the tanner ba'

Brush With Greatness: Football Edition

The Good Old Days

The Good Old Days

Way back in the old, old days when it was stilled called “Late Night with David Letterman” and the show still featured regular visits by Chris Elliot, Brother Theodore, and other marginal characters, Dave used to go out into the audience once in a while for a segment called, “Brush With Greatness.”  During this segment members of the studio audience would recount to Dave their chance meeting with a famous person.  The stories of these encounters were invariably disappointing, the kind of things that today’s youth might respond to with, “Cool story, bro.”  Dave would then present them with a gift certificate to a local restaurant or something and move on.  With no Revolution match this weekend and no Ross County news to report on either, I thought I’d open the microphone for you to share your brushes with football-related greatness!  I, of course, will get the ball rolling so that you don’t have to feel self-conscious.

  • Kristine Lilly- Soccer player
  • Tiffeny Milbrett- Soccer player.
  • Christie Pearce- Soccer player
  • Sara Whalen- Soccer player.

I met Kristine, Tiffeny, Christie, and Sara (all USWNT players) when they were all members of the WUSA’s New York Power.  Through a connection one of my player’s parents had with the team I was able to get my players positions as counselors during a week-long youth soccer camp- the Power players were the coaches during the camp.  I found them all to be very down-to-earth and my players found them to be downright inspirational.

  • Gemma Fay

One of the schools I taught at rented out the campus to a summer soccer clinic and during the week that my players attended the camp their coach was SWNT goalkeeper Gemma Fay.  Gemma, a goalkeeper, is still a mainstay of the national team at age 31, despite earning her first cap in 1998!  As you might imagine, she is the most capped Scottish woman ever.  The best part of meeting her was the look on her face when she realized, without our being introduced, that I knew who she was!

  • Ally McCoist- Soccer player.
  • Garry McAllister- Soccer player.

I met Ally and Garry (and got their autographs) on May 26, 1996 just prior to a USA v. Scotland friendly at Willow Brook Park, New Britian, CT.  All I remember from this encounter is that they were both polite, but very, VERY intense.  The USA won the match 2-0 if you’re interested!


  • Danny McDonald- Soccer player.

There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve never heard of Danny McDonald (above), but that’s okay.  Danny played over 200 times Caledonian Thistle F.C. in the Highland League, and a season or two in the SFL for the newly merged Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C..  Danny’s career ended very prematurely through back-to-back major knee injuries after which he went into coaching, bouncing back and forth between Ross County F.C. and Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. (last I knew he was a youth coach for ICT).  I met him when he was an assistant to Alex Smith (see below) and this is why I’ve included him in my brushes with “greatness”:  As many of you may know my love affair with County started in 2002 when I spent two weeks at the club observing training, explaining the world of collegiate soccer to the members of the club’s ladies team, etc..  I met Danny on the first day.  Once I had explained my presence in Dingwall he wanted to know if I was happy with my lodging (I was) and how was I getting back and forth to the park every day.  I told him I was taking the bus and he told me this wouldn’t do.  Every day from the second day on Danny, who lived in Inverness, would pick me up in downtown Inverness (“enemy territory”) in the Ross County F.C. mini-bus in the morning, and drop me back at night.  Unless of course he’d invited me over to have dinner and watch a match at his home, which he did on several occasions.  He also snuck me into a sold-out cup match at ICT’s Caledonian Stadium using his connections there, and gave me the RCFC “player issue” winter cap that I still wear every winter.

  • Alexander Smith, MBE- Soccer player, manager.

Very much the dean of Scottish coaches, Smith had a lengthy- if unspectacular- career as a player, but made his name as a coach, coaching several SNT age groups teams, as well as seven different club teams in Scotland.  My initial meeting with him was a little chilly- an introduction, a handshake, and the look on his face, “Who is this bloke?”  Cut to match day at the end of my two weeks at the club when, just prior to kick off, he dispatched one of his assistance up to my seat with a notebook containing diagrams and explanations of all of the club’s set plays, a home shirt, and a very nice personal note- I still have all of those things.  Class act.

  • Bode Miller- Olympic skier.

Okay, Bode is not a soccer player, but my meeting with him was soccer-related.  During a year off between teaching jobs I moved back to my hometown, one thing led to another and I found myself playing men’s soccer with most of my high school teammates and my high school coach.  One of our away games was up in the White Mountains, near Bode’s hometown of Easton.  During the first half one of the a winger was barreling down the sideline with the ball and I noticed how far out ahead of himself he was dribbling the ball, so I timed it and nipped in to get the ball.  The player sped up, but I had already gained the ball and to turned into the middle of the field.  We made contact but I (thank you low center of gravity!) remained on my feet and continued on while he went cartwheeling into the air and landed in a heap.  Much to my surprise both benches erupted, which I did not understand until halftime when my teammates told me, “That was Bode Miller!”  To say the least, I was not expecting to find him playing in a men’s league match in rural NH only five months after competing in the Nagano Olympics!  In the years since it has become clear that I should have been surprised at all- he’s…different.  I should point out two other things before I close.  First, Bode was super-nice during the post-match handshake, saying something along the lines of, “DUDE!  You blew me up!”  Second, having seen him close up at that point I realized that if I had it to do all over again I would have run the other way- in the best possible way he was a physical freak, like a person from a different planet.

Your turn!


15 comments on “Brush With Greatness: Football Edition

  1. Andrew
    June 24, 2013

    Eddie Pope has favorited a tweet of mine, and re-tweeted a different tweet. That’s right – TWO twitter “interactions” with Eddie Pope

  2. weefuse
    June 24, 2013

    Nice!! If we’re counting those (and of course we should be!) I can add former County player Scott Morrison and a few others as well!

  3. KC Gunner
    June 24, 2013

    Not much football-related. Was 10 rows up for Man Utd at KC Wizards (KC won 2-1!) in 2010 – easily the closest Ive ever been to that kind of football talent (Giggs, SAF, Scholes, Rooney).
    Non-football: Used to umpire youth baseball during my summers in KC. Umped games where coaches included major leaguers Joe Carter, Mike Montgomery, Kevin Seitzer, and George freaking Brett! 2 years ago I got to meet George at a charity event and spent 10 minutes chatting w him (he’d had a few at that point). Closest & most fun interaction w a childhood sports hero I’ve ever had. He’s been known to be a crass grump, but when he’s interested he’s as gregarious and accommodating as they come an he constantly does charity work around KC. Legend.

  4. Sculptor?!?
    June 24, 2013

    I got nuthin’ football related. Baseball, yes, tons of those. Here’s two: Heckling during a game (hey, front row outfield seats are good for something), I once offered Luis Polonia a dollar for his cap – he responded ‘you know how many dolla I got?!?’ (while laughing). I also asked Charlie Hough for a baseball, and he signed it and tossed it up to me. I’m sure my low-cut top and early twenties age had *nothing* do do with his compliance.

    • weefuse
      June 24, 2013

      The real question is did Charlie Hough’s toss have any spin on it?

  5. Martinovich
    June 24, 2013

    Well, mine would be football on ice….or hockey related. Met Marty McSorely in a bar in Manhattan Beach one night years ago. Had no idea who he was until bartender mentioned it when he went to visit the men’s room. Sad because my friends and I are huge Kings fans. Was a good guy, funny.

    Second one was at a Bryan Adams show where Gretzky was in some seats just in front of us on the aisle (we still don’t know why he wasn’t backstage…them both being Canadian and all) and people kept coming up to him during the show til my buddy Dave positioned himself at the side and waved people away and I went and got security. They posted a guard right there to send people away, and Wayne said “Thanks.” Allowed us to enjoy the show more ourselves.

    • weefuse
      June 24, 2013

      Very cool! Having gone to a “hockey school” (UNH) I’d have to start a different website for all of the pre-NHL players I’d sat next to in class, stepped over the passed out body of at a party, etc.

      I can also tell you that you’ll never meet a nicer, more humble, and generous man than Bobby Orr. He used to come up to Nowhere, NH every winter to skate with/raise money for our youth hockey league. It was a outside rink near a lake so it was always bitterly cold, he accepted nothing in return, and I’m sure his poor knees screamed the whole time. He smiled, he encouraged, and he would sign autographs until there was nobody left to ask for one. First class all the way.

      FYI: The greatest hockey player ever to live, #99 included.

      • Martinovich
        June 25, 2013

        Oh God, UNH! One of the funniest hockey stories I’ve heard by Jackie McMullen formerly of the Boston Herald, on the radio:

        “Well of all the sports, the easiest as a female journalist to cover was hockey. They are all great guys, if mostly crazy. As you know, in most locker rooms, they aren’t running around naked all that much. In hockey, they’re all buck naked and don’t even think about it. There I was, interviewing Ray Borque, when someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and it’s Jay Miller, who I’d gone to the University of New Hampshire with, and had covered for the school paper, standing buck naked.

        “Hey, you look familiar! Do I know you?”

        “Well, I wasn’t going to say the same thing back to him standing there naked, so I said “Why yes you do Jay. I’m Jackie McMullen. I write for the Boston Herald, and we went to college together.”

        “Really?” Jay said, a big smile on his face, “Where’d ya go?”

        At which point Ray Borque started howling in laughter.”

  6. jjf3
    June 24, 2013

    I think my only football-related instance was getting an autographed photo of Shep Messing when I was a kid in NJ. Not really a “brush” with fame, as it was a special Cosmo’s event for kids, but still a pretty big name. And this was somewhere around the time he posed for Playgirl, which I remember was somewhat scandalous…

  7. Adam
    June 25, 2013

    I filled up my car across from Marcello Balboa. I also saw him play an indoor game against my friends team.

    I also helped numerous athletes in my time working for a large shoe company who’s logo may be swoosh like, including Clint Dempsey when he was in MLS.

  8. weefuse
    June 25, 2013

    That sounds about right for Jay Miller. The best part of hockey at UNH was that the women’s team was always better- much better. The men’s team was always decent and had a knack for upsetting better teams. And, as you can probably surmise from Jackie’s story, they were entertaining as hell.

  9. Andrew
    June 26, 2013

    How about a rugby football story or two? I went to Trinity at the same time as current US international Scott LaValla. Of course, he was one year away from being first team captain and I was on the third (drinking) side, but hey cool story, right?

    I was at a flag rugby tournament with my then-GF when the Heineken Cup (rugby’s Champions League) trophy showed up. EVERYONE on my team got a chance to drink out of it, except me. As it made it’s way around the circle, the handler took it away just before getting to me.

    And current US international Paul Emerick is from Iowa and has come to Des Moines rugby practices on more than a few occasions. FB tells me he’s there this week, actually.

  10. weefuse
    June 26, 2013


    FLAG Rug-by?!

    I kid because I care.

    • Andrew
      June 27, 2013

      Rugby –> awesome and lots of fun
      Flag rugby –> Well, she was really pretty.

      • weefuse
        June 27, 2013

        Well, in that case, all is forgiven. We’ve all done…things…in the name of love- or whatever.

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