Okay, gang, this has nothing to do with Sunday's Seahawks game against Pittsburgh, other than it marks the return to the site of a story worth telling. It's for anybody who might wish to some day be a sportswriter, and who thinks it involves luxury travel and community respect.
It's the fall of 1998, and I was scheduled to fly to Omaha on Friday, drive to Lincoln, Neb., Saturday morning for the Washington vs. Nebraska game, drive back to Omaha that night, fly early Sunday morning to Pittsburgh for the Seahawks-Steelers game. You know, consecutive days at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium and Three Rivers looks pretty good for anybody who likes football, eh?
Well, Brock Huard and the Huskies got hammered on a hot day in Lincoln, 55-7. Because of ride issues, I didn't get back to the hotel in Omaha until well after midnight, and I had a pre-dawn flight that connected through Chicago to get me to Pittsburgh before noon. Times like these, I've discovered I'm better to just shower up, pack my bags and go grab breakfast at an all-night place or just head to the airport rather than bother trying to get an hour or so sleep. It just doesn't pay to go to bed for such a short time.
Okay, well, it's now 2 a.m. in Omaha with no restaurants open. Hmmm, anything in Omaha that I wanted to see and never had the chance? One thing, maybe. Boys Town is around there, and maybe I'd go out and see that "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" statue. I check it out on the map and head out there. I find it, get out of the car, go look at the thing (it's pretty small and unimpressive, by the way), and as I turn back to go to the rental car, a spotlight hits me right in the face.
"Don't move … put your hands up."
It's a cop or a security guard acting like one, I'm not sure which now. But the guy starts grilling me about what I was doing there at 3 a.m. I told him I had an early flight and time to kill. I pulled out my plane ticket as proof. He seemed satisfied. I asked if it was private land … was I trespassing? What was the problem?
"We have trouble out here some time with men snooping around looking for young boys."
Hey, wait a second, I'm not a pervert … I'm a sportswriter.
Okay, he lets me get to the airport, but it was a very weird experience. I cab in from the airport to Three Rivers just in time for kickoff and watch the Seahawks get beat 13-10 by the Steelers. I write my column and a sidebar, and I sit and wait for my new beat guy, Mike Sando, to finish his stories. It's his first road trip, as I recall, and he was eager to polish and rewrite and do extra work to make a good impression. I, however, hadn't slept since Friday night, and I wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible.
It's only on the way out to the parking lot -- at about midnight -- that he informs me that we have a bit of a complication. Turns out, he didn't actually have our rental car at the stadium. We were borrowing a rental from the Seahawks' PR staff that had to be returned to the airport in the morning, and we had to drive downtown to a parking garage. Young Mr. Sando had gone shopping in the morning, purchased some gym shoes, tossed them in the trunk – along with the car keys – and slammed the trunk lid shut.
He informed me that now we needed to take a rental car that wasn't ours to a downtown parking garage so that he could try to break into the other rental car. He said he had talked to the garage attendant and was assured that he would have one of those "slim Jim" devices to slip in next to the window and flip the lock.
I was delighted to learn that I, in fact, would not be heading back to my hotel room, but would be aiding and abetting a break-in.
With Sando providing directions, I drive the car to the seediest garage in town and park on an adjacent side street. I have no concept of time at this point, because I'm trying to doze in the driver's seat, but Sando is gone a loonnnngggg time. Still, there's a surprising amount of action on the street and nearby intersection. I doze off a little, with my head against the window, until I'm jolted awake by the sound of a nightstick pounding on the window. Flashlight right in my face.
"What are you doing here," he asks.
Now, even without sleep for several days, I'm aware enough that I don't want to tell him: "I'm waiting here while my partner breaks into a car in the garage."
"Uh, waiting for a friend."
He doesn't like that answer. He asks for license and registration. I've got the license, but when I show him the rental agreement, it's signed out to the Seahawks. Not Dave Boling. More questions. I show him my credentials, my press ID, my brief case with media guides, etc. And then I have to ask: What am I doing wrong? Am I parked illegally or something?
"No, we've just got a problem with chickenhawks around here."
"Chickenhawks? What's a chickenhawk?"
"Guys like you hanging out trying to pick up young boys."
Good God, twice in one weekend? You've got to be kidding me. It was gratifying to know that all my identification and proof of my position as a visiting sportswriter in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY caused him to stop suspecting I was a pervert.
He tells me I need to get moving, so I've got to circle the lot for the next hour or so … swearing at Sando the entire time. He finally comes out of the building, says he couldn't break in and he'll just call Hertz the next day and tell them where to go get the car.
"Couldn't you have done that at about noon today?" I asked.
"Well, yeah, but I really liked those shoes."