HHOF: No comment at the Pro Bowl
Carl Pickens is most definitely NOT in my Happiness Hall of Fame, nor do I suspect he is in anybody else's. The "Dude with the Tude," as my friend Austin Murphy called him in the pages of Sports Illustrated, back when Pickens was still in college, was one of the biggest pains in the butt imaginable. You might have heard of "The Carl Pickens Clause," which the Cincinnati Bengals still put in contracts to deny bonuses to players who criticize the team.
Pickens necessitated the clause by ripping the team for retaining Bruce Coslet as coach in 1999, a season in which Coslet went 4-12, after going 10-22 over the previous two years.
Pickens will still pop up in the news every now and again because of some awful thing he did, like in 2014, when he was arrested for allegedly attacking his wife after they went to a movie. He then hid in his attic in a futile attempt to avoid police.
So Carl Pickens is most definitely NOT in my Happiness Hall of Fame.
But I have to say that Carl Pickens was involved in one my favorite moments as a sportswriter. The guy was a good receiver, he really was. He wasn't blazing fast, but he got open, and he was tough to bring down, and he caught everything. He had four 1,000-yard seasons and led the league with 17 touchdown catches in 1995, and he made the Pro Bowl that year, which is where this story happened.
I went to the 1995 Pro Bowl. I was working for The Cincinnati Post at the time, and I had good friends who lived in Honolulu, and so I just did it. I'm pretty sure I paid my own way; that's how much I loved it. I would have covered the Pro Bowl in Hawaii every year.
I wouldn't cover the Pro Bowl in Orlando for all the money at Disney World.
Anyway, the press set-up at the Pro Bowl in those days (if you can even call it that) was more or less like it is at a high school game: You just went on the field after practice and found the player you wanted. It was crazy to be walking around on the field with Derrick Thomas and Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe and Marshall Faulk and the rest.
Unfortunately, the player I wanted was Carl Pickens. I didn't have a bad relationship with Pickens, because that would suggest that it was possible to have a good relationship with him. He didn't know me. And he didn't like me.
I walked up to him -- I'm quite sure he saw me -- and he walked away. I walked up to him again, and he walked away again. Then I walked up to him a third time and just started to ask him something.
"No comment," he growled.
Now, I'm a non-confrontational person. I've been no-commented plenty in my life, and unless I'm chasing an actual, noteworthy, urgent, story -- which is not something I was doing at the Pro Bowl -- my general thought on the subject is: "Fine." What do I care if they don't want to talk to me? And I should say: Often, they're extremely nice "no comments." Former Chiefs defensive lineman Chester McGlockton offered the nicest no comments in the world; you would think he was inviting you to his wedding.
This was not one of the nice kind. This was a Carl Pickens glaring, "Get the hell away from me," no comment. Under normal circumstances, I would get the hell away.
But not this time. No, something about the whole scene was too ridiculous to back away from. It was Hawaii, for crying out loud, and the weather was gorgeous, and everything was beautiful, and the game didn't matter, and it was an honor being there. I mean, it was the Pro Bowl.
And that's what I said, in so many words. I said something like, "You've got to be kidding me. You're really going to give me a no-comment about coming to the Pro Bowl? You're telling me that you aren't even going to answer one question when I flew 4.000 miles to be here?"
Something about what I said seemed to get through to Carl. He looked at me funny. And then he said: "Fine. One question."
One question for Carl Pickens. What do you ask in such a life-altering moment? Why are we here? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Did Yoda really mean Leah when he told Obi Wan that there was another hope like everybody said? Because, you know, I've thought a lot about it, and I really think that when he said "there is another," he was actually referring to the chance that Darth Vader would turn back to the light. And I don't care that there are 5 trillion Star Wars facts that prove me wrong, and I don't care what you say or Tweet or comment, I'm not changing my mind on this.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, in front of Carl Pickens, who was smiling and waiting for me to ask my one precious question.
I looked at him, and I said: "So Carl, you having a good time?"
He said, "Yep." And he split.
It was probably the best encounter I ever had with Carl Pickens.
But there's more. On the day of the game, Cincinnati's Jeff Blake set a Pro Bowl record by connecting with Yancey Thigpen on a 92-yard touchdown pass, the longest ever in a Pro Bowl*.
*At least up to then, I'm not looking it up to see if that's still a record because it's the Pro Bowl and I don't care.
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So after the game, I went up to Jeff, who was a generally nice guy, and asked him about the play. He wouldn't talk to me. He just turned his back. I figured he was joking around, but then I asked him again, and he still wouldn't talk to me. And then I asked him a third time, and he looked at me and said, "No comment."
"Man, I thought you were better than that, Jeff," I said, and I began to walk away. I took a few steps toward the exit, and he called out, "Hey, Joe, hold up." And then he came over and said he would talk to me, but it would cost him a lot of money.
"Why's that?" I asked.
"Because I bet Pickens that I wouldn't talk to you," he said.
And I turned to look, and there was Pickens laughing his head off. OK, it was pretty funny. And it did the heart good to see Carl Pickens enjoying himself.