I owe Tom Brady for making sure I didn’t get fired

BY DENNIS WALLS JR., Guest columnist
Posted 2/3/21

Super Bowl Sunday is near, and since I cannot root for the Panthers, I will root for the Buccaneers.

I used to live in Clearwater, Florida, just north of St. Petersburg. Tampa’s older, seedier, …

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I owe Tom Brady for making sure I didn’t get fired

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Posted

Super Bowl Sunday is near, and since I cannot root for the Panthers, I will root for the Buccaneers.

I used to live in Clearwater, Florida, just north of St. Petersburg. Tampa’s older, seedier, sister city across the big bay. I partied in Ybor City, Tampa’s historic district of old cigar factories re-purposed into stylish boutiques, restaurants, nightclubs and bars. My friends and I went swimming at Indian Rocks Beach on weekends. My only connection to Kansas City is a distant cousin, and she hates football.

In truth, I care for neither the Bucs or the Chiefs; I will be rooting for Tom Brady. I always root for him, not because he is over 40 and an inspiration to gray-haired men everywhere. Nor do I not care about the record books. I will not be cheering for him because he turned the hapless Bucs into winners or left Bill Belichick a loser.

No, I always root for Tom Brady because I owe him. I owe him big-time.

Tom hosted Saturday Night Live after winning the Super Bowl in 2005. The load-in was brutal; SNL employs about a hundred cast and crew members, from the painters to the cue card writers, and we routinely work on top of each other during rehearsals. Most guys were able to grab something to eat from the craft services table set up across from the room labeled HMUW, short for Hair, Make-Up and Wardrobe. NBC fed the whole company to keep us in the building and working, but on this day I was needed in the Today Show studio across the street during the dinner hour, so I missed that meal. It was good chow, too, prepared by the chefs in the kitchen of the commissary a couple of floors down.

As a freelance stagehand, I had learned that the quality and quantity of catered food available backstage was determined by the type of production; for example, corporate video shoots usually meant salads and sandwiches. Rock shows meant burgers and fries, or pizza. Fashion shows were the worst: nothing but bottled water and energy drinks. Surprisingly, WWE chow was restaurant-quality, including an omelet station. Writing about it now is making me hungry. But nothing like the gnawing, ravenous hunger I felt late that night on SNL.

At midnight, my foreman cut us loose to feed ourselves as best we could. I staggered through the double doors to the crafts area and to my horror found only rows of empty platters and chafing dishes of cold water. There was nothing to eat but plastic wrapped pairs of saltine crackers and squeeze packets of spicy Chinese mustard. I totally lost it.

“Look at this spread!” I yelled in mock admiration. “Are these people good to us or what?”

My coworkers were aghast. Everyone looked at me like I was out of my mind.

“I don’t know where to begin!” I raved sarcastically. “Should I start with the mustard or the crackers? Maybe I can go through the garbage!”

My fellow crew members told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to calm down and shut up before I got fired. A couple of guys grabbed my arms to restrain me.

That was when Tom Brady walked out of HMUW. We all froze in place with a collective gasp. We must have made quite the tableau. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Hey guys,” he said, taking us in with a glance. “Whatcha got?”

No one said a word. As we were unresponsive, Tom craned his neck to look at the food table. Seeing it empty, disappointment registered visibly on his face. In that instant I knew that he was hungry, too, and had come out only to get something eat. That hunger drained out through the hole in the pit of my empty stomach.

People have been fired from SNL for less than this breach of etiquette.

“Tom,” I said to get his attention before continuing with genuine contrition. “Tom, I’m sorry. I haven’t had anything to eat all day and all night, and I lost it. I’m sorry.” It was time to take my medicine like a big boy.

“Meh, OK,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. Then he turned and disappeared back into HMUW. My coworkers dragged me onto the nearest folding chair and ran away from me as quickly as possible.

Tom Brady never registered a complaint that I heard about, so I got to keep my job. This is why I will be rooting for Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl. Thanks for not getting me fired, Tom!

Dwayne Walls Jr. has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the newspaper. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.

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