you fly to Cleveland, he could very well be a Buc."

The caller was an anonymous NFL source. "He said Tampa Bay's really trying to put pressure on Green Bay to get a trade done," Tannenbaum recalled. "If you're out of pocket for two hours, this thing could be over."

Tannenbaum knew he had to rush back to Weeb Ewbank Hall and had Casey Lane of the club's operations staff take him there. If worse came to worst, he would fly to Cleveland the next day. "I'll kill myself (if), because I'm on a team charter, we lost out on this trade," he thought. "I told (director of security Steve) Yarnell to tell Eric I wasn't going."

Meghan Gilmore, the Jets media relations coordinator, noticed the empty seat in the first-class cabin. "I had an inkling of what was happening," she said, "because Mike wouldn't miss a plane unless something very important was going on ... but to know that it was Brett was a shock."

Tannenbaum's office quickly transformed into a beehive of activity. "We had this great ten-page document on all things Brett," Tannenbaum said. "Age of successful quarterbacks ... his game-by-game breakdown ... his breakdown by months ... we had it all flushed out."

Senior director of media relations Bruce Speight, getting ready for the CBS production meeting on the second floor of the Cleveland downtown Marriott, received an e-mail from Tannenbaum at 7:19 p.m.: "I need you to be ready at a moment's notice — be ready."

Speight hadn't noticed Tannenbaum's empty seat on the plane. He thought the general manager was in his hotel suite.

Speight e-mailed back, "Where do you want me positioned?"

Tannenbaum's return e-mail: "I don't know. You there, I'm here."

Speight e-mailed back, "I will come over and wait outside your suite."

Tannenbaum's return e-mail: "Bruce, I'm in Long Island. I didn't get on the plane."

It hit Speight like a Favre fastball between the eyes. "Whoa," he said to himself, "this thing is serious!"

Speight instructed director of media relations David Tratner to skip the production meeting and head to his room to begin working on a press release and alerted senior manager of public and media relations Jared Winley and Gilmore that something might be going down.

There was also the problematic matter of getting Pennington to the airport for the last flight to New York, if need be, at 8:40 p.m. Tannenbaum sent Speight this e-mail at 7:27: "Be on standby — I'll keep you posted," followed by a list of flight time departures from Cleveland to New York.

Speight e-mailed back at 7:29: "To confirm, you want me to pull Chad and get him to the airport."

Tannenbaum's 7:30 e-mail read: "If and when it's necessary be ready; nothing yet, however."

At 8:30 p.m., Speight and his PR staff met in Tratner's room to brainstorm. "Let's plan as if this press conference is going to happen," Speight told them, "because if it doesn't happen, we're fine." So many questions — Could they hold a Brett Favre press conference at the hotel? How much time would the media need to get there? How would they get a big enough backdrop from New York to Cleveland? — so little time, perhaps. At least Tratner had a draft of the press release ready. "If we had to pull the trigger, we could," Speight recalled.

The drama had ratcheted up considerably back inside Weeb Ewbank Hall, an ebb and flow of highs and lows that had Tannenbaum and his minions on pins and needles. At one point, Tannenbaum was getting word that Brett the Jet might very well be nothing more than a pipe dream, and he sagged. He called his wife, Michelle.

"It's over," he told her.

She consoled him and said, "Okay, go get a good night's sleep."

Tannenbaum, however, stubbornly forged ahead, seemingly against all odds. It ain't over till it's over." A couple of hours later, I'm still trying to keep this thing alive," he recalled. "I finally got (Favre's agent) Bus Cook on the phone."

Cook told him, "Right now he feels more comfortable going with Tampa Bay."

"I wanted to know why," Tannenbaum recalled. "He wouldn't tell me why."

But Tannenbaum, negotiations concluded, had an important ally on his side: the Green Bay Packers. "Green Bay wants to wait as long as possible," Tannenbaum recalled. "They prefer to trade him to us." Perfectly logical: the Jets are in the AFC. The Bucs, like the Packers, are in the NFC. "The reason we're still alive is because they want him to come to New York," Tannenbaum added.

Tannenbaum was not about to consummate any blockbuster trade, however, if there was a good chance that Favre would be averse to coming to New York. But Team Favre favored Tampa Bay.

"They have one more vote," Tannenbaum recalled. "They vote for Tampa Bay."

Cook called Tannenbaum back. "Mike," he said, "he does not NOT like you guys. He feels more comfortable in Tampa because of the offense and Jon Gruden."

Cook was noncommittal on the notion of Jet Favre. "I'm not saying he's not coming; I'm not saying he is," the agent said.

It was ten o'clock when Tannenbaum initiated a three-way conversation with Johnson, who was in his Manhattan apartment, and Mangini in Cleveland. "Look guys," Tannenbaum said, "what do you want to do here? We could trade for him — I think he's gonna come; he's preferring Tampa Bay over us. We could take a calculated risk — but what happens if he doesn't show up? So I think he may come? Yeah, I think he may come. I can't promise you that."

Johnson was satisfied that the Jets had done everything in their power to make it happen. "I do remember Eric saying he felt he had a good conversation with Brett and he felt Brett would come as well," Tannenbaum recalled.

Speight was getting restless. He e-mailed Tannenbaum at 10:30: "Your wingman is still on high alert. Any update?"

Seconds later, Tannenbaum e-mailed back: "Hang in there my man."

Tannenbaum, the trade papers on his desk, called Thompson. It was nearing 11 o'clock. "Ted," he said, "we're gonna do it."

"Sign those trade papers right now," Thompson said.

Brett Favre was a Jet. But only if he wanted to be a Jet.

At 11:07, Tannenbaum e-mailed Speight: "We need to speak ASAP."

Speight had closed his eyes; his BlackBerry was next to him in bed. "For whatever reason, it didn't vibrate," he recalled.

At 11:10, his hotel room telephone rang. It was Tannenbaum. "We're still in this thing," he told Speight.

Tannenbaum called Cook. "I got some interesting news for you," he began. "We just traded for a guy named Brett Favre."

Cook was flabbergasted. "You did what? I can't believe you just did that!"

Tannenbaum told him, "We just had to have Brett."

Cook said, "Okay, I'll call you back."

Recalled Tannenbaum, "I'm thinking, 'Oh boy, it's not exactly what I wanted to hear.' I'm walking back and forth in my office: 'Come on, come on, call!' He called back six minutes later. At the time, it felt like six hours."

Then, at 11:28, Tannenbaum sent out another e-mail to Speight and cc'd Johnson, Mangini and executive vice president for business operations Matt Higgins. "We have signed trade papers; the agent knows, no reaction from the player yet."

At 11:46, Speight received this e-mail from Tannenbaum: "No word from the Favre camp."

Until Cook called Tannenbaum and asked, "Okay, what's gonna happen now?"

Tannenbaum: "I'll feel a lot better if I can talk to Brett, even if it's for thirty seconds."

Cook put Tannenbaum on hold and put Favre's wife, Deanna, on the phone.

"Hey, Mike," she said.

Tannenbaum was tickled that he could hear happiness and relief in her voice. "Hey, Deanna," he said, "we're gonna make this work. We couldn't be more excited. It's gonna work out."

Then he asked, "Can I speak to Brett?"

Brett the Jet, that is.

"I think you're gonna be really happy here," Tannenbaum told his new quarterback. "Do you have any concerns?"

"Yeah," Favre said, "what's the dress code on away games?"

"It's usually coat and tie," Tannenbaum said.

"I like to wear camouflage on away games," Favre said.

Tannenbaum was still in make-a-deal mode. "If you can wear camouflage," he said, "are you a Jet?"

"Well, can I wear camouflage?" Favre asked.

"He said yes and I said yes," Tannenbaum recalled.

At 12:14 a.m., Tannenbaum sent this joyous e-mail to Speight, and cc'd Johnson, Mangini and Higgins: "I have great F------G NEWS! CALL ME! GREAT NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!

There were eleven exclamation points at the end of it.

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