I’m not sure when I stopped being nervous and excited meeting famous athletes.
I know I used to think it was pretty cool interviewing Iowa football coach Hayden Fry and basketball coach Lute Olsen while still a student reporter for the Daily Iowan.
I remember being in awe of Sandy Koufax when I met him at the Dodgers’ spring training compound in Vero Beach, Fla., in my early years with Florida Today newspaper.
And I remember feeling extremely nervous the first time I ventured into the Bears visiting lockerroom at Tampa Stadium as the Tampa Bay Bucs beat reporter, also very early in my professional career.
I recall getting teased by a player for being in there, nothing out of the ordinary in those days, and I also remember Walter Payton coming to my defense. It was 1984, the year before the Bears would win the Super Bowl, and Payton followed me outside of the tiny dressing room and invited me onto the team bus to interview whomever I wanted.
Now I was young and I might have been every so slightly naïve. But I wasn’t that young and naïve. I knew Payton was a joker and I was not going to bound up the steps and onto the Bears team bus – the BEARS, for crying out loud, my beloved hometown team – like some gullible rookie only to have some colossal embarrassment befall me.
I was going to walk very slowly onto the Bears team bus and just see what happened.
I actually talked to a few players, though I have no memory or who they were or what they said or how I got off the bus.
From then on, I was, I wouldn’t say jaded but certainly a little numb. I’m sure the first time I ever interviewed Michael Jordan, I was impressed. But I was 30 years old by then, had interviewed hundreds of athletes and coaches; many had burst my bubble in terms of my expectations for them; and I had been into too many smelly, sweaty lockerrooms under the pressure of an impending deadline to think it was all that mystical anymore.
All that said, put me within drooling distance of anyone in the entertainment industry, and I become a goofy, star struck fan.
This weekend, my mother-in-law took the girls in the family to see the play “Legally Blonde” and after we left, another friend steered us toward the stage door. I had never waited outside a stage door and just seeing the words “Stage Door” was very exciting.
I grabbed my niece Erica’s camera, and as soon as the first actor emerged, pushed her and my daughter Amanda toward him, urging them to pose. Who was I? As the others filed out, I tried some witty, nervous repartee, just to show what a regular person I thought they were and what a really cool, casual person I was.
“So, are you in a really bad mood whenever you’re off-stage?” I blurted out to the star of the play, the actress who plays Elle Woods, I meant because she was so incurably perky and energetic on-stage. But it didn’t really come out that way, I heard nervous laughter around me and the actress was kind enough to actually pretend as though she understood what I meant and I was not some psychotic stalker.
“My face does hurt from smiling so much,” she said kindly. I’m sure if I covered the entertainment industry, it would be different. I would be writing about cocaine rather than steroid addiction and I’d probably end up identifying even more with celebrities the first time I discovered up close that at 5-foot-2, I was taller than most Hollywood actors.
But I think I would enjoy writing those women’s magazine features. You know, the ones that start, “Reese Witherspoon swept into the Polo Lounge with a flurry of air kisses and apologies for being late.
“I’m so sorry,” the dynamic young actress told me exclusively as she bit into her tuna fish sandwich.
I could do that.
But I would definitely not like the part where you have to dress up to cover the Oscars, like anyone cares what reporters are wearing in the press room. Plus, I’d rather not sweat in a full-length gown, thank you very much, nor accidentally bump into Halle Berry on the way to the bathroom in her haute couture and me in my ensemble from Macy’s.
I have enough issues.
Eventually, I am sure I would become one of the gang, stop sweating, maybe upgrade my wardrobe and learn to air kiss complete strangers. I might even be able to bump into, say, a Tom Hanks, and act as if I do it all the time.
But George Clooney? Not a chance. Unless I was taller than him, of course.