I showed up to Middletown High School this morning about an hour ahead of schedule. As I pulled into the main entrance there was artwork on the fence surrounding the school’s track that read “WELCOME BACK CRIS!!” with the two exclamation points fitting perfectly with the excitement I felt about today’s events from the moment I set foot in the parking lot.
The Middletown Middies had decorated the front door with purple balloons, which are the school’s color, but fit great with Cris Carter’s Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance were honoring Carter as a part of their “Hometown Hall of Famer” program that celebrates the roots of the greatest players, coaches, and contributors with special community events and plaque dedications. I was thrilled to get the press release and invitation to the event and even more thrilled when I realized I was going to be able to attend.
When I walked through the front door of the school I checked into the front desk. The lady asked who I was and when I told her she grabbed a list of names that said “VIP’s” in bold letters at the top and quickly scanned it before looking at me sheepishly. I had a slight moment of panic, hoping she had another list that said “Hack Bloggers” at the top, and that I hadn’t wasted a day off and four hours of drive time for no reason.
She was nice enough to let me through and directed me towards the modest gymnasium that was filled with purple balloons, a purple stage, a “red carpet” that was actually purple, and purple chairs. It was also full of people wearing the previously mentioned VIP badges, cameramen, and a power suit or two. I quickly planted myself against the nearest wall, close to the back of the room, and just started observing.
I listened to a group of men standing near me, who I later found out were some of Carter’s old buddies from school, talk about their time playing football together. I was amazed at how well they remembered every last detail; who was lined up where, who got out in front with a lead block, and which guy got knocked out on which play. Almost every time Carter’s name came up in the conversation the words “reversed the field” were used immediately in front of the word “touchdown.”
After taking in as much of that conversation as possible, I wandered about for awhile, admiring the equipment and professionalism that NFL Films brought to the event along with some of the other big-time news outlets that were setting up to cover the occasion. Somehow, the iPhone and pencil I had in my pockets made me feel like perhaps I had underdone it a bit.
An announcement came over the loudspeaker releasing students from class. Pretty soon the Middies cheerleader squad was front and center, the pep band was warming up, and students began to fill the bleachers. They filed in until the gym was filled to the max. The event was preceded by a very enthusiastic pep rally and I decided to step into the hallway to see if I could get a better vantage point from another entrance.
In the hallway was where I first saw Carter, standing in a stylish tan suit talking with somebody with NFL Films hovering around to catch every move. I stood there for a moment and my immediate impression of him, a man I had never met before, was that he is a professional entertainer to the Nth degree. If today was any indication, I suspect that Carter goes through life displaying the impeccable blocking and open stance that would make the most refined Broadway actors at least a little bit jealous. Running routes and being in front of a camera aren’t the same thing, but Carter has clearly mastered the latter just like he had the former.