View Full Version : Catching up with ... Bubby Brister

10-03-2010, 12:02 AM
Catching up with ... Bubby Brister
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, friends and neighbors still laud the ex-Steelers quarterback for his efforts in saving their homes and their neighborhood
Sunday, October 03, 2010
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When you live through something like that, you don't have time to think. ... You just rally the people around you." -- Bubby Brister

MANDEVILLE, La. -- The quarterback leads.

It is in his nature -- a nature that transcends football.

Just ask the neighbors of former Steelers quarterback Bubby Brister, the ones who reside side-by-side with him in a gated community on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, about 35 miles across the causeway from New Orleans.

They all think back to late August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ripped through, killing more than 1,800 people.

They thought about it when they arrived back home after being evacuated, and Brister -- who played for the Steelers from 1986-92 and in the NFL for 15 seasons -- was the guy who had talked his way back into the neighborhood before everyone else.

"Knew a couple state police officers," Brister said nonchalantly. "Just told them I had to get back in. I cut through some of the downed trees blocking the road out by the entrance, got in here and got to work. I had 30 gallons of gas, a generator and just had to get [stuff] done. Can't talk about doing it, just got to get to work and get it done."

Charles Allen IV and Curt Hebert Jr. stood around Brister's kitchen last week and harkened to 2005, when they first returned to the neighborhood after the hurricane had passed.

It was, quite literally, a disaster.

"We had to leave, we had to get out of here," Hebert said. "When we got back, there was Bubby, a guy who played in Super Bowls. He was the guy up on everyone's roof with a chainsaw cutting the trees off and throwing them down. He was pulling stuff out of the driveways with his hands. He was tireless. He was the one who just kept saying, 'We're going to get this done.'"

Or, as Allen said: "We were all going to have to reorganize our entire lives. And Bubby was the guy who kept staying so positive. He was definitely a leader."

It wasn't easy.

Even Brister -- a guy who had commanded NFL huddles, won two Super Bowls as a backup in Denver, gone 5-0 as a starter in John Elway's absence in the 1998 season -- understands that those days, in the storm aftermath in Mandeville, might have been when he was counted on most to lead.

Brister, his wife and two children went to his hometown of Monroe, La., to ride out the storm. He remembers returning to his home to see his huge, heavy wooden front door blown off and the high-arching cathedral windows above it blown out.

Wind whipped thorough the home, water was everywhere.

He got to work immediately, but his most vivid recollection was trying to catch a few hours of sleep those first couple of nights.

"It is 100 degrees, there are reports of people looting not far from here right down the road, there is no power, no lights, no cell phones, no nothin'," Brister said. "I slept in my [home] office with a gun on my chest. Gave a couple of my guns to a couple of neighbors who were around, too. Every little noise, every little crick in the middle of the night you think, 'OK, here comes someone to steal my stuff.' You have no idea what people are thinking at that point; they are just trying to survive. When you live through something like that, you don't have time to think, man. You just rally the people around you.

"But I knew one thing. Nobody was taking from us. Nobody."

The looters never made it into Brister's neighborhood; he never had to use that gun, even though he promised -- a few times -- he would have.

Instead, Brister, who is 48 and speaks with endearing candor and that Bayou accent, helped to reshape his neighborhood.

"Bubby, all of us, showed what this Gulf Region was about," said Hebert, a CEO in the energy industry.

"It took months, several months, for any of us to get our lives back to some sense of being normal again. Because of what everyone did -- and you can use Bubby as an example -- we are pretty much back to normal."

Normal, in this little portion of Mandeville, is to drive down the narrow street and see Brister -- who accumulated more than 14,000 NFL passing yards -- throwing balls to kids running pass patterns in the street or playing pick-up basketball.

Later this month normal will be Brister downing a beer or two at the annual Halloween block party, which will be moved to Saturday this year so he can take a bunch of people to the Steelers-Saints game Halloween night at the Superdome.

In this day of an expanding divide between professional athletes (even retired ones) and the common man, it is enlightening to hear Brister's neighbors tell story after story and see him blend in as a regular guy with Joe-down-the-street.

"Never thought about it that way," said Allen, who works in investments. "Because you never think of Bubby as any more than just a regular guy. That is who he is."

Brister is the national spokesman for the American Association of Professional Drivers (trucking industry) and is involved with an energy drink company called Bazi. He understands the NFL has changed a lot since he retired in 2000 after playing for the Steelers, Eagles, Jets, Broncos and Vikings.

And unlike another Louisianan who formerly quarterbacked the Steelers -- Terry Bradshaw -- Brister is less apt to attack the team's current quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, for transgressions off the field.

"Aw, man, maybe he's just a little too big for his britches; he's starting to get it, I know he is. Hell, we were all young and made stupid mistakes," Brister said of Roethlisberger. "It took me a while to settle down, too; took me a while to grow up.

"But, you can't trust people when you are someone in that position, and some people could be out to get you and the things that come out might not always be what happened. There are three sides to every story; not two, three. Hell, I had a guy when I was playing pick a fight with me in my hometown."

Brister's neighbor, Mr. Allen, quickly jumped in, and, through a laugh said, "Bet you didn't run away, Bubby."

Brister just smiled with that coy grin and said, "Hell no. And I had to pay for it."

He was alluding to a 1992 incident in Monroe, La., when Brister, then a member of the New York Jets, and his brother-in-law were made to pay $280,000 after an off-duty police officer working security detail at a bar claimed Brister caused him to suffer back problems after he and the quarterback had tussled in the bar's parking lot.

"But, you know, you get older and you learn things," Brister said. "You settle down, you learn who the people are around you that you can trust, and you develop into a leader on and off the field. That's all part of the responsibility. When you're the quarterback, you're the leader."

Seems Brister and those in his neighborhood who fought through Katrina with him already know as much.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette or 412-263-1459.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10276/1092270-66.stm#ixzz11G0RCVRC