MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Jeff Pearlman remembers clearly when he developed a love for sports biographies.
“When I was a kid growing up in Mahopac, there was a librarian who would call me when a new sports biography came out to make sure I got it first,” he said. “For a long time, I would absorb these books. I would walk the mile from my home [to the library] to get it and then walk the mile back. I became a lover of biographies because of that.”
Pearlman, a 1990 Mahopac High graduate, has now become a renowned sportswriter in his own right, penning seven books, five of which are New York Times bestsellers.
“Five for seven,” he mused. “Not a bad batting average. You live book to book in this business; nothing is guaranteed.”
Pearlman’s latest book, “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre,” was released last week and has already climbed onto the bestsellers’ list.
Pearlman said he chose Favre as a subject because he had a compelling story that hasn’t been told.
“There hasn’t been a definitive biography,” he said. “There was one called ‘Favre’ but he wrote it, probably with a ghostwriter. It was a good bio for what it was, but it was not all-encompassing. I wanted to really dig into it.”
And dig into it, he did. Pearlman conducted 573 interviews for the book.
“But that’s what you are supposed to do; you try to call everyone,” he said. “There were so many things I didn’t know about him.”
Pearlman said the book deals with Favre’s well-known foibles: his painkiller addiction; his struggle with alcohol; the infamous sexting incident with a young woman. But, the author says, he wanted the book to look beyond all that.
“I don’t like the book just being about alcoholism or womanizing,” Pearlman said. “There is more to a person than his shortcomings. He took a beating, so I understand the painkillers.”
One of the stories about Favre that Pearlman uncovered took place during the quarterback’s senior year at Southern Miss.
“He almost died in a car crash,” Pearlman recounts. “He had 30 inches of his intestine removed. He missed the first game of the year but came back in time for the second against Alabama and he beat them 27-24. The details of that game are riveting.”
Pearlman was in Green Bay last week doing book signings when he spoke to Mahopac News. He said the home of the Packers reminded him a little bit of his hometown.
“It’s a funny town, Green Bay,” he said. “It’s small and everyone knows each other. It’s kind of like what Mahopac would be like if it had a professional football team.”
Pearlman first started writing sports as the sports editor of the Mahopac school paper, The Chieftain.
“It gave me a love of journalism,” he said. “That’s where I got my love for writing about things. I have very vivid memories of it. I can you tell what my first story was; what my biggest story was.”
While he was in high school, he took a job interning at the now-defunct Patent Trader where he toiled under the guiding hand of sports editor Joe Lombardi.
“I could not have had a bigger influence than him,” Pearlman said. “I was a kid in high school and he let me write for the Patent Trader. He was young, too. But he would line edit all my stuff and gave me good advice. He was amazing.”
Pearlman graduated from the University of Delaware and then took a job as a food and fashion writer with The Tennessean in Nashville. He joined Sports Illustrated in 1996, where he spent nearly seven years as a baseball writer. He soon left to concentrate on his original love: writing sports biographies.
His first book, written in 2004, was “The Bad Guys Won,” the story of the notorious 1986 Mets and their championship season. It spent eight weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.
His other books include, “Love Me, Hate Me” (an unauthorized Barry Bonds biography); “Boys Will Be Boys” (about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys); “The Rocket That Fell to Earth (Roger Clemens); “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton;” “Showtime” (about the 1980s L.A. Lakers), and now the Favre tome.
“I am big into nostalgia and reading about periods of time that do something for me,” Pearlman said. “I like to look back and take something you knew about and dismantle it and see what happened.”
Pearlman called “Gunslinger”—the Favre book—his most enjoyable endeavor so far.
“The book about the ’86 Mets was my favorite topic, but I was young and didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “The one about Payton was probably my best but it was painful to write. The Clemons book was probably my worst because it was kind of rushed. I felt really good about the Bonds book but it was overshadowed by ‘Game of Shadows’ (another Bonds bio) that came out at the same time.”
Pearlman already has an idea for his next book.
“My dream book for years has been the USFL story,” he said. “In high school, I was taking AP English and we had to write a 20-page senior thesis. I did a 40-page thesis on the downfall of the USFL.”
Besides writing books, Pearlman also maintains a blog where he writes “The Quaz,” a Q&A he conducts with athletes, politicians, actors, singers and other random people. Some of those people are from Mahopac, including Dave Fleming (who pitched in the major leagues from 1991 to 1995; playwright and children’s author ToniAnn Bleecker, and John Degl, who was featured in this very space by Mahopac News two weeks ago for his work with high school wrestlers.
Eventually, Pearlman said, he’d love to write a biography on someone other than a professional athlete and, of course, he already has an idea.
“I would love to do a Tupac Shakur book, but it’s hard to break out [of the sportswriter mold]. You get typecast in publishing,” he said. “But I will say that my hip-hop knowledge is just as good as my sports knowledge.”