It's been a bad couple of week for celebrities, I'd say. And of course, there's been uproar in mourning and uproar over mourning for someone you didn't actually know, someone of questionable morality, etc. etc. That's certainly the case with Steve McNair.
But, I actually did meet Steve McNair. And it wasn't a fleeting moment as he ran through the tunnel and I brushed his helmet with my fingertips. It wasn't a prearranged autograph session. It wasn't even a sighting at a popular restaurant. I met Steve McNair in the grocery store.
We were living in Nashville at the time, and I was with my friend Alicia at a Kroger in Green Hills. She and I had popped out to the store for...something. I don't even remember what. Noah and her husband, Ben, were back at her condo watching TV or playing video games or something far less cool than meeting a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Alicia and I were headed toward the register, and we were approaching at the same time as another shopper. One of us had to speed up, or we'd collide. So I zoomed ahead and got there first, tossing a casual "Oh, sorry!" over my shoulder to the other shopper. As we unloaded the cart and Alicia handed her credit card to the cashier, I glanced back and did one of those double takes you always see in movies. A really tall, quiet, handsome black man was in line behind us—the guy I had cut off. He seemed so familiar somehow, but I couldn't quite place him.
Then, as Alicia and I were leaving, it dawned on me. I leaned over and whispered to her, "That guy looks just like Steve McNair!" To which she replied, rather coolly, "That was Steve McNair." She's the type that just isn't all that impressed by manufactured celebrity, but I couldn't help myself. She handed me her receipt and a pen so I could run back in and get his autograph.
He smiled as he saw me come back with a paper and pen in my hand. He knew that I hadn't recognized him at first. He said "Hold on a sec," so he could finish his transaction. One of the baggers called out to him, called him Steve, and chatted away about the team he was about to play the next weekend. The bagger in our aisle dropped a jar of spaghetti sauce, the glass and its contents shattered and splattered on the floor. But Steve was cool about it. He signed the back of my receipt, and smiled.
And now he's dead, murdered by a young waitress who appears to have been his mistress. But in that grocery store on that day several years ago, he was just a normal guy buying spaghetti sauce. I wonder what changed.