BY GRETCHEN SCHOENSTEIN
There I was at LAX in June 2013, waiting for a flight to Seattle. I’m having a snack at a cafe when a familiar face walks by.
Before I catch myself, I wave and smile. The man with the familiar face smiles and waves back. Then I smack my head.
“Oh, my goodness, that was Pete Carroll!” I exclaim to my mom, who I’m traveling with.
She and I have a good laugh. I had met him years ago at a beach volleyball tournament in Manhattan Beach, Calif. He was USC’s determined coach: affable, friendly, hilarious, awesome.
But no way he’d remember me from that chaotic group situation.
I realize he’s probably on my L.A.-to-Seattle plane. I head up to the gate, contemplating going up to talk to him, thank him for being so good to Seattle. He has his head down and tucked to the side away from those waiting for the plane, writing, clearly trying to be left alone. Coach Carroll gets approached by a few fans, and he chats with them briefly, then boards the plane to first class.
Understandable. He’s the Seahawks’ coach on a plane to Seattle. He could get inundated with comments and questions. So I leave him alone.
While on the plane, I spontaneously decide to write him a note. No, not a grade-school mash note (OK, maybe a little). This was a fan note sharing all the connections we might have had through that volleyball tournament and various volleyball people we likely both know. And there’s his great work at USC (even though I’m a Husky grad). And, finally, what he’s done for the Seahawks.
In my note, I share that my dad, who passed away, was a HUGE Seahawks fan and that we watched the games together as I grew up. That I can still recall my dad yelling at the TV on Sundays, how he loved/hated going to games at the Kingdome. And mostly that he would really enjoy Coach Carroll as the Hawks’ motivator, leader and driving force of success (this was six months before the Super Bowl victory.)
I probably shared a few other items, points and memories, too. Like his mindfulness and style of coaching and leading.
I said thank you, plain and simple. Over the last number of years, I’ve pushed myself to do more thankful and to acknowledge people directly, rather than than regretting not saying something later. As humans, we all want to be seen, heard and acknowledged, whether for a great smile, helpful attitude or a difference someone makes in our lives.
I track down an understanding flight attendant to ask if she will give it to him. She agrees, but soon returns.
“Oops, he’s asleep,” she said. She’ll keep checking until he’s awake and she can hand it to him. Right before we descend, she lets me know she’d been able to give him the note. My stomach jumps and I suddenly hope I didn’t write anything lame, hope he’d understand my intentions in writing it.
We deplane late at night into an empty airport, and I look over to see Coach standing a ways off from where he would have been easily approached by other fans on the plane. Could he be waiting to talk with me? Did the flight attendant mention who wrote it? Is some of his staff on board?
And then I see the folded yellow paper I wrote the note on sticking out of his shirt pocket.
He looks up, smiles with a knowing nod, and so I walk over. He firmly grasps my hand and we introduce ourselves. He thanks me profusely for the note, says he hadn’t had that happen before like that and what I wrote was incredible, that it really means a lot to him, he so very appreciates it.
He talks so fast, and I’m stammering, unprepared for such graciousness. But I thank him for stopping to say hi. He starts to walk off, but then he stops and turns around.
“Hey, I wish your Pops was still here,” he says. “Take care.”
Wow. Gulp. Lump in my throat.
That’s a class act. I know he has a daughter, so maybe he felt the same connection in the note? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
Right on, Coach Carroll. You made a worthy impression and I thank you for the very cool experience, awesome respect and genial kindness you shared.
After Sunday’s Super Bowl loss, a lot of people are down on you and the team. I’m not one of them. My opinion about you hasn’t changed because you called a pass instead of a run and lost a football game, even if it was Super Bowl.
You’re still a great all around human in my book.
Gretchen Schoenstein is a life-long Seattle sports fan. Despite living in the Bay Area for 12 years, she remains a loyal Husky/Sonics (one can hope)/Mariners/Seahawks fan, continually impressed by the latter team’s ability to inspire and celebrate civic pride.
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