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.
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.