KILN, Miss. — Kickoff isn't for another hour, but the folks at the Broke Spoke are getting ready for the crush.
Stevie Haas, who owns this little bar with wife Mabel, is heating a giant pot over propane. Brian Necaise — Rudy, they call him — drains the swamp water off 60 pounds of preseason crawfish in two coolers. Inside, they're stocking the ice chests with Budweiser and Coors Light.
This is Brett Favre's hometown. His mama lives up the road. His bronze likeness stands beside the bleachers over at Hancock High's Brett Favre Field.
And even if he's quarterbacking in Minneapolis, a half a world away, people in Kiln, population 2,040, know it all started right here.
They rooted for him when he was with the Falcons (1991) and Packers (1992-2007). Some even swallowed their Southern pride and cheered in 2008 when he played for a team in New York.
Now with the Vikings, Favre, 40 and twice retired, is having, arguably, his best season.
He threw a career-low seven interceptions and completed a career-high 68 percent of his passes to lead the Vikings into Sunday's division game against the Cowboys, which is why the parking lot here is beginning to fill, the tailgates are dropping, the televisions are turned up and the beer is starting to flow.
Favre has become something of a myth here.
"His toes is as long as your fingers," says Necaise. "You wouldn't believe it if you saw it."
"He's as tough as a lighter knot," says another Brian Necaise, whom they call Fats.
"That's the heart of a southern pine tree."
Fats graduated a year before Favre, and he remembers watching the gunslinger play under his father, Big Irv, and thinking: This kid is going to be good.
But it's more than that, the people say. Even if Brett Favre has become a household name, he has never become too big for Kiln.
"He's one of us," Stevie says.
He also has put the Broke Spoke on the map.
When Favre was a Packer, Green Bay fans started trickling into Kiln to bear witness to the people and place that helped create their leader. They always wound up at the Broke Spoke, and locals rolled out the mat.
The visitors signed the walls with names and hometowns: New Berlin, Wis., and Stevens Point, Wis., and Sheboygan, Wis.
Soon, the walls and ceiling were covered by Packers gear and bras and panties and beer-fueled messages to the local boy.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRETT! 40 IS HOT!"
When the Packers went to the Super Bowl in January 1997, the place was jammed. Like, 5,000 people.
"Like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras," says Fats.
When Favre left the Packers two years ago, something funny happened. The people kept coming.
Tammy and Geno Kok drove from Fox Lake, Wis., in 2007 and wrote their names on the Packers wall at Dolly's gas station across the street. Tammy left her Packers bra at the bar. They liked the folks here so much, they made the 24-hour drive again Sunday, even if Brett is wearing purple.
"He's still good," Geno says. "So you can't hate the Vikings."
They all know this bar in Wisconsin.
"You say the Broke Spoke, nobody asks, 'Where's that?' " Geno says. "They all know."
Pete Damico, 48, drove from Door County, Wis., for Super Bowl XXXI 13 years ago, when the Packers beat the Patriots. He planned to stay a week and wound up staying a month. It was something about Kiln's blue collar that made him feel at home. After Hurricane Katrina, he organized a drive and brought supplies to Kiln from the North. Now he comes every winter, and when he heads north, he hauls pounds of fresh crawfish.
He says it's not easy to root for the Vikings.
"We were born and raised Packers fans," he says. "I'm a Packers shareholder. My brother calls me Judas. He says, 'Your daddy's rolling over in his grave.'
"But you have to root for Brett."
When the game starts, the place is packed. Teens in Vikings jerseys and bikers with braided ponytails and three little old ladies sipping Diet Cokes.
A few minutes in, Favre throws a touchdown and the place erupts. Mabel Haas parades through the bar wearing Viking horns and carrying a hayfork, dishing high fives to strangers. He does it again, and again, and every time, Mabel carries out the ritual.
Outside, they dump the crawfish on a giant table and roll up their sleeves, and they crack the tails without taking their eyes off the TV.
"They show you how to eat 'em?" Stevie asks the Midwesterner hunched over the table.
"I'm doing the best I can," Geno says.
Someone fishes a bottle of moonshine from behind the bar, and it bounces around a group of middle-aged women.
Mabel answers her cell phone.
"That was Brett's mama," she says. "She wanted to do a shot with us."
When time expires, the Vikings have won and are heading to New Orleans next week for the NFC Championship Game. Favre has thrown four touchdowns, and he's running down the sideline, his arms in the air, shirt untucked. He looks boyish. The folks in the Broke Spoke launch into a chant:
"We want the Saints!
"We want the Saints!
"We want the Saints!"
Then the hometown boy's face is on the television sets around the bar. And the room goes quiet, and the people here wonder if he's thinking about them. Favre looks like he's going to cry.
"It's a wonderful moment," he says. "It's everything I thought it would be and then some."
Outside, the clouds break and the sun shines heavy and warm on the Broke Spoke.
"Holy (expletive)," Stevie says, out of breath now and stepping into the light. "Yeah."
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.