By Bob Johnson, Associated Press
HACKLEBURG, Ala. -- Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre brought hope and a big smile Wednesday to a small northwest Alabama community that lost many of its homes and businesses, a high school and 18 lives to a massive April 27 tornado that carved a path of destruction from one side of town to the other.
Favre, celebrity spokesman for Wrangler, saw the site of the ruined Wrangler jeans distribution plant that had been Hackleburg's largest employer before it was destroyed by the tornado. He later met with dozens of Wrangler workers and signed autographs for members of the Hackleburg High School football team in a downtown building that was once Wrangler's sewing plant.
Donna Frederick, a 20-year employee of the Wrangler plant, said Favre's visit brought hope to the town that looked like it had been bombed after houses, trees, pets and possibly their jobs disappeared in the powerful storm. Frederick and other Wrangler employees hope the company rebuilds in Hackleburg rather than moving their jobs to another town. Plant manager Wade Hagedorn said he couldn't comment on whether the company would rebuild the distribution center.
Favre spent most of his visit signing footballs, shirts, casts and scraps of paper. He said he was there was to comfort citizens, but he had trouble avoiding talk of football.
When he first exited his vehicle in Hackleburg, Marion County Commission President Don Barnwell asked Favre if he was going to play football this year.
"I don't even know if there is going to be football this year," Favre said, referring to the lockout by owners of NFL players.
When asked by a reporter for his opinion of the lockout, Favre said it had nothing to do with him.
"I'm done with football," Favre said.
Favre rode into Hackleburg with Curley Hallman, his college coach at Southern Mississippi, who now lives in Florence.
Hallman said he doesn't expect Favre will ever play another down of football.
"He looks like he could play," Hallman said, pointing to the trim and fit looking 41-year-old Favre, who wore khaki work pants, a white T-shirt, running shoes and a Nike baseball cap.
"But he doesn't show all of the hits going back to the ninth grade," Hallman added.
Hackleburg football coach Rod Hudson said he didn't tell his players about Favre's visit until Wednesday morning.
"These kids are beaming," Hudson said of the players, many of whom lost homes in the storm.
The players surrounded Favre as he asked them if they were doing OK.
"Do you throw the football a lot?" the quarterback asked team members. Then he said, "You don't run the wishbone, do you?"
When the young players didn't answer, Favre turned to nearby adults and joked, "They don't even know what the wishbone is," referring to a mostly running offensive formation popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
Plant employees followed Favre, shouting at him occasionally.
"I named my child for you, Brett," one female worker shouted.
Favre spoke about storms, including Hurricane Katrina, that he has experienced in his native southern Mississippi. He was asked if he brought tree trimmers with him, like the ones he took to the Mississippi coast after Katrina.
"I don't know if I have enough tree trimmers for this," he said referring to the massive destruction in Hackleburg. He said he hopes his visit will bring more attention to Hackleburg and other small Alabama towns crippled by the April 27 storms.
"Much like my hometown (Kiln, Miss.) did not receive lots of attention after Katrina, it's the same way here," Favre said.