By Mike Wise
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
As the shrieks and shrills grew to decibels unheard of in suburban Virginia, as hundreds of tiny young voices pierced the air of this special school assembly -- "JA-SON! JA-SON!" -- one thought came to mind:
Poor Tim Dehaven.
After his 7-year-old daughter Taylor -- she's the one with the Redskins hair bands holding up her blond pigtails, seated in the front -- won the NFL's Take a Player to School Sweepstakes, after Taylor rolled up to P.B. Smith Elementary School yesterday in a gleaming jet-black stretch limousine with Jason Campbell -- only the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins (and the coolest person in the history of mankind, according to several children interviewed yesterday) -- well, let's be honest:
Take Your Dad To School Day loses just a bit of juice.
"Is this unbelievable or what?" Tim said, panning the room with his hand-held video camera, filming the greatest day of a second-grader's life.
Taylor's mom, Sheila, and her 4-year-old brother, Nicholas, looked on in stunned amazement as Taylor grabbed the microphone and, upon prompting from Principal Patricia Comstock, bellowed, "Here is Jason Campbell!" amid more deafening shrieks and shrills.
Wearing a No. 17 jersey, it was as if Hannah Montana had come to Warrenton.
"This is like one of them pep rallies I went to on a Friday afternoon in high school in Mississippi," said Campbell, who was in awe himself -- of the burgundy-and-gold banners, balloons, drawings, painted faces, and of Taylor, who welcomed him to this spirited slice of Virginia, where he was clearly on message in this battleground state.
"Taylor for president," he said underneath a massive American flag in the assembly room. "I mean, look at her, she's got everything. She's smart. She's fun. I'm just glad she picked me as her running mate. I think we're good to go in Virginia."
"Vote for me," Taylor said, on cue.
Did we mention Campbell's high school and home town is named Taylorsville?
"Really?" Taylor asked.
"Yep," Jason said.
Serendipity ruled the day.
I'm probably dating myself, but remember "The Brady Bunch" episode when Bobby concocts a story about being deathly ill, until Joe Namath actually shows up in his back yard to play catch with the faker? Or when Mean Joe Greene tossed the jersey to that kid in the iconic Coca-Cola commercial?
Yeah? Hollywood schmaltz. This was as genuine as it gets, unscripted interaction between a modest, athletic hero and the little girl who represented his adoring fan base.
Taylor was one of 34 children to win basically the NFL's golden ticket, an opportunity to take a pro football star to school and design a workout of their own with the player. The impetus behind the program, also sponsored by J.C. Penney and ESPN, was to get kids to buy into a youth fitness initiative -- something Campbell took seriously in his speech to the children.
"I know a lot of you have Nintendos, PlayStations and Game Boys," he said before encouraging them to get out of the house and work out. He added a bunch of no-nos when a child seated up front blurted out, "No sugar rush!"
Not all of Campbell's fear-based ploys worked, however.
"Who wants to get hit by a big, 350-pound lineman?"
"I do, I do," a few children yelled.
"You do?" he said, as the room giggled back.
Taylor's big day began before 9 a.m., when Campbell came to pick her up and meet the family. When he arrived, most of Warrenton had showed up in the Dehaven living room, including Taylor's best friend, McKinley, who hugged her before she left for school, as if to say, "You go, girl."
Taylor was a pistol, jumping rope, catching overhand passes from Campbell, who had to take a little something off those he usually throws to Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. "Jim Zorn once told me the first pass he threw to a cheerleader, he gave her a bloody nose," he volunteered. "So I want to be careful of that."
There were other tidbits gleaned from Washington's quarterback, courtesy of really smart and thought-out questions asked by P.B. Smith's finest:
"What player did you learn the most from in your career?"
"Mark Brunell," Campbell said, launching into a nice tribute about how the man he replaced helped him become a better person off the field.
"What do you do in your spare time?"
And this gem, proving these kids did their homework: "How do you mentally turn yourself around after a play goes wrong?"
By the end of the assembly Campbell had a group of kids, including Taylor, chanting "War Eagle!" for his beloved Auburn University. They in turn made him chant, "Roadrunners!"
When the quarterback of the Redskins lifted up Taylor in his big arms, she jumped as high as she jumped all day, conducting an impromptu interview with her special guest. (Taylor came up with two of the 10 questions by herself.)
Take a Player to School Day went off without a hitch. When it was over, it was hard to gauge who was more enraptured by the experience -- Taylor or the ridiculously large kid who wore his Jason Campbell No. 17 jersey to school, as kids will sometimes do.
"I really like the way they were cheering for me and him when he came out," Taylor said.
"This is fun, man, it's like a concert," Campbell said, as the shrieks continued. "I haven't been in second grade since I don't know when."