Meeting someone new in this business is always interesting. Sometimes it's awkward, sometimes exciting, but normally it lands on the fun side. Somehow, for me, there usually seems to be a dose of the awkward involved.
I met the legendary Ray Nitschke of the Green Bay Packers on a cruise ship after a buddy of mine miscalculated a launch and flipped a shrimp tail (on a bet) onto Ray's dinner table. The tail landed in some water and splashed Ray's wife. (Ray's table, wife and dinner companions weren't part of the bet).
I was re-introduced to Rams Pro Bowl TE Pete Holohan also on a cruise. Apparently the first time I was introduced to Pete was a decade earlier. Pete had overindulged in an Irish bar in Syracuse on St. Paddy's Day while we were both in college. I happened to be bouncing the joint that day and I had to throw Pete and his two friends out. There's a moment you don't want the wife in on.
Tom Landry thought I was a stalker. As a bright eyed and bushy-tailed rookie I rode in the elevator with him after a game at Texas Stadium. At least he didn't kick me off the elevator like Mike Brown of the Bengal's did years later in Cincinnati.
I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. Meeting Mike Tomlin was bound to have a snafu involved somewhere.
I was on assignment for Steelers TV and had headed off to Indianapolis for three days to cover the combine. The key to the weekend was landing Mike for a mano-y-mano interview.
The press corps was setup in the Indianapolis Convention Center which is connected to the RCA Dome. We had to snag press passes which got us into the press area of the Convention Center.
However security passes were given only to NFL staff. They were ID's that hung around your neck which got you past "check point Charlie" into the dome. The security there was through the roof.
Everybody who was somebody in the press was camped out there. From local reporters, like Jim Wexell and Ed Bouchette, to national coverage with Mike Mayock and the NFL Network, it was a free for all.
I was staying at the same hotel as the Steelers' staff. I figured no problem, I'll catch him somewhere. From breakfast to bedtime I saw everybody from Steelers president Art Rooney to QB coach Ken Anderson, but no Mike Tomlin.
We rolled through college players and Steelers coaches in the interviews. I even got Mike Mayock to sit still for a few minutes. Two days have gone by and no Tomlin.
It's now Sunday afternoon and I've got ninety minutes or so before we got to hit the road back to the ‘Burgh. I had to do something. So I head up to checkpoint Charlie to scope out the situation.
Steelers head trainer John Norwig and his staff are coming out of the dome. I immediately headed him off.
"John, I need some help, I got to get a hold of Mike to get this interview," I said. "Can you help me?"
A weary and overworked John Norwig just smiled, pulled his credentials off and handed them to me while barely breaking stride.
Okay, so now I've got a problem. I've never been good at impersonating people. Especially when you are trying to impersonate a guy that weighs a hundred pounds less and has much more hair.
Trespassing at a high security event like this seemed beyond my acting skills. I'm more like Don Adams than Roger Moore. How in the world am I going to pull this one off?
I went back to confer with the producers of Steelers TV, and in a secret ballot they voted to "send me in."
"Wolf, don't worry about it," said producer Brandon, "Nobody will say a word. Just be cool. Think Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible"
Yeah right, cool is my middle name.
I locked and loaded and headed out through the press room on my way to the dome. Suddenly a reporter I passed in the room began calling out "Hey John, John Norwig, wait it's me!" I tried not to acknowledge him as I kept moving forward. Doggone reporters are a persistent bunch though. I stopped abruptly and turned to the guy and said "I'm not John Norwig." Great, my cover hasn't even passed the sniff test of a guy who thought he knew John Norwig. I'll never get past the Rottweilers guarding the dome.
The theme song of Mission Impossible began playing in my head as I approached checkpoint Charlie. I tried to look confident and hip like Tom Cruise even though I'd already been outed faster than Valerie Plame on American Idol by a reporter.
My heart raced as the six or seven security guards eyed me warily as I approached. Coolly I strode forward to the gate and waved my credentials while I pulled a Barney Fife and right-turned while walking to the wrong side of the gate.
Attending a gymnastic meet that was being held at the dome might be entertaining any other time, but I'm sure Mike Tomlin wouldn't be observing work on the uneven bars.
"Sir, this way," said the Charlie guard. Not going well Craig, my mind was screaming. Not going well at all.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I made it into the right place, only to see (it seemed) everybody that I used to play with or play for was in attendance.
"Hey Wolf, how are you?" called out a couple former teammates, now coaches. I mumbled a couple greetings and tried to quell the rising tide of panic sweeping over me. Security guys were circling the area and I began to envision a code red "Take down the fat guy!" scenario unfolding. The credentials hanging around my neck suddenly felt like a noose.
I kept moving while waving, hoping that I fit into the landscape. My Lions president buddy, Matt Millen, suddenly emerged from a room and I quickly made like furniture and hugged the wall by a potted plant.
Aha, there's my target, straight ahead. Mike Tomlin is holding court in the center of the room with several coaches. I tried to look nonchalant and got interested in a couple day-old newspapers while tripping over a loose edge of carpet. My coolness was quickly evaporating.
Looking more like Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame than an NFL coach, I kept looking over at Tomlin while he continued chatting.
I think Mike eventually started to feel my intense stare because after a while I noticed him looking over at me from time to time. Great, shades of Tom Landry, now he's made me out to be a stalker.
Finally the conversation broke up, and I made my move. "Mike how are you?" I said as I extended my hand and proceeded with the introductions.
Warily Mike eyed me and the whole time I was explaining myself, I noticed him noticing my credentials hanging around my neck. Dead meat talking.
Unbelievably, I got the interview and all went well. Unlike me, Mike Tomlin is a well balanced individual who can handle surprising developments calmly, and "coolly."
This is agent 007(3) Craig Wolfley, over and out.