Mississippians have always cherished their conquering sports heroes, even more than native sons and daughters who have excelled in arts and entertainment.
Any compilation of special athletes with Mississippi ties could begin with Archie Manning and his family members, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Bailey Howell, Lucy Harris, Charley Conerly and Brett Favre.
Favre, the golden-armed quarterback who engineered some terrific wins for the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles and followed up with a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, is apparently in danger of losing his favored hero status.
Favre is cited in an ongoing financial probe of the state Department of Human Services. He is one of 38 people being sued by the state agency for reimbursement of allegedly misspent millions of dollars intended to help welfare recipients escape the wrath of poverty.
Favre, who resides on a sprawling estate just west of Hattiesburg that fronts U.S. 98, was allegedly involved in a plan with other lawsuit defendants to use welfare funds to purchase stock in a private business venture. Favre has not been charged with a crime.
Two years ago, Favre repaid Mississippi state government $1.1 million for four speeches he was to have given to a nonprofit community education program, which the suit says were not given. State Auditor Shad White complimented Favre for a “good faith effort to make this right,” and added that he had not seen any evidence Favre knew the money had come from the welfare program.
Jackson attorney Brad Pigott, who filed the suit on behalf of DHS, told me: “Federal and state laws make clear that all (welfare) grant funds must be used to help only economically poor families and young unwed women at risk of pregnancies. As our lawsuit alleges, none of these defendants comes close to qualifying for any such help.”
Favre has countered: “I was unaware that the money being dispersed was paid out of funds not intended for that purpose (making speeches) and because of that I am refunding the full amount back to Mississippi.”
John Davis of Brookhaven, former director of the state Department of Human Services and an appointee of former Gov. Phil Bryant, is one of six persons indicted in the investigation of money misspent by that agency. Also under indictment are Nancy New and her son, Zach New, former leaders of New Summit, a private school in Jackson.
This is a wide-ranging investigation for which you almost need a roster to stay abreast of the people whose names have surfaced in the three-year probe. Other sports-related names included are Marcus Dupree, once the nation’s highest-rated prep football player, former pro wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr. and the Northeast Mississippi Football Coaches Association.
Favre, 52, played at Southern Miss from 1987 to 1990. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Draft, but was traded to Green Bay and led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 1997. In a 20-year pro career, he later played for the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. He was the first NFL quarterback to pass for 70,000 yards and 500 touchdowns.
Favre is a darling in the eyes of most Mississippi sports fans, many of whom followed the Green Bay Packers because he was their quarterback. Favre many times survived vicious hits by NFL linebackers. He opened his senior season at USM right after a nearly fatal car wreck.
Favre was known not only for throwing the football and his toughness, but for his ability to “scramble” from trouble. This predicament may require one more magical scramble.
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.