Gather around and let me tell you my story of meeting Jerry Richardson
Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:28 PM
My father took me to this luncheon, telling me it was going to be the start of the team I'd be able to call my own for the rest of my life. We always went to Hornets games, but it just never really took with either of us. We were both Tarheels fans first, and my father had serious doubts about the future of the hornets, doubts that turned out to be prescient.
We sat very close to the stage at the luncheon. I remember that I ordered chicken fingers, and munched on them happily while Bill Polian laid out their strategy for bringing the city a super bowl within ten years. I didn't really understand the big deal. Football was a weird sport that big men played, and it seemed to me like there were only five teams (Bills, Cowboys, Niners, Steelers, and Redskins) which at the time was basically true.
In between speakers there was a lull. My father went to talk to the other big wigs at the gathering, and I was left to let my eyes wander. I was the only kid in the room. I think i saw Jerry Richardson walking to the before anyone else. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Firstly, he was old, but he was the biggest person I'd ever seen in my life. He was huge, bigger than life. He strode to the stage with the confidence of a self made man. Barely perceptible was a limp, which I'd later realize of course was due to his playing days. At the time I knew nothing about his days as a Colt, or his super bowl, or that he caught passes from Johnny Unitas, probably the only football name I'd be able to come up with if you'd asked me, because Muppet Babies made a lot of references to him.
As soon as he came to the mic the place settled down. I was enthralled by him. Jerry is a fantastic public speaker. Confidence is a major factor when speaking to crowds, and he has it by the boat loads. He told us tons of things I didn't understand at the time, but pretended to, because my father seemed to respond to it. He talked about the superbowl, about respecting the Steelers (dad what are steelers?), about bringing in Dom Capers for the toughness, about doing football the right way. He also answered some questions about potential draft picks, and mentioned building around a young quarterback.
Needless to say I was amazingly impressed. I had no idea what the guy was talking about, but I was ready to die for it, whatever it was.
Afterward, they mingled. There was an amazingly palpable excitement in the crowd. He'd sold them on the luxury boxes, that was sure. People made pleasantries with Bill Polian, but I could tell they were waiting for Jerry to finally make his way to their table. It was difficult though because no one wanted to let him leave. The guy had an amazing voice, and a presence like I'd never seen.
Finally, he came to my table. He talked to the other people at the table, then my father, then turned his eyes to me. To fully illustrate this moment, I have to tell you a little about my father. Him and I had a very nontraditional relationship. We had the exact opposite of the stereotypical interactions between a father and a son. He was very relaxed and knew at a very young age that I wouldn't respond to a strict upbringing. There was never a time I didn't respect him, but he's not the kind of figure that demands immediate respect. He's a great guy, and he can tell a good joke, but I'd never felt like I did when big cat looked at me.
He walked over to me slowly and I stood up immediately. for some reason, my back became straighter than it ever had, my head tilted up. I immediately offered my hand for him to shake. He smiled, the men around him laughed, and he took it. It was like grabbing a bunch of bananas. He smiled down at me.
"What's your name?"
"Brad," I replied. "I'm a big Panthers fan," I said, unprompted. It just felt like the kind of thing I had to say, but I meant it. I didn't realize it yet, but I was going to dedicate more to following the team he was selling than anything else in my life.
"Are you ready to cheer for them for the rest of your life?"
"Yea-yes sir," I said again. Another laugh.
"Good, because those are the kind of fans we need. Will you be that?"
"Yes sir, I will sir."
He walked away to the next table, and the guys I was sitting with went back to their drinks and conversations. They were all impressed, but i couldn't stop staring at him. Sure enough, a few months later, I was walking through the Parking lot at Clemson, ready to watch my first preseason game, a miserable affair in unbearable heat on a hard metal bench.
And now? I can count the home games I've missed on one hand. I remember every game the team has ever played. I could paper my walls with Panther paraphernalia.
Jerry is the kind of guy who doesn't demand respect, but has earned it. He doesn't know how to get things for free; he can only earn it. He will never be accused of having no passion, or running the team for a profit, or not caring. Player like playing for him because he understands what they're going through. He has never set himself as higher than the team. He's never desired the spot light. He's the kind of man that lets results speak for themselves. When he asks you to do something, you do it.
That's the kind of man Jerry Richardson is. I knew it when I was 7, and I know it now.
Whatever happens, he'll make the right decision for the team.
Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:33 PM
Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:33 PM
Strahan: Table for 4 please.
Me: <notices gap in between teeth> okay, no problem.
Me: <realizing who it is> Are you...
Me: <wide-eyed> congratulations on your ring.
Strahan: Thank you.
Me: OKAY. So soup of the day is...
Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:41 PM
Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:11 PM
My daughter cried when she first met him because he was autographing a whole bunch of jerseys and she didn't want him to write on her shirt (he didn't). He ended up being very sweet to her - talked to her until she quit crying. We got some great photos....and then she ended up deleting all of the photos on the memory card (it was her camera).
Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:23 PM