Once upon a time, when I was editor-in-chief of a national magazine in New York City, I was one of those people deemed "important" enough to be given tickets to all sorts of big-time events. And once upon a time, when my wife was a top executive at one of the city's largest ad agencies, she, too, was considered important enough to be on the receiving end of the same type of goodies.
But that was a long time ago.
Subsequently, I went off on my own to become a freelance writer, my wife went off on her own to start her own marketing business -- and neither of us was considered important enough for freebies anymore.
Well, now there's a new "Mr. Tickets" in town -- and it's our middle son, Greg. As a sports marketing manager at Pepsi, Greg has picked up where his mom and dad left off: He's now the one who comes through with tickets to Mets opening day, to Kobe and the Lakers at Madison Square Garden, and to the U.S. Open.
A few weeks back, right after the NFL draft, Greg and I were talking. I was telling him -- my fellow Jets fanatic -- that I questioned the wisdom of cutting ties with Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Alan Faneca, three Jets stalwarts, in draft-related maneuvers. He said, "Why don't you complain to Rex about it," referring, of course, to Jets head coach Rex Ryan. I said, "Ha ha," but he insisted, "No, really. He'll be at Taste of the NFL (the Jets annual meet-and-greet dinner) on Wednesday night. Why don't you go with me, and let Rex know what you think."
Well, I was flattered by the invitation -- not to mention tickled by the turnaround: Son scores tickets and brings dad to the big evening! I could get used to that ...
Of course there were a handful of guys -- there always is -- who just stood around and chatted among themselves, clearly feeling that chasing after the Jets was beneath them. No such compunctions for Greg and me! We eagerly lined up -- like teenage girls at a Justin Timberlake concert -- for snapshots with our Gang Green favorites.
Our first encounter: a 305-pound side of beef with long, flowing golden-blond locks. Nick Mangold, of course! Greg and I had decided up-front that it would be a good idea to have something halfway intelligent to say to each player, so we'd at least look like a couple of guys carrying on a sports conversation rather than a pair of mute, imbecilic groupies. Fortunately, I'd heard Mangold interviewed by Joe Benigno on WFAN that very morning, and was able to say very casually, "Hey, I liked the way you handled yourself with Benigno on those Faneca questions."
"You mean I didn't come off like an idiot, the way I usually do?" he asked, sounding appreciative.
We did more of the same with offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson ("Great job keeping those guys away from our boy Mark."), linebacker Calvin Pace ("Nice work with the eight sacks last year -- let's see even more this year."), fullback Tony Richardson ("Love the way you block for Shonn."), and tight end Dustin Keller ("Hope they let Sanchez throw a few more balls your way this year.").
When we got to Jerricho Cotchery, my favorite Jets offensive player, I suppose I did get a little groupie-like. "You're the man, Jerricho," I gushed. "When we need an important catch, you make it every time."
And then ... cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Darrelle Revis. The Jets' best player. The finest at his position in the game, and -- for my money -- playing the game's toughest position. I have to admit, I was awed.
I told Revis that all three of my sons played corner in high school, and because of that, I had tremendous respect and admiration for the way he played the position. To his credit, he at least acted interested. Then Greg decided to go out on a limb and throw Revis a curve ball.
"My little brother's a Dolphins fan, and he tells me that Brandon Marshall [the Dolphins' new wide receiver] is going to torch you," Greg said.
Revis laughed a big, confident laugh. "Are you kidding me?" he screeched. "You tell your little brother that Marshall won't even smell the ball when I play him."
Music to our ears.
Of course, at events like these, there's always a hierarchy. On the one hand, you've got Darrelle Revis, real Jets Royalty -- with the line to meet him stretching halfway around the ballroom. And at the very next station, there's Eric Smith, a relatively anonymous safety, pen in hand, self-consciously chatting with a team official, waiting for someone to ask him for an autograph.
I suppose deep down it reminded me of the way I felt after drawing what I thought was a pretty healthy crowd at a local Barnes & Noble book-signing, and then seeing J.K. Rowling at the same venue a few weeks later, needing yellow police tape and saw horses to keep the overflow masses in order. Even though neither Greg nor I cared all that much about Smith, we went over and engaged him for a minute anyway. "Hey Eric, keep up the good work" -- that kind of harmless thing. Hope he didn't notice that we didn't even bother with a photo.
Westporter Hank Herman, whose "Home Team" column appears every other Friday in the Westport News, will be teaching Advanced Creative Writing at the Norwalk Community College Extended Studies program this June-July. For more information, call 203-857-7054, or click on www.ncc.commnet.edu.