From the other side of the fence

Posted 7/27/2008 by Will Bryan in Labels: , , ,

(Written originally for Inside the Camp...See photos from training camp here)

You know when you feel like you really understand something completely? The context, perspective, experiences...? Well, I thought I knew what it was like to be on the other side of the fence (press row at the Elite 8, UNC Tar Heels locker room, the Stephen Curry circus, etc).

Today I realized that I still have a lot to learn.

I was able to be much closer to the action this afternoon with solo field duty. While our other interns were manning the Panthers Experience and the media tent, I got to mingle with writers and photographers and watch the players go at it from the sidelines.

As Kristen duly noted, "the players don't look as big as I thought they would." That is true...even with pads and a helmet, Steve Smith is still not appreciably taller than myself.

But then there were the fans. When you walk through the gauntlet behind Julius Peppers and Jake Delhomme, the roar just envelops you and gives you chills. And then the roar breaks up and it becomes a zillion little voices and you can understand all of them at the same time. It's incredibly disconcerting to have so many people yelling in your direction, even if it's at the person behind you.

When practice was over, I was given the task of providing players with sharpies in case they wanted to sign autographs. Ryne Robinson came by first and asked me to hold his helmet and gloves while he went down the line. As I followed him at a distance, surely making it into the background of tons of fan pictures, I saw a scene that I was shocked I'd never "witnessed" before, even though I had "seen" it plenty of times from the other side of the fence.

When you are a fan just hoping to get an autograph, you start zeroing in on your target and you really block everything out. All you want is that written name on your hat and then you're golden. It's a very simple and easy request with a great outcome for you, and so you go for it with great gusto.

I realized it's like a busy intersection at rush hour traffic. Everyone wants to just get through that light so they can get out of there. If that means pushing out into the intersection on yellowish-red light, then that's what you have to do. It becomes a problem when everyone from every direction think they're entitled to make that light.

As Robinson made his way down the line after a long, hot practice, every fan just wanted a simple thing from him. All they could see was how simple it was for him to do that task for them and how great the outcome for them would be. But as Robinson kept trying to walk forward with fans three rows back screaming at him, things got tougher.

"I drove three hours just to see you," yelled a 40-year old man that Robinson passed. Robinson went back to sign his hat.

"You too good to sign a kid's hat?" screamed a passed-over mother of two. Robinson went back to sign both of their hats.

Eventually, he just turned to me, grabbed his stuff and ran off to the locker room. The escalation of screams heightened with each step that took him away from them. Robinson eventually stopped again near the end and went back at it for another ten minutes.

As fans behind the fence, sometimes all we want is that little piece. We have to get through that light so we'll act out to get it. But sometimes, we all need to see the bigger picture. Look at the world from Ryne Robinson's eyes. Look at the intersection from the traffic control guy just trying to prevent a wreck. See what's it like from the other side of the fence.

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