It was the last day of our Las Vegas Vacation. My husband wanted to go to the Hoover Dam which left us with two options for that morning: find a Starbucks or settle for Hotel Coffee. Apparently, hotel coffee was no option. There was one at the Harrah’s which was on the next block, so it wasn’t exactly out of our way and it was an oddly comfortable day in the mid-80’s.
We were walking out of the Starbucks not long after when one of the many billboard trucks passed by. Except of advertising your morning dose of discount call girls or an opportunity to fire off an automatic weapon, this one was for Dick Butkus.
I’m not an English Major, so I can’t be sure if the situation can be described as serendipitous. As it is, my English Major friends already brace themselves at the constant question of, ‘Yeah, but is it ironic?’ What I can tell you is what Dick Butkus meant to me or, more specifically, my family.
I am what you would call a ‘Generational Fan.’ I am die hard. I grew up watching the Chicago Bears, both modern games and classics shown on WGN long before either NFL Network or ESPN Classic existed. I would hear retellings of Butkus’ games like they were war stories. He is #51, the embodiment of 1963. My father and I were convinced that we would have to win the lottery before we would have the chance to meet him.
My husband has been assaulted with the same stories over the past ten years. He could see how I froze on the sidewalk as the truck sped by. He knew it was that important to me. I pointed out that the appearance was just across the street. He suggested we should go.
But you wanted to go to the dam. The dam will always be there. But what if the line’s too long? Then we can just head back and still make the dam. But… This is important, and you wouldn’t forgive yourself if we didn’t try.
He was right.
We arrived a while after a slight deluded detour where I started walking towards where I thought there was a bridge but apparently I imagined it. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened. There were half a dozen people in line and they had just started signing. I was shaking in line while my husband rubbed my back so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. I would watch people from the line and grow confused.
No one else was this panicked. Maybe they were more prepared. They had their photos and footballs ready to be signed, so obviously they were aware of what was going to happen. Still, I was panicked. I was on the edge of tears the entire time and growing furious that I was the only one. The line was full of middle-aged men and their wives. The men would be polite and humorous while their wives would bear with it and took pictures.
I was, as I like to say, ‘flipping a mf’ing spaz.’
I don’t remember much of what I was able to say to Dick Butkus when it was finally my turn. It probably wasn’t coherent. I know I blubbered in the beginning and my husband had to translate it to Human English. At some point he had me introduce myself and I said I worked at Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, which amused him. And he asked if I had any questions. I said no, because if you have been watching sports long enough to know Dick Butkus is, you also have watched enough interviews and analyses to know there isn’t much more to be gleaned from 1963 that hasn’t already been said.
“This is weird, but I really want to hug you right now.”
That is what I clearly remember saying. He laughed and said I could and I hugged him. He was warm and I had finally lost it and started crying. Then I rapidly told him about how important he was to me and my family and how we thought we would never meet him.*
I can guarantee I’m the only one who reacted like that on that particular day. I shocked the hell out of the shop owner and Dick Butkus looked like he appreciated my reaction. When they gave us the picture they took of us three to sign, thankfully before I cried and shrieked, I had him include my dad and grandfather, since they weren’t there with me. My dad was at home but my grandfather had passed away. I think he appreciated that as well. Afterwards, he asked me something I remember very clearly.
“Do you want another hug?”
I shrieked again and hugged him, this time tighter. I staggered out of the shop and sat down on a bench out of direct line of sight to the shop’s door where I could spaz and cry in peace. Everyone who passed by stared and everyone we passed stared. I didn’t care. This was something my husband did for me that led to one of the single best moments that I will remember. If you can ever show someone, even if you’ve never met, what they meant to you, it will be one of your best moments.
That is how my addiction for Starbucks let me meet Dick Butkus. And for anyone who thinks this moment is a bit overdramatic, well obviously it was overdramatic. But that is exactly how it happened. I was a spaz. I cried. I hugged Dick Butkus. I feel glad that there is any person who makes me feel that way, where just meeting them for something that they did out of a passion allowed me to thank them for impacting my life for the better.
That’s the power of fandom. Not just for sports, but for anything where someone has a skill set above all others where you appreciate it on a level above yourself. I have mathematicians, scientists, writers, and other athletes on this list and if chance should have me meet them, I will jump on it. Everyone should have this list. I couldn’t imagine how empty or cold or sanitary a life would be without it.
*At this point in writing this, I’m now trying to not cry on the train. THAT IMPORTANT.