Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante have probably never met. The world might implode if they did.
At face value, they’re from different planets; they’ve achieved fame and fortune in different ways (Favre as a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Frusciante as a Hall of Fame guitarist); they live in different parts of the country (Favre resides in Mississippi, Frusciante in California); they don’t even speak the same dialect, really (Favre speaks with a Southern drawl, Frusciante speaks of a fourth dimension that his musical inspiration comes from).
Frusciante’s Fourth Dimension:
However, they’ve had similar lives, both personally and professionally. Both men assumed roles with their respective organizations and possessed boatloads of untapped potential. Success came quickly for Favre and Frusciante, and with it, ego and substance abuse. Each of them overcame drugs and achieved even more success. And of course, Favre and Frusciante both quit their jobs in enigmatic fashion, leaving their fans and colleagues twisting in the wind. And in both cases, the Packers and Chili Peppers found younger replacements and kept on moving.
Favre was the second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 NFL Draft, but his professional career got off to a rough start. Jerry Glanville, Atlanta’s head coach at the time, famously said a plane crash would have to occur for Favre to get into a game. However, it should be noted that Glanville was a better Elvis fan than a coach; he was known for leaving Falcons tickets at will-call for the late singer, and Glanville compiled a 63-73 record in the NFL.
After throwing four passes for the Falcons in 1991 (with the first being intercepted and returned for a touchdown), Favre was traded to the Packers after the season. New Packers general manager Ron Wolf spotted Favre’s talent and gave up a first-round draft pick for him – and the move paid off. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in the third game of the 1992 season, Favre took over at quarterback for an injured Don “Majik Man” Majkowksi. After fumbling four times, Favre led a game-winning touchdown drive that ended with the Packers scoring with 13 seconds left in the contest. That was that – Favre started every game for the Packers for the next 15 seasons.
Favre’s First Game-Winning Drive:
While Favre was orchestrating the comeback against Cincinnati in 1992, it’s a given that someone in Wisconsin was listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That’s because “Under the Bridge,” from the band’s breakout album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), was all over the radio. One of the catalysts for the Chili Peppers’ sudden mainstream success was Frusciante, a 21-year-old guitar phenom.
“Under the Bridge”
Frusciante shared a meteoric rise to fame with Favre. He was also plucked out of obscurity by someone who recognized his raw talent; at the age of 18, Frusciante caught the eye of Chili Peppers bassist, Flea. The two began jamming, and Frusciante was soon asked to replace original RHCP guitarist Hillel Slovak, who had recently died of a heroin overdose. Frusciante’s RHCP debut, Mother’s Milk (1989), was like Favre’s first season in Atlanta: a stepping stone.
Checks, Drugs, and Rock ‘N’ Roll
How much is too much? That’s the question Favre and Frusciante had to ask themselves as they reached the pinnacle of success. Blood Sugar Sex Magik catapulted Frusciante into another level of fame. Sold-out arenas, millions of dollars, and adoring fans were at every turn. This was all too much to handle for a guy just barely old enough to drink. Frusciante learned to loathe rock stardom, and it was around this time that he began experimenting with heroin. His drug problem hadn’t yet taken over his life, but it started driving a wedge between him and the rest of the band. Things came to a head before a concert in Japan, and on May 7, 1992, Frusciante told the Chili Peppers he was quitting the band.
“It was the most horrible show ever,” said vocalist Anthony Kiedis in Scar Tissue (2004), his autobiography. “Every single note, every single word hurt, knowing that we no longer had a band.”
The Chili Peppers did find a replacement (or three) and became a distorted version of themselves; Frusciante, tired of life in the public eye, disappeared into squalid conditions, with heroin as his compass.
Favre had his own compass, and it came in the form of an iron man-like streak of consecutive NFL starts. He took crushing hit after crushing hit; but Favre kept getting up, and the passing yards and wins took him to new heights. During the 1995 season, Favre threw for 4,413 yards and 38 touchdowns. The Packers advanced to the NFC Championship game, and Favre was named the Associated Press Most Valuable Player.
But, just like Frusciante, Favre’s career was derailed by drugs. The hits had taken a toll, and Favre announced he had developed an addiction to the painkiller, Vicodin. Favre had kept his dependency a secret from Packers officials, but a seizure after the 1995 season led to the admission. After a year in which he appeared to be superhuman, Favre was now a broken-down drug addict.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
Favre entered rehab, leaving the Packers’ organization in peril. After drying out for over 40 days, Favre emerged. He was clean and ready to prove himself during the 1996 season. Remarkably, Favre was even better than the year prior. With the ease of a great orchestra conductor, Favre threw for 3,899 yards and 39 touchdowns. The Packers won their first Super Bowl in 29 years, and Favre was the AP MVP for the second of three consecutive seasons. And, most importantly, Favre made a cameo appearance in the Cameron Diaz film There’s Something About Mary, in 1998.
Packers Super Bowl XXXI Highlights:
Frusciante’s re-entry into the world of the living was even more spectacular and unexpected than Favre’s. By 1997, Frusciante was more junkie than musician; his teeth began falling out, his arms developed abscesses from shooting up, and his solo album, Smile from the Streets You Hold (1997), was released strictly so he could buy more drugs.
John Frusciante Interview, 1994:
But after successfully completing rehab in 1998, his life began turning around. Flea once again plucked Frusciante out of obscurity, and he rejoined the Chili Peppers. The band released three hit albums in a row, 1999’s Californication, 2002’s By the Way, and 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, which became the band’s first number one album. Sold-out tours followed each album, and the Chili Peppers became one of the biggest bands in the world. Frusciante released a string of solo albums as well, developing a reputation for being a prolific musician.
A (Bitter)Sweet Ending
It will never be the same: the end of the 2007 NFL season was when Brett Favre’s annual retirement talk went from an “aw shucks” side story to a bona fide distraction. In an exceptional season that came out of nowhere, a grizzled Favre had led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game, although the team suffered a bitter loss to the underdog New York Giants.
What came next was a media circus; Favre tearfully announced his retirement in March 2008, and then wanted back in a few months later. But the Packers said, “No thanks.” Why? Because of a promising young quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, whom the Packers had groomed to replace Favre. The old man was reinstated, traded to the New York J-E-T-S, and went on to play two unforgivable seasons with the archrival Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers organization, now free of the need to stroke Favre’s ego every off-season, became cohesive. Rodgers bonded with his teammates, and in just his third year as the starter, led the Packers to an improbable Super Bowl victory after the 2010 season; Rodgers was the game’s MVP. This past season, Rodgers threw for a surgical-like 4,643 yards and 45 touchdown passes and was the AP MVP.
Packers Super Bowl XLV Highlights:
Favre became bigger than the Packers, and the same thing happened to Frusciante and RHCP. The guitarist, according to drummer Chad Smith, would walk away from the band at the end of every grueling tour. Frusciante demanded an indefinite hiatus after the Stadium Arcadium tour; the band obliged, and Smith thought Frusciante would just come back.
But this time, Frusciante left for good. In December 2009, the band announced he was leaving RHCP to pursue a solo career. It was doubtful that the band could continue on without such a strong songwriting force. But sometimes less is more, and the band hired Frusciante protégé Josh Klinghoffer. The ex-PJ Harvey guitarist appeared on Frusciante’s solo albums and had even performed with RHCP as an auxiliary musician.
Klinghoffer’s less-domineering approach has reinvigorated the band; in press interviews while promoting their latest album, I’m With You (2011), the band sounded like a weight had been lifted off them. The album has a fresh sound to it, as songs like “Brendan’s Death Song” and “Monarchy of Roses” prove.
“Monarchy of Roses”
Favre and Frusciante have, for the most part, disappeared (Frusciante for the second time). Favre is now a grandpa, and Frusciante is a husband; other than these details, little is heard from either man. Both left indelible marks on the franchises they were once signature members of; but both franchises seem poised to continue on, stronger than before.