A collection of random memories found in and around my desk at the Oregonian as I prepare for my Aug. 28 departure. Today:
A patient’s guide to catheter ablation. Of course. You don’t have one?
And so it was, just after Thanksgiving 2002, that I found myself in a cinder block bar in Romulus, Michigan. Outside, enough of a snow storm to keep a flight to Portland grounded.
Inside, seemingly most of Northwest Airline’s baggage staff (before it was Delta’s) doing Jager Bombs and playing pool.
“What a weird fall this has turned into,” I said to myself.
Not nearly as weird as it was for Joey Harrington, who I’d been tracking through his rookie season for the Detroit Lions. For Harrington, the season was an introduction to the brutal nature of the NFL, and the strange circumstances of celebrity.
I just got to tag along, see some profoundly weird football games, and collect a lot of frequent flier miles. Single biggest score: The weekend I went Portland to Los Angeles on Friday (for Oregon-UCLA), and then took a red eye from LA to Minneapolis for Sunday’s Lions-Vikings game. I think I went back to Portland on Monday.
In Michigan, all anyone wanted to know was if Harrington was going to be good. In Oregon, people were far more concerned with how Harrington was.
In Michigan, he was next in a long line of Next Great Quarterbacks, the one the city had been waiting for since Bobby Layne left in the late 1950s. In Oregon, Harrington was already the guy who’d taken UO places it had never been.
As a fan, you’re aware of the toll football must take on those who play the game. Spend a year around the NFL and you’re amazed anyone ever walks away from the game. And by that I mean you’re amazed they’re not carted away from the game.
Whatever anyone playing that sport is paid, it’s earned.
With that comes fame, its own weird beast. I remember walking into a Kinkos (before it was absorbed by FedEx) with Harrington and hearing the wind knocked out of the place. Everyone gasped.
He’d go out, and you’d hear the whispers.
The best story, which is one he told me, was about a woman who walked up to him in a store, grabbed his ass, and said, “You’re Joey Harrington.”
“I am,” he said.
“No you’re not.”
Then she walked away, leaving only questions in her wake.
Into December we rolled, and, in the middle of a game against Tampa Bay, Harrington was suddenly rushed off to the hospital. Heart problem. The procedure detailed in that handout is relatively simple — if running an instrument to the heart through veins in the groin can be considered simple.
Harrington was Christmas shopping a few days later. The following Sunday, we sat around and watched the Lions game from his condo in Detroit.
It never worked out for him there, or any of the other stops, but he made it out Ok. And I should have him sign that guide at some point.
At the end of the season, the Lions beat reporters, all great guys, and helpful and kind that year, presented me with a book.