Celeb signs name. Big deal

The Baltimore Sun

Before we get into the whole business of how I got Tony Danza's autograph, let me say that I've never understood the obsession some people have with getting a celebrity or an athlete to sign something.

This came to mind after reading the front-page story in The Sun Monday about all the fans who show up at the Ravens' training camp for players' autographs.

Some autograph seekers, the story said, get there at 3 in the morning.

Three in the morning!

If I'm dragging myself out of bed at that hour, it's for something important like the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's, not to swat at mosquitoes on some darkened practice field just so I'll be in position to scream at Ray Lewis for his autograph.

And what happens to most autographs anyway? You keep them around for a while, then they get thrown in the trash.

Not that I haven't had my chances to get some killer autographs.

I met Mick Jagger at a banquet for the New York Cosmos soccer team years ago. I met the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a fund-raiser for the homeless here in Baltimore.

For a local radio station promotion, I went on a "three-hour-tour" of the Chesapeake Bay with Bob Denver and the cast of the old Gilligan's Island sitcom. I was backstage with the great Warren Zevon not once, but twice.

I rode in a hotel elevator for 30-some floors with horror-meister Stephen King, who stared at the floor the whole time.

And I almost went up in a helicopter with Richard Sanders, and don't tell me you don't know who Richard Sanders is.

Richard Sanders, of course, played nerdy newsman Les Nessman on the old WKRP in Cincinnati sitcom. He was in town for a radio promo stunt that called for him to go up in a chopper and throw papier-mache turkeys to the crowd below - similar to an episode from the show.

The papier-mache turkeys could be redeemed for real Thanksgiving turkeys, the thinking being that if actual frozen turkeys were lobbed out of a chopper at 500 feet, someone would get killed.

The point is, I have obviously been around a lot of bigtime stars. (I can't believe you haven't heard of Richard Sanders.)

But throughout my entire adult life, I have asked just one celebrity for an autograph, and here is that story:

It's the early '80s, and I am in Las Vegas covering a big fight as a sports columnist for the now-defunct Evening Sun, back in the glorious days when you could expense incredible sums of money for cocktails, dinner and show tickets and the bean-counters wouldn't drop dead from shock.

Anyway, one day I walked out of my hotel and there, standing to one side of the entrance, is Tony Danza. It looked as if he was waiting for his car.

Danza was starring in the hugely popular sitcom Taxi back then, and as a former professional boxer, he was a big fight fan.

Anyway, I see him standing there and, for some reason, I immediately think: I should ask him for his autograph.

Up until then, I'd never asked anyone for an autograph. But now I'm thinking: I should get his autograph, just so I can tell people I met Tony Danza.

Then, as often happens, I start this internal dialogue with myself.

I start thinking: Why bother the poor guy for his autograph?

Why can't you just tell people you saw Tony Danza at a Vegas hotel and leave it at that?

Why do you need proof that you met Tony Danza? Are you that shallow and insecure?

And the answer, of course, was yes. Because I knew what my friends back home would say as soon as I started in with that story.

They'd say: "If you really met Tony Danza, you'd have his autograph. But you don't, so you're a loser and you're probably making this whole thing up."

So now, with this internal dialogue raging, I don't know what to do.

In fact, at this point, I'm sort of hoping Tony Danza will get in his big Mercedes or Jaguar or whatever he drives and leave, so I don't have to agonize over this anymore.

But Tony Danza doesn't leave. He just stands there smiling, obviously in a good mood.

So now I think: OK, I'm making too much of this. I'll just go over and quietly ask for his autograph. The whole thing will take 10 seconds.

So I walk up to Tony Danza. I stick out my hand. And I immediately lapse into Mr. Suck-Up Fan, going on and on about how much I love Taxi, how great he is in the role of Tony Banta, how he brings a depth to his acting unseen since Laurence Olivier, etc.

Danza stares at me the way you'd stare at a bear that suddenly started talking.

He scribbles his autograph in my notebook. Just then his car arrives, and he gets in and roars off. It sure was nice of him to sign, though.

I think I kept that autograph for about two weeks, then it got thrown out in the trash.

Maybe those Ravens fans keep their autographs longer.

If they're showing up at 3 in the morning, I certainly hope so.


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