In light of Jerry Rice’s NFL Hall of Fame induction, my mother suggested I blog about the time I unknowingly encountered the famous 49er’s football legend. I wouldn’t usually blog this type of story, but it’s kind of funny, especially since I essentially know nothing about sports.
In June 2008, I took a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to San Jose, California. My mom had printed out our boarding passes just an hour earlier, and she was set to board with the B group while I had to board C. She promised to save a seat for me because I got on the plane a few minutes later than her.
As I was walking through the aisle, this man (Jerry Rice) taps me on the shoulder and asks me to sit next to him. I immediately knew something was different about him, but I had no idea who he was. He wasn’t like anyone else I’d ever seen, but I assumed he was just extremely attractive, exceptionally wealthy based on his fancy attire, and in perfect physical shape. As far as I was concerned, he was just a really hot old guy. Typical southern California investment banker, I thought.
“You look like you need somewhere to sit!”
“No thank you, sir, I think my mom saved me a spot in the back!” I said, moving forward and feeling kind of rude.
Sure enough, my mom was unable to reserve a seat for me, so I begged Jerry Rice for the seat he had originally wanted to give to me.
“Um, I think he wants to sit alone,” said the blond flight attendant, who had been flirting like crazy with Jerry.
“No, it’s fine, she can sit here,” he said, stepping out into the aisle to give me the window seat.
We talked about college and learning foreign languages, and then the woman behind us started screaming at the stewardess about not wanting to fulfill the emergency exit seating requirements. The two of us kept laughing at the crazy neurotic lady and clapped when she was escorted off the plane in tears.
We continued chatting about college and he said he missed his daughter, who was off at Georgetown University and looking to study abroad. I told him about my plans to go to Paris in a year. When the flight attendant brought him a tomato juice cocktail, he asked if I was getting anything.
“I’m not old enough,” I said. “Besides, I don’t drink.”
“That’s really, really cool. Good for you.”
Five minutes later, a woman approached Jerry for his autograph, and I started to suspect that maybe he was someone important.
“Wait,” I asked. “Are you famous?”
“I played football for twenty years,” he said after a moment of silence.
“That’s awesome. Sorry I didn’t know, I literally know nothing about sports,” I said and felt slightly embarrassed.
The men sitting in front of me turned around, shook their heads, and glared at me for at least ten seconds.
At the end of the flight, he pulled down my bag from the overhead bin and said it was a real pleasure to meet me.
Jerry Rice is a genuinely good person, and I’m glad to hear he’s making a name for himself in the NFL Hall of Fame. He’s been known to make friends on Southwest Airline flights and at Bay Area fitness centers (my brother met Jerry while lifting weights at a San Jose gym). Cheers to Jerry Rice for his accomplishments, and props to him for remaining down-to-earth all the while.