This is my one nod to the Super Bowl, which I had nearly forgotten was happening today.
Ben Roethlisberger and I were at Miami University about the same time. I graduated in 2004, he in... what? 2003? Maybe 2004, with me. Regardless, by the time I was a senior, Wally whatever was no longer the "it" boy of Miami sports, the campus was definitely in Roethlisberger fever.
I didn't care as I had attended all of one football game in my years at Miami University.
However, you couldn't ignore the name in the fall of 2003, my senior year, when he was making huge leaps in his game and talk was beginning about him moving up to the NFL. Monday classes were abuzz with news of Roethlisberger's greatness, and I was constantly regaled from my straight friends about how awesome and how down to earth this man was.
Unlike the other big name on campus, "Jubey" (or "Juvey"?) Johnson the basketball starter, Roethlisberger was genuinely a nice guy. He was a young, good looking, down to earth boy from Findlay, Ohio whom no one could say anything bad about. Sure, there were a few rumors about him engaged in some crazy party, or that he had smoked pot here or there, or he had hooked up with so-and-so, but those kind of rumors are created when someone becomes well known. None of them were ever substantiated; and, even if they were, would it have mattered? The point was that Roethlisberger seemed like a genuinely good guy, and so people actually liked him.
For my part, I had never seen the guy.
Fall of 2003 was an auspicious year for me, as well. It's when I finally found my stride at Miami, started organizing, started writing, and it's also the season I turned 21. These few things are certainly not interlinked. But I was enjoying my new found alcoholic freedom and heading up to the bars in Uptown Oxford with some regularity.
One night, we were out, and I had gotten plastered. We were somewhere -- my first inclination tells me that we were at First Run (now renamed Brick Street) because I vaguely remember thinking, "How the fuck did we get here?" But I could be very wrong on the detail. We were also fans of ending up at Balcony, Attractions (which was 45 East at that point), and an occasional stop into Mac & Joe's. The point is that we were out, and we were drunk, and it was a small group of us gay boys queening the night away and trying our damnedest to feel cool dancing to the lame semi-hip hop music played in straight clubs that requires absolutely no rhythm to actually dance to.
When I get drunk, I get friendly, and I get handsy. It's a long term problem for me, but I deal with it.
It was probably around 1a.m. that the whisper hit the crowd -- "Ben's here!" Since then, I have become accustomed to bar culture's reactions when celebrity hits the bar. No one looks at the person directly, but everyone glances over and sees what they are doing. No one directly approaches the person, but you allow the celebrity to meander through the crowd at their leisure and greet you. More importantly, it's never announced that the person has entered the bar. Rather, it just gets whispered from the front of the bar to the back, usually carried by one or more squealing girls trying to contain their excitement that tonight may be the night that handsome, kind hearted, successful, soon-to-be-NFL star Ben Roethlisberger asked them out on a date.
It was one of my friends, who had a thing for finding Miami sports guys that were in the closet, that ran squealing through the crowd proclaiming, "Ben's here! And so is _____!" The _____ was another Miami football player that was very much closeted that was making the rounds hooking up with the gay boys.
Of course, at the time, I was a young, drunk gay boy who had recently found his confidence and could take on the world. I didn't know a damned thing about celebrity, nor did I care. I saw a local hero who happened to be really good looking, and I thought, "I want to sleep with that man tonight." Referring, of course, to Ben Roethlisberger. Naturally, I decided to go talk to him.
I pushed off my friends, made the necessary mental calculations, and found myself standing right next to him at the bar.
Through the grace of god, the bartender noticed me first. I threw up my hand and said, "A mindprobe," and I flicked my hand towards Roethlisberger and continued, "and whatever he wants." Mind you, I was not aware of just how gay my voice sounded at the time, but realizing it now further informs the rest of the story.
Roethlisberger slowly turned to me and said, "What?"
I smiled -- I have no doubt that it was the droopy, half-smile that Barry gets when he gets drunk -- a sort of ironic, wry "I know where this is going" look that tends to the creepy side. "I heard you won some sort of game today. Thought I'd buy you a drink."
My brother, when he turned 21, informed me that all the cool people in the bar generally got their drinks bought for them. In fact, I distinctly remember his talking about WWE stars in a bar and that they must get all of their drinks bought for them. It was a silly comment at the time, but those kind of things stick to you when you're in the face of the coolest kid in the room.
He looked puzzled, ordered a drink, and turned back to me smiling, "Hey! Thanks! Did you come today to watch?" He was utilizing the bartender personality -- that is, be friendly to everyone, no matter who they are, so that they stick around. For bartenders, the purpose is to keep the tips coming. For celebrities, it's to keep your fans.
Our drinks were plopped down in front of us. "No, I actually think football is stupid."
I had not expected his face to fall quite that quickly. It was probably out of shock. "Oh," was all he could say. An uncomfortable moment later: "Well, thanks for the drink, have a good night."
And he pushed his way through the bar, back to his friends, where he promptly passed the drink I had paid for off to a friend without a second glance back. I was left at the bar, mindprobe in hand, and somehow still thinking, "Yea, he wants me."