I would occasionally buy a program at a sporting event. I’m not sure why – it makes sense when it is the first visit to a stadium or a big event, but this was a game against Iowa State. In February. In the middle of Big Eight conference action. I’m not seeing anything that screams, “special”. (Maybe I just liked how Doug Smith, Nathan Buntin, Lee Coward and Anthony Peeler sported sweaters.) Anyway, I decided to keep score. Which was fortuitous as during the game, it was announced that Bob Costas was in attendance.
I remember the excitement that flooded through me. Costas, who along with Letterman and Carson formed a triumvirate of late night excellence. To a night owl they were the father, the son and the sporting spirit, each bringing a different set of grilling tools to the entertainment patio. As a journalism student though, as much as I loved the laughter of Carson and the snarkiness of Letterman (whose snark could only be topped by master Bill Murray), Costas was the one who held me in thrall. He loved sports. He broadcasted sports. He could also hold conversations on a seemingly endless range of topics with various entertainers. Which gives an idea of “seemingly endless” to a college freshman.
I could hardly wait for the game to end. As soon as the last horn blew, I hustled over to where Costas still sat in the lower level seats with my program in hand. I handed it to him proudly, open to where I had kept score, thinking, this will show him that I am a true fan. I asked for his autograph. He signed.
From that moment on, I realized how useless an autograph is. Here was the man who epitomized intelligence, success and the ultimate career – and here was his mark. It’s not that he wasn’t gracious or kind – it’s just that would be all he could ever give. (I love Joe Posnanski’s Costas story. That’s all I need to know he is a great dude.)
Maybe I’m dreaming and there are only four or five Costas fans in the whole world. Right above the number of Jared Leto fans and right below Frances McDormand. Still, even so, how much time would Costas be able to give them, or should give them, with his family, friends and himself that should come first.
Some might say that it is his job as being a public figure to devote that time to those that admire him. (I know Some and he is generally an ok guy, but he is way off here. However, if you’re ever in Tulsa, Oklahoma, look Some up and he’ll take you to a great barbecue place.) It’s still just a mark. It could be an “X” or say “Buck up camper” or list the key to great chili (“It’s the beans!”), but it’s still just something to look at on the printed page without any reference except a picture of the man behind it.
So, at that moment, I realized that watching and admiring people’s work is the reward in and of itself. Do I need a picture of Tom Wilkinson hugging me to prove I love “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” Do I need a piece of Luis Gonzalez’s gum to show I love baseball? Do I need to cut off a lock of a girl’s hair while she sleeps beside me to prove my eternal devotion? Well, maybe the last one, but you get the picture.
It’s not to say that I don’t like getting autographs. As a baseball card fan, when I pull an autographed card from a pack, a thrill shoots up my spine. (The best autographs that I have from baseball cards: Pat Burrell, Adrian Beltre and Mike Schmidt. That last one still excites me.) That comes from the surprise of opening a pack and finding a treasure. To ask for an autograph, it’s taking away the treasure of time.