I got a tip that a few famous athletes were going to be at the resort that is part of the community where we live in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Kingsmill Resort has hosted a number of PGA and LPGA events through the years, so we have gotten to see a number of professional golfers. My son still hasn’t gotten over meeting Natalie Gulbis. With Anheuser-Busch being acquired by Belgium-based InBev and the state of the economy, Kingsmill hosted their last LPGA event in 2009. The resort/community was built by Anheuser-Busch and is now owned and operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. InBev has already sold the entertainment part of the old Anheuser-Busch (Busch Gardens, Water Country, Sea World, etc.)
The resort has wonderful facilities for meetings, banquets, retreats, etc. which brings in celebrities and other important people (other than professional golfers). The resort does try to give high profile visitors as much privacy as possible. It’s not unusual to see limousines and official looking motorcades coming in and out. The politicians like to come down from DC to play golf and tennis. My point being we are not too surprised by the comings and goings of famous people because we often don’t even know who it is.
The list of former NFL and MLB players attending was pretty impressive. It seemed the headliner was former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. Baseball players scheduled to be here were Darryl Strawberry, Mike "Spanky" Lavalliere, Zane Smith, Kent Tekulve, Andy Van Slyke and Lou Brock. NFL stars Lavar Arrington, Daryl "Moose" Johnston, Mike Wagner, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham and Mel Blount were also here. ESPN Sportscenter anchor John Anderson was here as well. The most impressive names on the list to my son and me were Ken Stabler and Joe Namath, two storied NFL quarterbacks who played for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama.
We live in Virginia, but we are Alabama fans – BIG Alabama fans. All of our children were born in Alabama and we spend Saturdays in front of the television watching the Crimson Tide together. All of the neighborhood children want to come to our house on Saturdays in the fall. People ride by slow with their windows down so they can hear my wife screaming during Alabama games. She used to be really bad, not so much now that we have Coach Saban.
So my son and I decided we would try to get over to the resort and do a little fishing, stalking or whatever you want to call it. With Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler within a few blocks of you, you have to take a chance. I put on my khaki shorts with red elephants on them and my son put on his Alabama baseball shirt. He’s probably the only kid in Williamsburg that dons Alabama apparel every day. He wasn’t going to put on a hat, but his mother (who would normally not let him) insisted he wear his white Alabama hat.
“Aren’t we going to stick out?” he asked me. 12 year-olds worry about these things. Men in their late forties wearing khaki shorts with red elephants on them from Alabama do not. I told him “We’re talking about the Snake and Joe Willie - you want to stick out.” We know the resort well and people see us on a regular basis, it’s not like they haven’t seen us wearing Alabama shirts and hats before.
It was a little after 8 PM and the weather was not good. It was drizzling and a real mess outside. Our first stop was the resort’s restaurant at the marina on the James River. It’s mostly outdoors, so I knew the probability was not very good that we would see anyone. The bar is covered. We saw some friends at the bar and stayed for a couple of Shirley Temple’s. There was a Sheetz vendor there for the event who we asked if he had seen Ken Stabler or Joe Namath. He said that he had and we talked a while. He was an Ohio State fan and a very nice guy.
We moved up to the main building, where the banquet facilities are and slipped in the side door. Everyone had nametags on lanyards and there were no children in sight. We strategically sat down in one of the halls around the corner from where the large banquet rooms are. After about twenty minutes a large man rounded the corner, by himself, with no “handlers” or entourage. It was L.C. Greenwood, defensive end and one of the four members of the Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” defensive line of the seventies. He will never need “handlers”; L.C. can take care of himself. We were impressed and knew we were in a good place.
About ten minutes later, we came face to face with Troy Aikman, who looked a bit tired. He also looked like he had to go to the restroom. He did. The truth is we know where the restrooms are and took the nice chairs right outside the closest men’s restroom to the banquet facilities. With the ladies room right across from it, we figured we would use the “We’re waiting on our mom/wife excuse.” We didn’t mob Troy Aikman; we didn’t have any intentions of it. I just said “Son, that’s Troy Aikman.” He knew who he was. When he came out, he looked to be in a hurry again – but a bit relieved. He didn’t have to worry; we were there to see Alabama quarterbacks. Troy was great, but he’s not The Snake or Joe Willie.
As Troy Aikman was walking away, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler rounded the corner. I jumped up and said “there’s Kenny Stabler.” I probably hurt Troy’s feelings a little, maybe he was happy that we didn’t bother him – but I didn’t jump out of my chair for him. When Kenny Stabler heard me and saw my son dressed in his Alabama garb, he got a Foley, Alabama grin on his face and his eyes lit up like he had Fred Biletnikoff wide open in the end zone. The first thing out of his mouth was “Roll Tide”, the greeting every Alabama fan knows so well.
Before my son could get out of the chair, The Snake was on a beeline for him. We never asked for anything, he went straight to my son. As kind and caring as you could ask anyone to be, Kenny Stabler treated my son like he was the celebrity. He was never in a hurry. He signed the white hat my wife made him wear with a ballpoint pen we had, but that wasn’t enough. The Snake then took his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out a fancy Oakland Raider trading card and asked if anyone had a Sharpie. He autographed the card and gave it to my son.
One of the ladies in the group of six or so with Mr. Stabler asked if we had a camera; I had left it in the car trying not to be too obvious. She said “that’s ok, I’ll take one.” She took it and insisted on emailing it to me right there from her phone. After giving her my email address, I turned around to see my son with The Snake’s Super Bowl XI Championship ring on. Now my son was wearing a Foley, Alabama grin (please note that a “Foley, Alabama grin” is much “bigger than Dallas” or any quarterback who played for them).
Mr. Stabler said good-bye. We watched him as he walked down the hall, then he did it again. The way only a superstar NFL quarterback, born in Alabama, played high school football in Alabama, played for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama can say it – “Roll Tide!”
As Coach Bryant noted and Kenny Stabler showed us … it’s “the little things.”
My son loves Alabama football; he’s also an avid baseball fan. We were talking afterwards. I told him that Ken Stabler had been offered a contract to play baseball for the New York Yankees out of high school, but chose to play football for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama. He asked “What’s your point?” I said “You’re right.”
Hall of Fame guard Gene Upshaw said the following about Kenny Stabler, "When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to our end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling."
It is an amazing feeling to look into The Snake's eyes, it's even more amazing to experience the way he treats his fans. It's time for Ken Stabler to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's already in the Hall of Fame in our book.
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I'm BN Heard and I like semicolons, dogs and football.