As Kevin Acee so eloquently wrote in today’s edition of the Union-Tribune, Chargers left guard Kris Dielman is a nasty, ferocious player who sincerely loves the game of football. He hits. HARD. He has a foul mouth and fire in his eyes when he takes the field. He won’t let the team’s equipment managers touch up his helmet between games because he likes to show off the scuff marks from collisions.
And he is one of the nicest players I’ve ever met.
Now he is retiring, forced to trade in football for a future with his family after suffering a concussion in October while playing against the New York Jets. The concussion was later followed by a seizure, then by a spot on the Injured Reserve list before arriving here, to retirement, after consulting with many doctors about how much more his body — more appropriately, his brain — can take.
Kris is a deceiving man. The guy looks like someone who would kill your cat — and if your cat ran across the football field during a game, he probably would — but off the field, he is kind, funny and the sort of person who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it or fix your tire if it was flat. Kris and I didn’t talk much my first year on the beat (like most of the offensive line, he’s not really a “video” guy) but over the last few years, we chatted about everything from our love of East County dive bars to NASCAR to his desire for privacy to his father, who served in the Army.
But what I liked MOST about Kris was his honesty and sincerity.
Here’s the thing — When I ask an athlete to be part of a video story or interview, they usually respond in one of four ways:
- They say “Yes” and they follow through;
- They say “Yes” but they mean “No” and spend the rest of the season trying to hide from you and/or barely talk to you;
- They say “No” and spend the rest of the season trying to hide from you and/or barely talk to you so you don’t ask for more stuff;
- They say “No” and still treat you like you are human. They OWN the “No” but respect that you’re doing your job.
The first and last category are the most rare, but that’s where Kris fits, as does his buddy Nick Hardwick. Kris and Nick would turn me down 9 out of 10 times, but they would always own it. They would look me in the eye and say they aren’t up to doing an interview today, or give a simple: “No thank you, Annie … but how are you?” and the next day, they would treat me exactly the same as they did the day before — with respect. They never wavered. Don’t misunderstand me: Both say “Yes” to plenty of interviews and media requests (mine included), but it’s just that they say “No” with grace. Neither plays any games with the media. What you see is what you get. Kris could turn me down for an interview Monday, but Tuesday he and I would shoot the breeze and there would be no hard feelings, ever. I always knew I could go to him with a question and he would give me unbridled honesty.
Gonna miss that guy. Actually, in honor of Kris and his ability to drop more F-bombs in one sentence than humanely possible:
Gonna miss that f**king guy.
The last night of our Combine experience, Kevin Acee (the U-T’s Chargers beat writer) and myself decided to get dinner at the hotel bar. He still had work to do, so he brought his laptop and finished a story while I watched the NBA All-Star game, trying like hell to not fall asleep in my salad. (I’m worse than an old lady, believe me. By 9 p.m. I’m yawning.)
A Texas drawl caught our attention a few seats down.
“Miss, I’d like to buy a bottle of Ketel One, please.”
“Oh, no, you don’t want to do that,” our waitress proclaimed. “Our bottles of alcohol are really expensive because we’re a hotel. It’s $272 for a bottle.”
“Really?” said the man. “Well, that is expensive.”
The waitress nodded apologetically and started walking away, thinking the conversation was finished.
“I’ll take it!” the man exclaimed, grinning.
Our poor waitress. Her jaw dropped to the ground. Nowhere in her mind could she fathom that someone would spend a few hundred bucks on a bottle of $20 vodka.
Kevin and I were laughing, quite aware — though clearly our waitress wasn’t — that the man who was playing along with her attempt to talk him out of an overpriced bottle of bad alcohol had enough money to buy the whole damn hotel.
The man was Jerry Jones. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. You know the guy — outspoken, loved and hated by many, iconic and filthy, filthy rich.
Seems that Jerry was going out that night and wanted to get started a little early. (Note the irony here … I can barely make it past 9 p.m. and good ol’ Jerry was just beginning to make it rain.)
Anyways, as the waitress retrieved the bottle, Jerry saw us laughing and came over to say hello. We introduced ourselves and as soon as he found out we covered the Chargers, he immediately noted his fondness and love for Norv, who was the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys when the team won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and ’93.
The man is a PLAYA! Smooth!
Later, we found out from an agent that he dropped $80,000 at an Indy restaurant the night before. Kinda puts that $272 bottle into perspective, huh?
Honestly, no NFL owners are probably more recognizable than Jerry Jones and maybe Robert Kraft. But Jerry has this undeniable spirit, a Texas charm, that sets him apart. Love him or hate him, his personality is bigger than most … (Cue the cliche, “Everything is bigger in Texas” in 3 … 2 … 1). Seriously, it was pretty cool to meet him and I must say: I’d love to be a fly on the wall at one of his parties or nights on the town. The man has major swag.
I chatted with Chargers head coach Norv Turner in front of his hotel in Indianapolis. Kinda stalker-ish, huh?
The thing a lot of people don’t know about Norv is that he’s pretty funny. He’s sarcastic, witty and has great timing. One of my favorite things is watching him during Training Camp, when things are a bit more relaxed than during the regular season and he’s out there yelling and joking with the players. He’ll go from being super heated one minute (if a player doesn’t handle a correction, for example) and then the next minute, turn around and crack some witty joke just loud enough for all of us to hear.
I shot a little Flip video (not the best quality, but gets it done) of the media experience at the NFL Combine. Check it out.
The NFL Combine is madness. It is not for the weary.
As media, you basically get there early with a hundred other media peeps, fight for a spot with a decent outlet for your laptop, get some coffee, complain about something or other, then laugh about how times have changed. Then it’s a whole day of hustle, baby.
Because the NFL doesn’t provide media with times or podiums for the player pressers, it’s a lot of scrambling. A player comes into the media room and all the reporters and TV people crowd around, frantically fighting for space for their tripod or proximity to ask a question. Then another player comes in at another podium, and everyone scrambles to get over to him.
Then there might be two hours when you do NOTHING.
And then another five when you don’t sit down.
Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
At the Combine, you have to cut your losses. You’re not going to get everyone. There will undoubtedly be two or three players talking to media at same time, and you’re gonna have to pick one. There will definitely be other media trying to sneak a player away from you to do an interview before the NFL Security People whisk him away. It’s a dog-eat-dog world around here.
Being a sports reporter is not all glitz and glory. Case in point:
I woke up at 3 a.m. today.
I took my two 50-pound suitcases filled with clothes, camera equipment and Gus (more on him later, but for now just know that he’s happy in my suitcase and it’s NOT against the law), my cart, my camera, my 30-pound backpack and rolled myself outside, where I promptly tripped and fell on my face while hustling to the cabbie.
Don’t worry, I’m okay. You were worried, right? I can tell.
More importantly, my CAMERA is okay (which is all that matters).
I made it to my gate at the airport an hour ahead of schedule, which was all well and good until I found out my flight was delayed two hours. Maybe longer.
Did I mention I got up at 3? AND took the time to curl my hair?
I’m headed to Indianapolis, where I will cover the NFL Combine for my third consecutive year. I like the Combine because the college kids are so … HOPEFUL. There is that mystery of the unknown — “I *could* get drafted in the first round!” “Maybe I will impress Bill Belichick!” “I don’t care if they poke and prod all my muscles because I am CUT, playa, and they will see that” … You know, that sort of thing. There is just a different look in a potential draftee’s eyes. It’s one of uncertainty, nervousness, but also excitement and aspiration. It’s cool.
While in Indy, I’ll take you behind the scenes and show you what it’s like to be a media member at the Combine. Then I’ll do that same sort of thing at Spring Training, and again as I report for the Padres and Chargers during the season. I’ll bring you stories and interesting tidbits from athletes that just happen organically in conversation or from being around the players all the time. I’ll post pictures from the dugout or the practice fields at Chargers Park, or from events or special stories. I’ll give you adventures from the road. And of course, you’ll get my sweet, sometimes salty, always sarcastic humor, as well as posts on my job, travel and any other random thing that’s rattling around in my very random head as I embark on my second season with the Padres and my fourth with the Chargers. (Visit www.sharonheilbrunn.com to see more on my bio or work experience.)
Can’t wait to bring you along. IF I ever leave this airport, that is.