KILN, MISSISSIPPI — Not much surprises Stevie Haas.
So he wasn’t shocked to see a group of eight Wisconsinites, exhausted from the August heat and humidity after a day of walking New Orleans, trudge into his bar.
Haas has owned the Broke Spoke here for 30 years and is used to northerners making the pilgrimage to his tavern on Kiln-Picayune Road just west of Muddy Joe’s Off Road RV Park.
Most Packers fans, however, come when the temperature and the humidity levels aren’t in the 90s to see Haas’ bra-covered ceiling and shrine to hometown hero Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, who grew up in this community of 2,238 people.
“It’ll probably go on forever, I’m sure, I don’t know,” Haas said of visiting Packers fans. “We get quite a few in the winter. When the snowbirds start coming down, we get lots of Packers fans. It’ll probably never end.”
Kiln is located just north of Interstate 10 along the winding Jourdan River that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Our family, along with my wife’s sister’s family, had rented a beach house for a week on Dauphin Island, Alabama. New Orleans is about a two-hour drive from the island so on a return day-trip from the Big Easy, we made the detour into Kiln to check out “Where the legend began,” as it says on the mural of Dolly’s Quick Stop.
Favre was a three-year starter at Hancock High School here where he played for his father, Irvin, before starring at quarterback for the University of Southern Mississippi. Brett was the seventh-string quarterback at the start of his freshman year but took over the job in the second half of the third game of the season. In his first year, Favre won six of the 10 games he started, led an upset of Florida State his junior season and recovered from a near-fatal car wreck just prior to his senior year to finish his college career with 52 touchdown passes, 34 interceptions and 7,695 yards.
Favre was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1990 NFL draft but traded a year later to the Packers where he helped change the direction of the franchise. After taking over for the injured Don Majikowski in the third game of the 1992 season and leading the Packers to a come-from-behind win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Favre would go on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
He led the Packers to two Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans against the New England Patriots, was named the league’s MVP three times and holds the NFL record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback.
Favre retired in 2008, but later contemplated a comeback with the team. When that didn’t transpire, he went to the New York Jets. Favre played there for a season before spending the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, where he led the team to the NFC Championship game in New Orleans after the 2009 season.
Visitors to Kiln can spot references to all of his former teams. The most noticeable is the mural at Dolly’s that includes large helmets of each of the high school, college and pro teams for which Favre played. An overturned milk crate in front of the mural serves as an impromptu foot stool so visitors can sign the higher reaches of the painting that covers the entire north exterior wall of the store.
Nearby, adjacent to the car wash, is a large wooden football and a goal post that announces you’ve entered Favre’s hometown. The sign was donated by Pete and Rhonda D’Amico, former owners of the Tundra House in Jacksonport, Wisconsin, on the Door County peninsula.
A visit to Hancock High School on Kiln’s south side is also a must for Favre fans. That’s where, at Brett Favre Field, a bronze statue of Favre was dedicated in 2004. Surrounded by a four-foot-tall black wrought-iron fence, it depicts Favre about to launch a football. The plaque below the stature includes a quote from Vince Lombardi.
“The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It’s your mind you have to convince,” it reads.
Favre lived that quote in the way he played and it’s probably why he resonates with so many, despite the way his career ended in Green Bay. A visit to the Broke Spoke reinforces his popularity.
The bar is filled with Packers memorabilia, T-shirts, cardboard cutouts of Favre, green and gold beads, Wisconsin license plates and wooden bar stools painted in Packers colors. There are pennants, ticket stubs, water bottles, team photos and just about anything else that can be associated with Favre and the Packers.
“We still get people who come in to watch the Packers games,” said Haas, 56, who owns the bar with his wife, Mable. “We’re all Saints fans, but we watch the Packers games when the Saints aren’t on.”
The building, inside and out, is also covered in signatures. But if you put your name to the place prior to April 1999, it’s probably gone. That’s when a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit sparked a fire that destroyed the bar’s interior. Everything inside was lost with the exception of a “Green Bay city limits” sign and an alligator hide, Haas said.
There is no evidence of the fire but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of signatures cover the bar, walls, memorabilia, doors and anything else that can hold the scroll of a Sharpie. We found signatures from all over Wisconsin.
Sharon and Mike from Neenah left their mark on the front door. Heidi Roach of Manitowoc signed an exterior wall writing “Raise the Roof Packers!” We found writings from John and Char Hager of De Pere, Dave and Joan of Shiocton and Werner from New Richmond, all signed in January of this year. Todd Burbach of Oakfield and Terry Johns of Sheboygan used orange-and-black block letters like those found on a mailbox to affix their name to the establishment.
Haas is good friends with Favre’s brother, Jeff, and briefly played football for Irvin Favre when he was in high school but quit when he couldn’t take the combination of heat and running.
Haas has been to Lambeau Field 17 times, including last month when he attended Favre’s induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. More than 67,000 fans attended, but Haas had a front-row table in the atrium.
Haas drove from Mississippi and paid for his trip, that included the flag football game at Camp Randall in Madison, by selling 100 Broke Spoke T-shirts when he visited Door County and another 100 outside a Green Bay hotel prior to the ceremony. He also brought up 250 pounds of shrimp on ice. He boiled 100 pounds at a Door County party, but sold the remaining for $12 a pound. He paid $6 a pound back home for the crustaceans.
“I wasn’t surprised (about the huge crowd). I think everybody pretty much got over it,” Haas said. “We did get some Packers fans in here over the years that were (angry) at him, but he just wanted to play football. I didn’t think (the bar) would go on this long, but it seems like more and more people come every year.”