I've worked for the event management team at Lucas Oil Stadium this season, so I considered the chance to continue my role as a greeter/ticket checker at the upper suites during the playoffs as a reward, not a job. We have a great time up there, welcoming folks, helping them find their destination and cheering our team.
And I was in the right spot to greet Tony Dungy and his family, and the Mannings, Archie and Eli. We were told that New Jersey governor Chris Christie would be escorted by VIP dignitaries to visit the Jets suite at some point, so when the elevators opened and a group of suits walked off, I assumed I was about to meet one of the new darlings of the Republican party. (Yah, I'm a political geek. I recognize these names.)
Holy mother of ......
A man strolled up to me, holding out his ticket, and I found myself nearly eyeball-to-eyeball with Challenger ... a big, frickin' bald eagle.
Now what makes this hilarious is that I have worked a majority of my adult life to overcome a fear of birds. I've made great progress. I can walk through a bird sanctuary if I take the time to mentally gear up for the gauntlet. I can be in the same room with your pet parrot, if he's in his cage and the cage is locked. (Are you reading this, Perry Meridian grad who once strolled into my house to pay me for a class reunion with a PARROT on your shoulder?) I don't lose my mind when sea gulls fly around the beach where I'm sitting, although I still would prefer they not poop on me.
Challenger, however, was a surprise, and he wasn't caged. I felt myself trying to control three things at once: a scream, my colon and my ability to stay conscious. That was just the first split second. The second one included not using blasphemy at the top of my lungs — because I'm an official representative of the stadium, my supervisor frowns on that kind of thing.
But I managed to breathe through the fear, and not run for my life down the hallway during the photo shoots. Actually, no one in the room figured out how close I was to soiling myself, as one of the escorts had the nerve to ask if I'd like my photo with Challenger. I nearly shook my brains out rejecting that offer.
I will always wonder if my response would have been different if Tony Dungy had made the invitation. Yes, I think I would have taken Tony's photo with the bird.