So earlier this evening I did something sorta cool—I served as the Q in a Q&A with Sam Darnold, New York Jets quarterback, at the Stance store in Irvine.
I was asked to handle the gig by Tzvi Twersky, the longtime hoops writer and one of Stance’s big guns. So I arrived about 20 minutes early for the 6 pm start time, entered a packed store (I’d say there were, oh, 200, maybe 250 people there) and walked toward a back area, where Tzvi, Sam and a handful of others lingered.
Sam was polite and warm. He’s 21, and he looks 21. Young features, no wrinkles, optimistic expressions. We had a good 20 minutes before the event began, and as we waited a man came back with his son. Both were wearing green Jets T-shirts, and the guy looked at Sam and explained—excitedly—that he was a lifelong Jets fan, and that when he was 7, his father took a picture of him with Joe Namath. And now his son was 7 and, well .. hey … would Sam please pose for a photo?
“Sure. No problem.”
Sam, can I take one photo with me, my son and you?
I am handed his iPhone.
The man has been a Jet loyalist for decades, and he believes in Sam. He wants to tell Sam this, so he does. His son looks bored and sort of disinterested, but one day he’ll appreciate the photograph. They depart, and another woman comes. She’s from Queens, longtime Jets fan, her son is wearing his very own Darnold jersey, and can Sam just pose for one photo?
And sign the jersey? Here’s a pen.
More people have stories to tell. About the Jets. About USC. About Mark Sanchez and Josh Rosen. I’m watching Sam Darnold, but I can’t tell what he’s thinking. I later tell my wife that it must sound like a soft not-entirely-unpleasant-but-hardly-joyful hum to his 21-year-old ears …
Finally, we walk out and conduct an hour-long chat. It’s fun. Sam is friendly, engaging, warm. He will never be controversial, will never tell you why he likes/hates Donald Trump, won’t opine on oil prices or climate change. He is here to do a job—be that quarterbacking the Jets or talking in a sock store. This does not mean he lacks intelligence or depth. It means he knows there’s no advantage in rattling sabres. That, or perhaps he has no sabres to rattle. He’s young, wealthy, happy, living the professional dream.
A few questions are taken from the crowd. I call on the people, and it reminds me—very much—of this classic Saturday Night Live scene. They are mostly men, wearing some sort of Jets gear, standing in the front. They are thrilled to be here, and the age gap between them and Darnold is a non-factor. He is the latest savior of a franchise eternally searching for saviors, and that immediately places him atop the Jets kingdom. So what if, less than five years ago, he was in high school?
When all is done, an announcement is made—Sam won’t be signing autographs or posing for photos, but he will be handing out Jets socks to anyone wearing a jersey.
Initially, for a second, I’m turned off. All these people came to a store in the rain. Surely, he can sign. But then I think about it. To sign and sign and sign—that would be another two hours. Maybe more. And as my wife later (rightly) notes, why isn’t it enough to hear a man speak? Why do we need to depart with a scrap of paper or an iPhone image proving we were there?
Why can’t we just be happy listening to Sam Darnold?
Why do we need more, when we’re given plenty?