One event I worked years ago is a typical example. I honestly can’t remember who the client was specifically; I want to believe the gentleman owned a stereo store or dealership of some kind. He was hosting a cocktail party of sorts in a local restaurant, and wanted some background music. It seemed like a fairly straightforward kind of party. I found myself wondering who would come to this kind of party; sure, there would be some free food and drinks, but… what else? (Don’t get me wrong: free food and drinks sounds like a sweet deal!)
When I arrived, my client told me there would be a surprise guest. The guest was a local athlete with a few Super Bowl rings. My client told me under his breath that the athlete didn’t come for free; money had to be donated to a local charity in order to secure his appearance, but it would be “… money well spent.” The free food and drinks would get people to come, but this local star would get people to stay, and they’d remember my client’s business.
I started wondering who it could be. He obviously was a football player, which meant I should cue up some football-themed music. Monday Night Football Theme… check! I assumed he was a Raider or a 49er, but I didn’t know which. Cool… I’d cue up some old NFL Films tunes; that’d be perfect.
Apparently, the rumors were starting to buzz around the room. In order to amp up anticipation, my client told a few people about the future Hall of Famer and that’d be showing up soon. A room full of men seemed to light up. Instantly, they began to share stories and compare notes about all of their football triumphs. With all the bragging going on, you’d have thought we were at some All-Pro alumni dinner or something. To me, they all looked like soon-to-be middle age dudes who played a little in high school. But hey, that’s one of the perks of playing sports in high school: Remembering the glory days for the rest of your life, and talking about them to anyone who’ll listen.
I’ll admit it… I was getting a little excited too. Not knowing who’d eventually show up made it that much more tantalizing. Could it be Joe Montana? I figured, no way… Joe wasn’t just an “athlete”… Joe Montana was royalty. He actually used to live close by me when I lived in Redwood City and he lived in Atherton. I once went to a Wherehouse (that’s a record store for you younger readers… what’s a record store? Never mind!) I walked into the store, and immediately noticed that, despite there being lots of people in there, it was eerily quiet. It was the week before Christmas, and the store was crowded. Yet, no one was saying a word. I looked around, puzzled by the lack of conversation. One guy was just standing, his mouth wide open, staring at the line of customers. I followed his gaze, and then I froze too: There, in line, almost like a normal human being, was Joe Cool himself. Buying music. In public. A million thoughts flew through my head: “What does he listen to?” “Why isn’t he at practice?” “Is Jerry Rice with him?” “Maybe he’d be really cool and buy everybody a CD!” I’d love to tell you that I played it cool, and went about my shopping, but, like everyone else, I just stood there, mesmerized in my tracks, nervous to breathe too loud. (This guy gets chased by 300 lb. linemen for a living; my CD-purchasing trembling personage is gonna bother him?) Eventually, we all watched him make his purchase and walk out the door. We all exhaled, and went back to our Christmas shopping.
So, I wondered, who would be making the visit that day? Finally, he showed up. He walked in with my client, and I thought: “Well, that can’t be the guy. Maybe that’s the guy’s agent?!” He was, quite simply, no bigger than me. I played my share of football, but I’m no giant. I barely make 6’, and back then I wasn’t particularly large. Neither was Ronnie Lott. I was struck by how… normal he looked. He shook hands with guys, posed for pictures, and couldn’t have been nicer. But, I couldn’t get over how… average… he looked. Even Joe Montana, as scrawny as he was, was 6’ 3” or 6’ 4”. Ronnie Lott was essentially my height, and probably didn’t weigh any more than I did. Of course, we won’t get into the fact that he probably had negative-percent body fat, as compared to me, who was probably one-third potato chip by then.
That didn’t mean that I could have been a Hall of Fame defensive back/safety, as Ronnie Lott was. His being the same relative size as many of the guys in the room really brought home the point of just how superior an athlete he was. The heart, the will, the guts it took to play the game how he played at his size just amazed me. Clearly, other guys in the room were thinking the same thing. Five minutes prior, they were all puffing out their chests and singing their own praises. Once Mr. Lott entered the room, they were all little boys, awestruck by the football legend that stood in front of them. So was I.
You could feel the energy of the room shift when he walked in. Everyone quieted down, nervous to speak. Ronnie put everyone at ease. He calmly introduced himself to people, which seemed completely unnecessary yet was universally appreciated. It quickly became evident why he was so respected by his peers and teammates; why he had at that point led his team to four Super Bowl victories. Teammates loved him because he gave his all on the field. This was the guy, after all, who, after damaging a finger in a game, opted to have the tip of his finger amputated so he could play the next week instead of missing games to have surgery. Even more impressive than his athletic talent was his passion, his heart. You could hear it in his voice. When someone fakes that kind of thing, you can sniff it out. Ronnie was genuine. If he asked someone a question, he wanted to hear the answer. Whether he talked about a play from the past, or visiting my client’s store, you wanted to line up behind him and follow him wherever he was going.
Seeing him in person was a real treat. Observing all those macho men reduced to young boys in his presence was both amusing and charming. I didn’t need to bug Ronnie for a selfie that day; I was touched by his being there just the same. DJing can be a blast!