Dinner and an autograph with the champ

            Reading a story on NFL.com about Peyton Manning supposedly sending autographed regrets for not attending a wedding reminded me of my awkward autograph moment.

            I was in Los Angeles in 1979 to cover a world featherweight title fight involving Danny Lopez, a Utah native who by then had moved to Los Angeles. I had requested an interview a night or two before the fight and Lopez’s manager, Bennie Georgino, said, “Why don’t you just come to dinner with us.”

            So we went to a restaurant and did the interview as we ate. (Yes, it’s the only time I’ve ever had dinner with a world champion.) At the end of the interview, Bennie said, “You want an autograph? Here, I’ve got one for you.”

            I politely declined, feeling it was unprofessional to get autographs from athletes you cover. I didn’t say that aloud, I just said something like, “Thanks very much, but you don’t need to do that.”

            But Bennie insisted. He pulled out a folder of black-and-white publicity photos of Danny wearing his title belt and crouching in a fighter’s stance.

            “Here, Danny, sign it for him,” Bennie said.

            Danny wrote something like, “To Brad, with best wishes,” and then autographed it.

            It seemed rude to say I couldn’t accept it, so I thanked him and took it back to my office. It was a gracious gesture by a champion and his manager. I filed it my  desk and kept it for years, not wanting to look like a fan, rather than a reporter, but not knowing what to do with it.  Every few years I’d look at it, but I always felt a bit sheepish.

            Somewhere along the line I threw it away.

            That’s no disrespect to Danny.  I admired him then and now. The last time I talked to him, in 2010, he was 60 years old and still doing hard manual labor, digging sewer lines. He sounded like the same humble person he was when he was champ.

            Don’t ask me why, but now that my kids are older, I kind of wish I’d kept the photo. I doubt any of them would ask why I accepted an autograph from someone I covered. They probably would have just wanted to know what it was like to have dinner with the champ.


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