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Meet my new best friends: Wade, Luke, Dave and Mia.
By Hannah Wallace
I was actually a little nervous before Friday evening’s Champs Celebrity Sports Night. It’s a fantastically different, low-key event in its seventh year (benefitting a fund to rebuild Bradenton's 13th Avenue Community Center). And it's cool to mingle with celebrities and all, but the uniqueness of the experience is also what makes it so terrifying: If I make a jackass of myself and, say, trip, knock a table over and fall headfirst against an NFL player, then every time I see somebody return a kickoff, I’ll have to relive the moment I face-planted into Devin Hester.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
In fact, when CCB and I arrived at the Hyatt Regency and were directed into the VIP Private Green Room For Really Special Super-Awesome People, we realized that, while we knew the names of most of the attendees, we were only familiar with a handful of faces. There was an awkward few moments where we tried to figure out who, exactly, we were mingling with. And so, not wanting to plant ourselves in front of the poster with everyone’s head shots, we pretended for 30 seconds or so that we were there to mingle with each other.
Finally, CCB got his bearings, saying, “Oh, hey, there’s the bar.”
“Where?” I asked, on my tiptoes, trying to see through the crowd. “Oh, you mean right there. Next to Wade Boggs?!”
“Yeah. Wanna go get a drink?”
“Next to WADE EFFING BOGGS?!”
“Well, Hannah, if he’s going to insist on standing next to the bar like that, then yeah, he can’t be surprised if we stand next to him.”
I led CCB the long way around the room so as not to have to excuse myself past Mr. Boggs in order to get to Mr. Beam. But as I stood at the bar pretending that I wasn’t standing next to Wade Boggs, the Bradenton Herald’s Susan Wilcox asked to take his picture. And for whatever psychotic episode I was having, I jokingly jumped alongside him. Brilliant. So much for not acting like a lunatic.
So at that point, what the hell, I introduced myself, and he responded in kind. “Hi, I’m Wade Boggs.” I’m like, “Dude, I know. That’s crazy!”
Here’s the thing: A lot of celebrities (heh, the ones I know, at least) have talking points—kind of like politicians—in order to stay casual and friendly while the other half of the conversation can’t get her jaw off the floor. Some celebs are better than others. (Lee Roy Selmon, for example, greets start-struck fans so kindly and comfortably that you feel like you could ask him for a hug.) Wade Boggs? Not so comfortable chit-chatting with the crazy lady. Whatever, I’m going to go startle Luke McCown while he’s got a mouthful of crackers.
Luke McCown and I are Bucs buddies.
I also interrupted Devin Hester playing on his Blackberry. He seemed a little frightened, too, but I chalked that up to my Derek Brooks jersey. He’s probably just instinctively frightened of jersey numbers that start with a 5. (…’cause those are the linebackers. C’mon, people, keep up.)
Devin Hester fears I may tackle him for a loss.
And then? The Best Thing Ever. We hadn’t spotted retired NHLer Dave Andreychuk yet. CCB observantly noticed a pile of Lightning gear still set aside for autographing, so we positioned ourselves on that end of the room and waited (also hovering around Mia Hamm, who seemed to be trapped in conversation with someone who was decidedly not husband Nomar Garciaparra).
All of a sudden, Dave Andreychuk was there—at the bar, a wall of people in between us; then at the other end of the room, signing hats and jerseys. I stared at CCB, doing my best not to stare at Dave Andreychuk. But then out of the corner of my eye, I caught him walking right past us. For a stupid moment, all I could think was, “Dammit, CCB, why are you letting him go?!”
I hesitantly touched Dave on his shoulder—he was walking with such purpose that I thought maybe there was someone else he wanted to talk to—and asked if we might have a quick picture. He nicely agreed, and I managed to stutter, “W-w-we p-p-play in Ellenton. Hockey. We play hockey.”
You guys, it was amazing: He stood there with his beer and talked to us for 15 minutes—about local rinks, about morale among the Lightning employees, about how his kids like going to school in Tampa and his daughter just got her driver’s license—until, literally, we were the last three people in the room and the Champs celeb wrangler urged him to go downstairs to dinner. We were elated: Obviously, Dave Andreychuk is our new best friend.
It’s amazing how long that high lasts, too. Down in the main ballroom, though we didn’t have a seat for dinner, we stuck around for a while, just soaking it all in. CCB tracked down Luke McCown for an autograph and then wished him well, saying, “Hope to see you playing this year.”
“Dude, that’s cold,” I told him.
“What?” CCB responded. “His action shot has him on the sidelines wearing a headset!”
Finally, as everyone was eating, we snuck out. We headed to the Broadway, where manager Sam the Man (whom we know from his stint at Ellenton’s Suds) rewarded our new-found celebrity with complimentary antipasto.
We’ll probably take Dave there next time we hang out. I think he’d like that place.