We were late
, and there wasn't much we could do about it. Chris was the only one with a car
large enough to carry the greeting party
, and he was the proud owner of a Chevrolet Blazer
apparently built around the Cambrian period
- it accelerated like a a newly-evolve
d fish crawling out of the water
ing and wheezing
all the way. We used the extra time to put finishing touches on the banner
. We really, really
wanted to embarass Rob.
Not that that was hard - Rob was the quiet, unassuming member of my freshman dorm floor in college, and he would blush at eye contact. So we, bored out of our minds, decided to greet him on his way back from his Winter Break in Detroit. With a large, loud banner. And noisemakers. And other, utterly juvenile implements of ego destruction.
We race in to Will Rogers Airport, check the flight - delayed. Yes! The passengers begin to 'deplane' as we reach the gate, red-faced, out of breath. We set up hurriedly and wait for Rob.
There he is! He's almost running for some reason - probably wants to avoid the crazy people. We yell and honk. He power-walks by us without a glance. We yell and honk, this time with a little anger (our beautiful plan - a failure!) and then shrug and run to catch up.
Kevin : "Rob - what's the hurry, man?"
Rob : "Barry Sanders."
Barry Sanders. The name hangs in the air. Barry fuckin' Sanders, fresh off of another 1500 yard, 11 touchdown season (a nearly pedestrian effort from the man), on the plane back from fucking Detroit, in this fucking airport, right here, right now. Barry Sanders walked by us while we organized ourselves and we never noticed.
Everyone attempts to compose themselves, to calm down and act with dignity, with respect, to present themselves before the Great Running Back, shake his hand, and salute his effort running behind the worst offensive line in the league, and maybe get 'Emmitt sucks!' in edgewise. And Barry Sanders would smile and we would be absolved of our sins, washed away by the mud and sweat and pain of the football field.
We see Barry. Everyone freezes, trying to decide what to say. I, the one who acted the least starstruck (still trapped by my foolish high school anti-entertainment ideas, I couldn't feign any interest whatsoever, even though I am interested, greatly), made the first move. I will be the trailblazer, I will show these people, who shoot longing, loving glances towards Barry, I will show them how it's done. I walk up to Barry Sanders.
Me : "Mr. Sanders, I'd just like to shake your hand."
I shake hands with Barry fuckin' Sanders.
Barry Sanders, in a friendly tone : "So, what are you doing here?"
A question? He asks me a question? The brakes on my train of thought lock up and I'm skidding out of control! I'm lost. I'm lost. I say, with nary a half-second of consideration, the first thing that enters my mind.
Me : "Oh, I'm just following famous people around the airport."
Barry Sanders, the great man himself, immediately marks me as a psycho. Many people at the airport look at me, shocked, amazed at the depths of my disrespect. I see Kevin, a fanatical football fan, spin around, writhe, and begin to cry.
Barry Sanders, in a much darker tone : "Oh. I see."
Barry Sanders moves away, towards the baggage claim.
Kevin, Chris, and the rest are petrified. Frozen. They have no idea what to do. All they know is that they want nothing to do with me. I have now ruined their chance of talking to Barry Sanders, the only chance they'll ever get to touch a future Hall-of-Famer. My embarassment taints them all, and should Barry Sanders look them in the eye, they must drop their gaze, shuffle their feet, and stutter out an apology for my heinous wrongdoing. Kevin spends the rest of the night walking slightly hunched over, defeated, like Christ bearing a cross. His girlfriend jabs me in the ribs. Hard.
Rob grabs his luggage 10 minutes later and we head back to campus, no Barry Sanders, no autographs or handshakes or brushes with greatness. In the car, I am shunned, as if my shame was more contagious than leprosy. I am reminded of this incident, this cruel denial, daily for the following month.
Jim : "Geez, guys... I'm bored. Hey, Ken, wanna go to the airport and follow famous people around?"
Me : "Quiet, you."
Kevin mutters 'fucker' and throws a pillow at my head.
It's been five years since that day, and that incident has been forgotten, but not forgiven. Oh no. I've got an invisible 'A' on my chest to this day, the mark of my callous, heartless Audacity on that wintry night. I'll never live that down.