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Wright Words: What Steve Young taught me about famous people

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

NFL Hall of Famer and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young gestures to fans as his No. 8 is retired during a halftime ceremony at the 49ers' NFL football game against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, in San Francisco.

Ben Margot, AP

I couldn't believe my eyes.

Walking past me was the larger than life, larger than football and much larger than me San Francisco 49er quarterback and freshly crowned Super Bowl MVP Steve Young.

It was 1995, and I was attending a Utah Jazz playoff game against the Houston Rockets. A friend and I arrived early to walk around and soak up the high-energy atmosphere.

It would be a criminal understatement to simply say I was star-struck by seeing Young. It was more like I'd been pummeled into dust by a flaming meteor.

Should I say hello? Should I tell him how long I've been a fan? Or will words tumble out of my mouth awkwardly like a tourist in desperate need of Rosetta Stone?

I walked closely behind. Some would call it stalking; I prefer to call it a coincidence we made all the same zigs and zags for five minutes through a crowd of thousands.

Somehow he must have sensed I’d beaten my blocker and was in the pocket. The truth is, I nearly was, literally, in his pocket. Just as quickly as he outran linebackers in an open field scramble, he was gone.

The Jazz game started and I hardly remember it. I only remember replaying my lost opportunity over and over while my buddy begged me to move on and assured me I’d have another shot someday. “Like that will ever happen,” I moped.

Then, a couple of years later at a movie theater in Orem, it did.

My wife had gone to get seats and I’d stepped into line for popcorn, Junior Mints and two large sodas.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Standing alone in front of me was the larger than life, larger than football and much larger than me San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young.

I took a deep breath and tapped his titanium bicep. My fingertips hurt.

"Steve, may I interrupt?"

He smiled, shook my hand and looked around as if to say, “Interrupt whom?”

It seemed everyone around us was now watching. "It's an honor to meet you. You're the greatest." I think I also complimented the Birkenstocks he was wearing.

He was friendly, gracious and patient with my attempt to speak the English language. I was impressed.

We said goodbye when he was called up to the next open concession register and I jumped out of line and ran to find my seat. I shared the encounter with my long-suffering wife, and though I know fame has never impressed her, she humored me all the same.

Because the encounter wasn’t intimidating and Young hadn’t bitten me, I decided that anytime I had a similar opportunity to meet someone interesting, I'd never again hesitate.

Since then I've extended my hand in airports, hotel lobbies and shopping malls and met people like Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and All-Pro Chris Cooley, boxing legend Evander Holyfield, award-winning voiceover artist E.B. Stevens, former Gov. Mitt Romney and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Why? Because whether I rooted for their teams or not, voted for them at the ballot box or not, they’re still interesting people with stories to tell. Some of the interactions were very brief, others lasted quite awhile. But each was memorable.

Last week, much to the eye-rolling chagrin of my 13-year-old daughter, I was stopped twice on the same night in my local Walmart. Both readers said they knew I lived nearby and wondered if they’d ever bump into me. They’d promised themselves that if they did, they’d extend their hand and say, "Hello."

I thanked them and confessed that I’d much rather be stopped than get a Facebook message later from someone saying they saw me in public but didn’t have the courage to stop me. That happens all too often.

Let’s be clear: I’m not famous, just ask my kids. For even writing this column, I could be arrested for impersonating a noteworthy person. The fact that anyone would want to meet me is an Area 51 mystery.

But it’s not about being famous. It’s about whether our interests align. If you’re a football fan and you see someone you admire, say hello. If you see an actor whose work you enjoy, tell them so.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a photo, an autograph, or to pose that question that’s always intrigued you. Be polite, be considerate, but most importantly, be courageous.

Some opportunities only come around once. When you see someone interesting, even if only interesting to you and no one else, say hello. You might be surprised how much they appreciate it.

And even if you see someone not very famous and mostly uninteresting, say hello anyway. You’ll be surprised how much I appreciate it.

Have you met anyone interesting to you? Share your experiences at feedback@jasonfwright.com.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or www.jasonfwright.com.

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