Limonada, Champ Bailey and a Fake FedEx Field
So earlier this week, I chatted with Usama Young, the D.C. born-and-bred Saints cornerback whose tale about selling snacks and drinks at D.C. United and Redskins games (at RFK and FedEx) was chosen by the NFL for its Super Bowl campaign.
The first thing his dad, LeRoi, wanted me to know was that Usama was a lousy vendor.
This was something like 1999, and LeRoi had actually lined up the vending gig for Usama's older brother Yusuf, who was then a college freshman. But LeRoi figured his younger son might as well learn the value of hard work, too, so they all would go out to the stadiums together, with the boys' stepmother making the lemonade in the back while LeRoi joined his sons on the stairs. I asked which of his sons was a better vendor.
"Neither one of them," LeRoi said. "They was just out there. They weren't selling hardly nothing. It was too hot, they were too interested in the football game and I was feeding them too good. They didn't want it enough."
"He made way more money than me because he was actually working the whole time," agreed Usama, who said he was too busy watching Darrell Green and Champ Bailey.
"You know what? This was his first real job, in the NFL," LeRoi said. "Every other job he got fired from. He worked at Six Flags, at parks and recs in Ohio. He got fired from every one of them. Couldn't last a week. He just wasn't interested, didn't care."
The Youngs were on speaker phone at this point, and Usama was just sort of laughing. He told me why he got let go from Six Flags: an older lady with a little kid kept playing the game he was monitoring, one of those rackets where you try to get the ring to land on the bottle. She kept losing. Eventually, Usama shouted out "Congratulations we have a winner!" and gave the woman a prize. An hour later, one of the loss prevention officials approached Usama during his lunch break, and his Six Flags career ended.
"After that I said, 'Hey, maybe this football thing is what I need to stick to,' " Usama joked.
So then he went to Kent State, and got drafted by the Saints, and became an NFL defensive back. And this fall, the week after he played a game in FedEx Field, he told an NFL Films crew about how he used to watch games in that same stadium while hawking popcorn and lemonade from the stands.
(And also how United fans used to hound him for limonada; " I mean, a lot of the fans were Spanish-speaking," he explained. "They were into the game, they were having fun, and it was just an amazing atmosphere that I had never been around.")
As he progressed through the contest, which was decided by fan voting and a panel of judges, Usama watched the other pitches he was up against, and knew his was better. His brother ginned up voters on Facebook, and his family prayed for him to win, and when he was chosen as the winner and invited to a commercial shoot in Southern California, he brought his dad along for the ride.
"It was just like I was in a dream, you know?" said the elder Young, who had never been to California. "Out in Hollywood they put us in a RV, because Usama and I were the stars. Man, it was unbelievable. It was simply amazing. First-class five-star hotel, king size bed, limo picking us up, the guy opening the door, everybody checking us out, Malibu, Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, you understand what I'm talking about?"
The Youngs went to the Rose Bowl, which producers had dressed up to look vaguely enough like FedEx Field, complete with stand-in Redskins fans. They rehearsed their lines. Usama made small talk, to try to make his dad, a retired postal worker, feel comfortable.
"Everybody was trying to make me natural and at east but it was overwhelming," LeRoi said. "I had to go over my lines, over and over and over and over to get the right inflections in my voice. Man, I was out of it. Nothing like this ever happened to me before. I was a mailman, you know what I'm saying? Just a regular guy. Never been through nothing like this before."
So now they just have to wait until Super Bowl Sunday, when father and son and the fake Redskins fans and imitation FedEx Field will appear in front of gazillions of viewers. Usama will be in Ohio, finishing his degree; he figures he'll watch it out there.
His dad, on the other hand, will be returning that day from a Caribbean cruise, an anniversary gift from his son. He originally planned on surprising his friends at church by not saying anything until the spot came on, but this will probably ruin those plans.
"I'm ready to bust anyway," LeRoi told me. "I'm telling you, my head is ready to bust wide open."
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