There is something that makes many of us who follow sports want to connect with the athletes that we watch.
It's why autographs are so highly sought, especially when you get one in person -- you know when you look at that piece of paper that the athlete took a few seconds and signed his name, just for you.
I wrote a story in the Nov.5 Charlotte Observer about a Panther fan from Virginia who went further than that -- he named his firstborn son after Jake Delhomme a few weeks ago because of a prayer he offered up to God during the Super Bowl following the 2003 season. Here's where you can find this story, but if you want the short version: suffice it to say that Brian Bernhardt is a happy, sleep-deprived father of a baby named Jake right now, and he still laughingly regrets the gaping loophole he left in that prayer. Delhomme sent the baby an autographed picture, which you can see to the right.
I never was a huge autograph seeker and now don't even have the temptation, since we are barred from getting them as part of our job as sports reporters. But I do know their power. When I was seven years old in 1972, living in Texas, I was a fan of the L.A. Lakers. Back then, I had printed a careful letter to the coach of the 1971-72 Lakers championship team – Bill Sharman -- and my parents sent it to team headquarters in L.A. for me.
Although I hadn’t asked for any autographs in that letter 30 years ago, Sharman personally wrote back from California and enclosed a sheet with all of the team’s signatures – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich among them.
I loved that sheet of paper for many years -- and then I lost it.
I told that story in a column for The Observer six years ago. Sharman’s son-in-law in Florida somehow saw my column, and he told Sharman about it.
Sharman, who was still a special consultant to the Lakers at that time, dug through his files. He found a picture of that 1971-72 team and signed it. He found a copy of the original set of team autographs, which he Xeroxed for me.
Then Sharman stuffed all that in an envelope and sent it to me along with a note that concluded, “Thanks for bringing back some very nice, exciting memories!”
That's the sort of thing that makes sports special.