Meant to write about this before, but I headed out to Eisenhower High School Saturday afternoon for their 50th anniversary celebration. It was quite an event, with a car show, all the food you could possibly want, live music, student performance and, oh yeah, the naming of the football stadium after Ronnie Lott.
It’s the last part which I went out to cover. Knowing that the ceremony would be pretty chaotic, I went early, schmoozing Rialto Unified School District Public Information Office Syeda Jafri well enough to get an invitation into the VIP area, where I schmoozed with Congressman Joe Baca, among others, waiting to get my time with Lott.
However, the Lott entourage was caught in traffic and got to the VIP room late. Not wanting to jump the Hall of Fame safety right off the bat after he arrived, I waited while Lott patiently signed autographs, took pictures and talked with various fans and Rialto dignitaries, hoping to find a good time to jump in and ask my questions.
Didn’t quite happen, as Lott was besieged until he was escorted to the stadium. Panicking, knowing that once Lott got to the stage area at midfield of the stadium, I wouldn’t be able to talk, I jumped in line before the procession of Lott’s family members proceeded toward midfield. He was extremely open toward me, but I only got two questions in before Jafri told me I had to let him go. Frantically I was wondering aloud about when I’d get to talk to him more for my story.
At this moment Lott’s wife asked for my cell phone number, which I crudely wrote down on a piece of paper and said that Ronnie would call me on his way back to the airport after the ceremony. I was skeptical and headed back home to write, wondering if I messed up potentially a pretty cool story.
But lo and behold, at 7:45 p.m. Lott called me back on my cell phone and we had a great 15-minute interview where we talked about a wide range of topics – from how it felt to be back in Rialto, showing his children where he grew up, how having his high school stadium named after him compared to other honors, etc. It was a great interview and even better yet, Lott didn’t block his number before calling me, a fact that co-worker and 49ers fan J.P. Hoornstra got really excited about when I relayed the story to him later that evening.
Anyway, there are certain moments in this business that remind you how much you enjoy what you do. This was definitely one of them. Any time you have a Hall of Fame football player’s number in your cell phone – especially one that’s as hard core as Lott was – you know you had a good day.