Tailgating at the Pro BowlPhoto Credit: Harrison Goo
It was a little over a year ago that I wrote the following:
“Our annual excursion out to the Ihilani is not a “traditional” tailgate by any stretch. But it still has the essential ingredients: food, friends and football. And if the whole point of a tailgate is spending time with your best friends, eating and drinking and having a good time, then our version absolutely qualifies.”
And so, as you can probably guess, it is once again that time (aka Football Christmas). Last year, a small group of us were bludgeoned by the notion that in reality and aside from our massive fan-hood, we really had nothing to offer the players. What would make a bunch of elite NFL athletes talk to a group of small local guys? I’ll make this easy for you: Nothing. We were, as we came to understand, really no different than any fan, in any city. I remember when we first did this, being tremendously disappointed to learn that just because the players were in Hawaii did not suddenly mean that they would be enamored with its locals. But perseverance is not without reward, right? (RIGHT??)
We arrived a little early for our 7 pm restaurant reservation at the Ihilani Hotel, where the players stay for the event. Things already felt different. But why? The first person we ran into was Deion Sanders, in all of his salt-and-pepper bearded glory. That had to be a good sign, right? He was, of course, with his family and we were now running slightly late. So we passed up a Prime (Time) photo opp in favor of punctuality. The hope was that the karma gods would recognize our sacrifice and reward us later.
Photo Credit: Harrison Goo
We sat down at the table and were a little disappointed to see that we’d been relegated to the back of the restaurant. That’s the thing about big groups – there were nine of us – you tend to be seated only where they can fit you. That meant not sitting at our typical six-person round-top immediately adjacent to the pool (an ideal picture-taking location). Instead we had to relocate to the back where the tables, and space, were more ample (a decidedly less-than-ideal picture-taking location).
Dinner wasn’t terrible. But “not terrible” is hardly a standard to aspire to. Sure, Eric Reid and DeMarco Murray were sitting next to us, but staring at them for more than five minutes felt like it crossed the precious few lines that we hadn’t already. And so we sat. And waited. And ate distractedly. The nervous energy we felt was, looking back, a burgeoning sense of doubt that maybe this year’s experience would not be as rewarding as last year’s. And when dinner ended with no change, that energy had become manifest depression.
Still not wanting to have totally wasted our time (and trying to salvage a seemingly hopeless situation), we decided to give it a few more minutes. So we trekked up to the upstairs bar…. and we waited some more. And you know what? It paid off (karma gods for the win!).
Photo Credit: Harrison Goo
After about an hour of drinking, our luck (though not Andrew), began to turn. First, we met John Abraham and Brent Grimes, two of the nicest guys you’d ever come across. Then most of the Colts coaching staff. Finally, in walked Jerry Rice. To say we were starstruck then, would be wholly understating the situation. Comatose, maybe. Jerry was, is, larger than life. And his presence changed everything for us. You don’t meet the GOAT and come out of the experience feeling the same.
Jerry, with his unflappably affable personality, made my night. My year, even. Suddenly all the waiting, all the distraction, it was all worth it. Further proof, if you needed it, that this type of Pro Bowl tailgating is the best type, especially since tailgating at the actual game this year meant sitting in the parking lot in the pouring rain. I can’t until next year’s game! (if there actually IS one).