More Famous People I Have Met

by Kevin Burton

   Does your bucket list include going to all 50 American states?  If so, do you count airport states?

   North Carolina is an airport state for me.  That means I was in an airplane that landed there. I either changed planes or just sat in the plane waiting for the second flight, can’t remember.

   Today’s post is a follow-up to last Wednesday’s post (“Famous People I Have Met Along The Way,” June 30). If you think being at an airport counts as having gone to a state, chances are you would let me count former NFL quarterback John Hadl as a famous person met.  He played 16 years for the San Diego Chargers and three other teams.

   I did some freelance work for Kansas Sports Magazine in the 80s. At the time Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State football had been to only five bowl games between them.  Hadl was involved in one of those bowls and was working for KU at the time.  I interviewed him via telephone for my story.

   So, does that one count?  Either way, let’s move on to famous people I actually met in person:

   David Thompson college basketball legend: Thompson was the star of the North Carolina State team that beat UCLA 80-77 in double overtime in the final Four, on the way to the 1974 national championship.  UCLA had won seven straight title, so this was a huge upset.

   Thompson is a legend for his collegiate career but his professional career was shortened by drug and alcohol addiction.

   He came to Iowa when I was working there to talk to youths about the dangers of drugs.  He was elected to the basketball hall of fame in 1996.

   You know how the height of basketball players is often exaggerated? I was in the gym looking for a 6-3 guy to interview. But it turns out Thompson isn’t any bigger than I am at 6’1 1/2”.

  Steve Zahn, Actor: I met Zahn because my brother always wants to get the good seats at baseball games. 

   We went to a Reds-Padres game at Cincinnati and had seats right behind the third-base coaches.  They were right in the power alley for any right-handed batter who yanked a foul ball around third base.

    No netting in those days. I was worried about getting hit.

   Somebody maybe three rows in back of me said “Is that Steve Zahn?” There is no way I would have ever recognized him. A few people approached him.

   After the game ended I shook his hand on the way out and told him I love That Thing You do, one of my top five all-time favorite movies   He did an even better acting job in Riding In Cars With Boys, playing opposite Drew Barrymore, perhaps my favorite actress off all time.

   Hayden Fry, legendary Iowa football coach: I got an assignment from the Muscatine Journal, to cover an Iowa booster event.  Fry talked about signing junior college players to try to catch up to Big Ten football powers Ohio State and Michigan.

   I interviewed Fry for a while after his speech. Eventually he cut me off saying “you’ve got enough.” You know what, he was absolutely right.

   After so many interviews public figures and those who interview them have a sense for how much material they need to finish a story. 

   I guess I just wanted to talk some more, because I did attempt to go beyond what I truly needed.  It’s the only time I can think of that I did that, and he called me on it. 

   I met two men who were senators at the time, who later went on to be state governors, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas.  I met both of them while I was lobbying for blindness organizations. 

   DeWine grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where I spent several years as a child.  If you knew Yellow Springs you’d marvel that a republican could come from there. 

   Brownback, also a republican, is widely blamed for wrecking the Kansas economy with tax cuts to small businesses.  I recall him being hostile to whatever idea I was trying to pitch to help blind people.  His secretary was blind but had drunk the Kool aid and wouldn’t help.

   That’s it for my brushes with fame.  Tune in Friday as I talk about some famous people I would like to meet.  And maybe some I wouldn’t.  Hanging with the famous can be a careful what you ask for situation.

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