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Waiting for Chris Cooley at the Auto Show

I went to the Washington Auto Show yesterday hoping to write about the Chesapeake Tide, not the Washington Redskins. Sadly, I saw no signs of the Tide, save for one child in a Tide t-shirt.

(Note: If you have any interest in going to the Auto Show, I'd recommend going into the show office and getting a media pass. They didn't seem to be checking for credentials; they just handed out the passes. The guy in front of me listed "Hack" as his media affiliation.)

Anyhow, Jason Campbell arrived right when I did, around 5:15, but I've previously interviewed Jason Campbell, and it's been about as fruitful as interviewing a crate of car wax, so I figured I should head straight to the Chris Cooley booth, even though Cooley wasn't supposed to arrive until 6. When I got to Cooleyland, which was near the french fry booth and the Maui Wowi Hawaiian Smoothie booth, there were about 50 people in line.

The first people in line were the Homburgs from Frederick, who had taken 6-year-old Chris Cooley jersey-wearing Kyle out of school for the day to go to the Auto Show. Kyle loves Cooley. "Everybody loves Chris," he said, but then he got shy and stopped talking.

No one was quite sure why Kyle's favorite player was Chris Cooley. His father thought maybe during the first game they had watched together, Cooley had scored a touchdown. Kyle's aunt Debbie thought maybe it was because Kyle's dad was named Chris. My theory was that it also doesn't hurt that Kyle's mom is named Christy. Seriously. So anyhow, they came down for the show, and got in line for the Cooley autograph session at 4:45.

They had a new football to be autographed, but Kyle's large-sized Cooley jersey, which he had gotten shortly after Christmas and soon began wearing every day. Like, every day, he'd get home from school, take off his shirt and put on the Cooley jersey, which he'd wear until bedtime. His mom made him go outside for a few minutes in the morning so the neighbors would see that he actually owned other clothes. His dad finally convinced him to put it in the laundry after three weeks of every-day use. He's only allowed to wear it to school one day a week.

As the minutes ticked by, Chris Homburg tried to get his son ready for the big moment. He told him once the ball was signed, it had to go into a case and Kyle wouldn't be able to play with it, that he'd have to play with his other 10 footballs instead.

"We're going to try to keep this as simple as possible and just have fun," he told Kyle. "You excited?"

The crowd grew. Several other miniature Cooleys arrived and began throwing around these red bouncy balls that someone was giving out. By 5:45 there were about 100 people in line.

"Where's Chris Cooley?" Kyle asked.

"6 o'clock, dude," Debbie told him.

[Note for Caps fans: The security guards working the autograph table said the most wildly enthusiastic autograph crowds they had seen at the Auto Show were for the WWE's John Cena and Alex Ovechkin. "Last year he had everyone losing their minds," one of the guards said of Ovie.]

The minutes continued to tick. The Homburgs began working with Kyle on how he would cover up his absence from school. They asked what he would tell his teacher today if she asked whether he was feeling better.

"When she says 'Are you feeling better?' I'll just say 'I went to see the Redskins,'" Kyle suggested.

The conversation turned to Cooley's former hair style. Christy said it looked like a beehive. "No it wasn't," Kyle said. "Chris Cooley has it like out and then in, like, really big." His mom asked if he was trying to make his hair look like Chris Cooley's, but Kyle said no, that he was trying to make it look like his dad's.

The scheduled start time came and past. The Homburgs talked about finding some coffee. "Mommy, is it nighttime?" Kyle asked. There were Cooley jerseys everywhere, eating fruit cups and sitting on the floor and getting Maui Wowi Hawaiian smoothies. "Where is he?" Kyle asked.

The two other little Cooleys returned, with a Santana Moss, and they began playing with the balls again. The balls said "De-Stress Yourself." They were from the D.C. Lottery.

"After I get the autograph, can I play with them?" Kyle asked, staring at the miniature Cooleys. Then he decided he wanted to play right now.

"You must sacrifice," his dad told him.

At 6:25 the PA announcer came on to tell us that the Redskins were stuck in traffic. (Renaldo Wynn was also supposed to sign with Cooley.) "That's correct folks, they're just stuck in D.C. traffic," the PA person said.

People sighed. The other little Cooleys began climbing into minivans.

At 6:32 the PA announcer told us the players were five minutes away.

"Is that like five minutes at the end of a football game?" Patrick Becker asked from behind us in line.

"How many timeouts have they got?" Hector Ruiz wanted to know.

Kyle finally went over to play with the other miniature Cooleys. "They're bored out of their minds," his mom said. They'd been sitting there for about two hours.

"It's not worth the sacrifice unless it eclipses the two-hour mark," Kyle's dad said. "You have to earn the autograph."

An official person began wandering around, promising us that the players would stay longer to make up for their tardiness. At 6:48 Renaldo Wynn showed up in an Air Jordan warmup suit. He did TV interviews. He said he was a Bears fan at heart. At 6:55 Chris Cooley showed up in a green polo shirt, with collar popped. He did TV interviews, too. He said it had taken him two hours to get to the Convention Center. "It was crazy, dude," he said.

At 7:05, 65 minutes after the scheduled start time, the players were still in back of the stage, schmoozing with Official People. "Who's in charge of this fiasco?" some guy in line started yelling.

At 7:07 they started signing autographs. Kyle got his jersey signed, "To Kyle." He posed for a photo with Chris Cooley. "Have fun with the cars, dude," Chris told Kyle. By 7:08, it was over.

"Well, at least he was nice," Kyle's dad said. "All in all, glad we waited."

"Can I play with those boys now?" Kyle wanted to know.

Then some Skins fans appeared on a balcony and began screaming "Cooooooley," and also "We're going to the Super Bowl next year! We are going!!!"


By Dan Steinberg  |  January 26, 2007; 10:48 AM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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