Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cross-country trip worth it for some autograph hounds 

STATELINE -- Even in a parking lot, Michael Jordan's footwork is slick enough to elude all pursuers.

That includes Gary Patterson and Levi Morland, who came all the way from Kansas City, Mo., to catch Jordan before the basketball legend played Wednesday's practice round in preparation for the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

"Jordan's the toughest," said Patterson, who tried but failed to obtain the autograph of the most popular celebrity in the tournament. "He's in such demand."

Jordan knows this.

That's why he was driven to a side entrance of the Edgewood clubhouse while Patterson, Morland and a handful of other autograph chasers waited in front for one of the biggest stars in sports.

By the time the tournament autograph hounds knew what was happening, Jordan, maneuvering behind a screen of security guards, was clear of the throng, the same way he avoided opponents while leading the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association championships in the 1990s.

Jordan is returning to Edgewood after missing last year's 54-hole tournament that features some of the biggest names in athletics and entertainment.

"See, I told you," Nichol Romo of Stockton, Calif., said after Jordan was inside. "Jordan always comes in over there. I know his security. I know his drivers."

Romo, a veteran tournament celebrity watcher, had seen Jordan's moves in other years. She tried to advise Patterson and Morland before Jordan's arrival. She told them Jordan wouldn't be signing autographs, at least not in the parking lot. But Patterson refused to believe her.

"You're talking crazy," he said.

But Romo, attending the tournament with her son Camrin, turned out to be right.

"Those guys think they know everything," Nichol Romo said after Patterson and Morland missed Jordan.

Sometime during their long and circuitous trip to Lake Tahoe, maybe Patterson and Morland, both 27, convinced themselves Jordan would sign.

"He's the greatest athlete who ever lived," said Patterson, wearing a number 23 Jordan replica Bulls jersey, identical to Morland's.

To get Jordan's signature, along with the autographs of as many of the tournament's other celebrities as possible, Patterson and Morland flew from Kansas City to Las Vegas, then rented a car and drove 445 miles north to Reno, all on Monday.

It was a matter of money.

Flying from Kansas City to Reno and back would have cost them $559 each, Patterson said. The round trip to Las Vegas was $198 each and renting the car for a week cost $130. Patterson and Morland return home today, driving from Tahoe to Las Vegas, then flying to Kansas City.

Do the math.

"We just came to get autographs, mainly," said Patterson, who, with Morland, has been to a Super Bowl and World Series in pursuit of star signatures. "It's a little vacation."

Celebrity signatures are the golf tournament's main attraction. Autograph seekers gather at the clubhouse every morning. They follow stars around the course. They wait for them at the end of their rounds.

Some celebrities adopt unique strategies to avoid the autograph hounds.

Emmitt Smith, the National Football League's all-time leading rusher, arrived at the clubhouse front door. But Smith kept walking, holding a cell phone to his ear and looking at the ground.

"The old cell phone trick," said Patterson, who'd seen it before. "It's a classic move. You know what's even better? When they're pretending they're on the cell phone and it rings."

But Patterson and Morland did have some success.

"We got that Brandi girl," Morland said of Brandi Chastain, the former U.S. women's soccer star who is playing in the tournament.

They also got former National Football League quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Jim McMahon, along with former National Hockey League star Brett Hull. They were waiting for Herman Edwards, coach of their hometown football team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We've been out on the golf course all day," Morland said.

They hadn't given up on Jordan. It was only lunchtime. The afternoon remained.

"A lot of times he won't sign until after he's done playing," Morland said. "We'll wait all day."

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