In Cameron Crowe's coming-of-age story Almost Famous, William Miller is afforded the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of his real-life heroes. He first gains entry into a local concert venue where he comes face to face with the folks who make it happen, and then he gains entry into the industry itself, getting a taste of what it's really all about. The taste was bitter, it was sweet--but above all else, it was real.
Kevin and I have each been channeling our inner-William Miller these days--first the interview with Dan Snyder last week and then the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Hogs afterparty in Canton. Our reputation preceded us to Ohio, as countless Redskins fans, players and members of the media recognized Hogs Haven as the outlet that scored the sit-down with Snyder. The reaction was varied, with some people just excited that Snyder had decided to open up a little, while others lamented the easygoing nature of the interview.
I have developed a stock answer of sorts for that issue. When pressed on the soft line of questioning--specifcally from journalists and reporters--I had this to say, "Listen, I'm not a professional reporter. I'm in the business of being a fan. And you know what? Business is good!" It's one thing to talk about someone, but an entirely different thing to talk to someone. I've now met Dan Snyder twice, and I have left each experience confronted with the possibility that he might not be as bad as he has been portrayed over the years. That said, it isn't my objective to defend him or to apologize for him for anything he has done over the years (or will do in the future). The same thing is true today that has been true all along: should this franchise get back on track and start winning championships, it will be with Dan Snyder, because he is not going anywhere. The opportunity to represent the fans--in his office--is something we take seriously and look forward to doing again. Here's hoping we get that chance.
As cool as it was to talk with the owner of our favorite team, it simply does not stack up against the experience in Canton, Ohio this past weekend. Having visited the small town two years ago for the induction of Darrell Green and Art Monk, our familiarity with Canton enhanced this particular trip. We stayed at the same Motel 6 as we did the last time (thanks again to Jim Miller, fellow Redskins fan and ardent HH supporter), and we frequented the same bars. We set up shop on the field as we did in 2008, only this time we actually had a show to interview guys like Joe Jacoby and George Starke. But one thing we had this year that we did not have two years ago was a decent chance to attend the afterparty honoring Russ Grimm.
In the formative days of the NFL, there lived a legendary football fan (whose name escapes me) that managed to get himself on the sidelines and locker rooms for some of the biggest games. He would pose as stadium personnel and direct the team bus into the underground garage. He would throw a towel over his shoulder and pretend to be a trainer. I want to say the guy actually helped carry a Super Bowl-winning coach off the field one year. John Madden knew who he was and spoke fondly of him in an NFL Films piece (if anyone remembers this guy's name and wants to share more about him, please do below). Kevin and I pulled off a move that this guy would have surely been proud of this past weekend.
Since we did have media passes to the ceremony, we were able to kind of go wherever after the ceremony ended and we quickly found ourselves stage right where all the Hall of Famers (newly minted and previously enshrined) were milling about. It was insane. Everywhere you looked there were recognizable faces. Joe Montana, Steve Young, Franco Harris, Roger Staubach, Ken Houston...this list is endless of course, and it was complete overload. We had no idea where we were supposed to go for the afterparty and by the looks of the company we were keeping, we were ridiculously out of place. Surely there had to be people whose only job was to keep people like Kevin and I away from these legends. Fortunately for us, those employees were sleeping at the wheel. Just as I was waiting to be yelled at and told to leave, I roll up on none other than Joe Gibbs.
"Coach! Great to see you!" Never underestimate the power of pretending to know someone who meets THOUSANDS of people regularly. You could tell right away that Gibbs had no idea who we were but he was amazing to us anyway (no surprise there). I asked if it would be too much to ask for a picture with him and he graciously obliged. We began to kick up a conversation with him and his Joe Gibbs Racing pilots (the dudes responsible for flying him anywhere and everywhere). I asked them if they were going to the Russ Grimm party.
"Yeah, but I have no idea where it is or how to get there," said Coach Gibbs.
"We also have no clue," I responded. Truer words have never been spoken.
Gibbs began to look around for someone or something and the crowds around this area were finally beginning to break through, causing security to focus 100% of their attention to pushing back the throngs of folks trying to get at the football icons. Kevin and Jim were separated from me, but I decided to stick closely with Gibbs and his two aides, trying desperately to figure out how I was going to pull off the crash of a lifetime. You see, we were technically invited to the Russ Grimm party earlier in the week, but we were not on a single list anywhere. Trust me when I tell you all that our status is cemented--we continue to be Nobody to every Somebody out there! I figured that even with the best of intentions, our chances of getting in to the 5 O'Clock Club were 50/50 at best.
So at this point I am sticking with Gibbs until I get dragged away. The Hall of Fame people quickly roll up with a 3-bench golf cart. Joe and his two pilots hop in the front and middle bench. I turn and yell at the top of my lungs, "Kevin! Jim!" pointing to them to hustle. I then turn to one of the pilots and give him one of those "duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude???" looks. He picked up on it right away.
"Squeeze in guys," were his exact words. It was the rear bench of the golf cart, facing to the rear. It was built for two medium-sized people, though I assure you that in that situation, we could have fit Oprah Winfrey, "Refrigerator" Perry and Mike Williams across that bench. And we were off.
On the ride we discussed Sean Taylor, the seat-cushion game, and the greatness of RFK with Coach Gibbs. Suffice to say there appeared to be three antennas on this golf cart with no radio (to be fair, on Kevin's side it appeared that a toothpick had become somehow lodged to the back of the cart).
When we arrived at the party for #68, Dan Steinberg and Matt Terl were both standing there, almost as if to receive us. With jaws on the ground, Terl said to Steinberg, "Hogs Haven just rolled up with Joe Gibbs."
Steinberg sarcastically replied, "Why wouldn't they?"
Before the cart had even come to a complete stop, the doors to the affair were opened and in we walked. Nobody asked us who we were. Nobody questioned whether or not we were in the right place. We were with Joe Gibbs. THAT was awesome. The best was when the guy at the door looked me up and down, as if to say with his eyes, "You and I both know you are a schmuck, but for $7.50/hr, I am not going to cause a scene."
The rest is history. It will take me years to drop all the names I collected that night. (You can all fairly call me out on that.) In the meantime, thanks again to all the Hogs Haven readers that we met and partied with in Canton. It is all up to Joe Jacoby or even Brian Mitchell at this point to get voted in so we can make the trip again.