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Elway in the bathroom, and other 'dream interviews'

One of our editors called me Friday morning, and referenced the news that Oprah Winfrey said her “dream interview” would be O.J. Simpson. He asked me what football players would be on my list.

Not an easy question for me to answer, I told him. And I’ve got a story that’ll tell you why ...

In the months before the Super Bowl this year, John Elway was hired to run the Denver Broncos, throwing him right back into the NFL fray. Elway left the league in 1999, when I was still in college, and so I never crossed paths with him as a media guy.

My first encounter: I’m leaving the bathroom at the media center and he breezes by me, going in. There was a moment for me, there.

Whoa. That was John freakin’ Elway.

Now, there are very few of the most well-known people in the league I haven’t been around in some capacity, and that has a way of desensitizing you when you see stars. It’s just not the same; the players and coaches and owners aren’t larger than life anymore.

But Elway -– the John Wayne of quarterbacks when I was growing up -– did it for me. That’s changed since, of course, in seeing him at league meetings and those kinds of things.

The point, though, remains. The guys you either heard about that came before your time or watched as a kid are always gonna be a little bit more interesting, and that’s magnified in the line of work I’m in.

So you won’t find Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on my list, nor will you see Mike Tomlin or Jerry Jones or Bill Belichick. Nothing against any of those guys, of course.

One more thing, and this is where I line up with Oprah: Troubled guys are always more interesting. Professionally, I don’t want to sit around with a guy and talk about how great he is. I want to find out what it was really like for him, where he went off course, how things crashed for him. And so combine the two (older heroes, checkered pasts), and add the caveat that I have some truth serum to slip them, and here’s a list of 10 ex-players I’d like to sit down with:

Brian Bosworth
Great player? No. But I wanna hear about just how deep corruption was at Oklahoma in the 1980s (yes, I know … I went to Ohio State), and also the extent of steroids in football at that time.


Terry Bradshaw
A winner at the highest level, but a complex, complex figure who’s fought through some serious stuff.


Jim Brown
I’d like to find out what really makes this guy tick. He’s got a bit of a rap sheet, but has also done great work in terribly downtrodden areas. And he walked away truly at the top of his game.


Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
His outsized personality and drug problems make him the personification of the picture I have in my head of athletes of that era. Plus, he won the lottery.


Paul Hornung
The gambling thing puts him over the top, because it’s the elephant in the room for all sports. I want to know the extent of what went on then, and get some Lombardi stories on the side.


Bobby Layne
My guess is the late Lions quarterback, who also happened to be my dad’s hero, has some absolutely legendary stories of carousing. And I want to hear them.


Joe Montana
He didn’t have the off-field issues, but he was the best player during my childhood. Plus, I’d love to know what it was really like all those years between him and Steve Young.


Joe Namath
See Layne, Bobby.


O.J. Simpson
Impossible to leave off the list. For me, at least.


Lawrence Taylor
To me, as fascinating a character as there’s ever been in sports. Taylor might have been among the most gifted players ever, delivered on all of it, then flushed his life down the toilet.


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