Kalani Simpson

Pro Bowl autograph
hounds out in force

THIS is the annual Pro Bowl "fame" column, in which we stand back (so as not to get trampled) and watch how these football stars handle the onslaught of autograph craziness that is Pro Bowl week.

I wanted to ask Peyton Manning about this. Partly because he is one of the NFL's biggest stars, partly because he'd done a TV commercial about it in which he turns the tables and hounds everyday Americans for autographs and high-fives. (He goes to the grocery store and cheers the butcher, chanting "Cut that meat! Cut that meat!")

On one hand, it's an amusing man-bites-dog slice of surreal life. On the other, Peyton-as-fan seems a little overly needy, if you get my drift.

What the heck is he trying to say?

So I wanted to talk to Peyton Manning about this, about that strange symbiotic slam-dance between players and fans -- of the balance between veneration and obligation, of the thin line between being adored and being annoyed. Of the correlation between awkward blind devotion and stunning million-dollar checks.

Of the strangeness of being a young guy who's called "Mr. Manning" by 44-year-old men.

But something kept holding me back.

It was the fans.

They just kept coming. More, and again and again. Another picture. More autographs. Pose. Smile. Sign again. He gave all of them a piece.

He said "thank you" to them all.

And this was at the Ihilani Resort, away from actual, rabid, regular fans. These were family and friends of other players who were so star-struck.

Not a face-painter in the bunch.

These were other NFL players themselves, who kept coming up to get their picture taken with the big man.

Manning just kept smiling.

"We love your commercials," a teenage girl said, just before the camera flashed.

It took everything I had to hold it inside:

Cut that meat!

St. Louis' Torry Holt signed a football for Capt. Jody Brown after the NFC practice yesterday at Aloha Stadium.

THEN, IT WAS off to the stadium, into the real madness. This was where it happens. This was where the general public had its first shot at seeing and pleading and leaning at its heroes.

It's hot work, autograph signing. But pretty much the whole NFC squad made it out, at least for a few minutes, to mingle with the arms and the Sharpie pens.

Most don't look up. Too focused. An extra second spent on one fan is one not spent on another. They want to sign as many as they can before they clock out.

If you looked them in the eye, you'd never be able to walk away.

Autograph hunting is hard work, too. There's a lot of hoping involved. A lot of timing. A lot of holding your arm out straight in the air.

One fan has an old style 49ers sideline jacket.

Another has a stained wood homemade Chicago Bears clock.

There's actually someone alive with a Joey Harrington jersey.

One guy has a purple Washington Huskies cap he hopes might be personalized by Olin Kruetz.

They yell. They call.

There's little personal interaction in this, just signing and moving along. The signees always say thank you. The pros are in a zone, trying to hit every one. The lucky ones are ecstatic, left with a keepsake, a scribble. A gift. The others slowly accept fate.

But that's the best part about being a sports fan. Hope never really dies.

Chunky Soup Man emerges from the locker room, tries to hide under a do-rag. But there is no hiding for Chunky Soup Man. He is too famous. Even from afar, the fans know his frame, can spot his walk. Everyone loves the Chunky Soup Man.



Players rarely sign again after showering, but the fans always try.

Chunky Soup Man slips on the headphones, and keeps walking. Reality sinks in.

"Go Patriots," someone finally yells.

It was crazy. It's a mad scene out there, man. At last, they were almost all gone, bathed and headed for the bus. Headed toward the rest of their day. Only one or two players were left signing along the stands. But the fans weren't ready to go.

"Reid Shimizu!" someone yells. "I want your autograph!"

It was a frenzy, I say.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com