Note: Steve Young and Jeff Benedict will sign books in Salt Lake City at the Fort Union Deseret Book store from 4PM to 7PM today (Friday). They will sign books at 12 noon on Monday (12/19) at “This is the Place” bookstore in Kensington, Maryland).
For the past nine years Santa Claus has visited our Virginia farm on Christmas Eve. The kids would wait in our barn with a window open and listen for his bells. Like clockwork, he’d appear on the brick walkway at 7:15 p.m., bellow ho-ho-ho, and come through the doors with a sack of gifts.
One-by-one, each child sat on his lap while he complimented them on their well-written letters to him. To my kids’ delight, the gifts Santa gave always corresponded with the ones on their wish list. Proof.
Then I’d slip Santa a Ben Franklin. But he never pocketed the money. Instead, he put it toward the purchase of toys and food that he brought each year to children who were hospitalized on Christmas Eve. He always went directly from our place to the children’s ward. Further proof.
Well, this year we are spending Christmas in Connecticut at our new home. Our three older kids have long figured out Santa. My wife and I decided it was an appropriate time to explain the truth about Santa to our youngest, 10-year-old Clara Belle. Seated beside the fireplace hearth, I revealed that the Santa who had visited our farm all those years was actually a clerk at the post office in Lexington, Virginia. He has an authentic white beard and a vintage Santa suit. He really did read every one of your handwritten letters. But he really is the mailman.
There was a long, awkward silence. Needless to say, it was a tough moment.
“How did you meet him?” she finally asked.
I explained that a few months after we moved to Virginia in 2007, I spotted him on the street in his Santa suit. He was by far the most genuine looking Santa I had ever seen. So I approached him and asked if he’d be willing to make annual visits to our home. He gave me his number and I literally put him in my iPhone contacts under “Santa.” Every year I sent the kids’ Christmas letters to him.
The worst thing about this conversation with Clara is that it marked the passage of yet another mile marker on the road of life.
Still, I told Clara that the man in the Santa suit is real. After all, he really does spend his Christmases visiting hospitalized children near our Virginia farm. That’s not make believe.
I also told her that it’s easy to spot Santa in December. He comes in surprises. For instance, back on Dec. 5th I received a completely unexpected gift from my publisher. It was a simple email message: “Congrats on having a New York Times bestseller!!!!!!!” This News came out of nowhere.
I was so thrilled I grabbed my daughters and celebrated in the kitchen. We Believe!
There were two oilmen in our basement at the time. They were, servicing our furnace. “Do you guys like football?” I asked. The one sitting on an upside down bucket while changing the fuel filter smiled and said: “Of course.” When they finished, I met them at the truck and handed them signed books. “Merry Christmas!” I said. One of them put out his cigarette, took the book and said: “Wow! Look at this. Thank you very much. I mean that. Thank you.”
Then my uncle Timmy showed up at my house with an official NFL ball. He had paid over $100 for it at Dick’s Sporting Goods. My uncle is almost 70 and he looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and David Crosby. He’s been in construction his whole life and he still wears a tool belt every day. He told me that he planned to give the football to his daughter Leslie for Christmas. “Do you think you can get Steve to sign it for her?” he said.
Leslie is 49. But she had a crush on Steve Young when we were kids. I took the ball from my uncle. I’d do anything for him. After all, when I returned home from my Mormon mission at age 21, he gave me the greatest gift when I returned from my Mormon mission in 1987 – a job. Nothing builds a sense of self-worth like a job.
I planned to have Steve sign the ball at Gillette Stadium when the Patriots hosted the Ravens on Monday Night Football. A book promotion event was planned there during the pre-game. One of my responsibilities was to bring a bunch of books and give them to Patriots fans so the NFL’s social media team could get some video footage of Steve signing them. Basically, this was a chance for me to play Santa Claus.
First, though, I had to get the books and the ball through security. With bomb sniffing dogs and Massachusetts State Troopers looking on, I trailed Steve Young and his fellow ESPN analyst Charles Woodson through a metal detector at a back entrance to the stadium. “Put everything on the table,” one of the security guards said. “It all has to be screened. Coats. Bags. Everything.”
“What about the football?” I said.
“Let me see that,” a female guard said.
I handed it to her.
She examined it. “The PSI feels a little low,” she said, straight-faced. “Are you sure this isn’t underinflated?”
Everyone cracked up. Earlier in the day, reports had surfaced that the NFL had taken no action after the New York Giants found two football used by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense that were inflated below NFL guidelines back on Dec. 4th. Turns out the PSI levels of both Steelers’ balls were 11.4 and 11.8, about identical with the PSI levels of the balls that led to Tom Brady’s bogus 4-game suspension.
“C’mon through,” she said, handing me the ball.
With a little time to kill, I walked around and talked to ushers, camera operators, food vendors, electricians, security personnel, and groundskeepers. I admire people who work outdoors in boots, dungarees, thermal underwear and denim jackets. With the sun setting and the Stones “Gimme Shelter” belting through the sound system, I handed out a few books to the people who do the behind-the-scenes work. “Merry Christmas!”
I was standing near the tunnel when Tom Brady emerged from the locker room and jogged out to warm up. The mood in the entire stadium changed when he entered. It was like someone powered on the electricity. The crowed roared. The volume on the stadium sound system went up. “LET’S GO!” Brady screamed at fans in the corner of the stadium.
Hefting a box of books, I approached the fans and started handing them out. If I’d had 500 books it wouldn’t have been enough. One group of young teenagers started chanting: “Jon Steven Young! Jon Steven Young!”
When Steve approached to sign autographs, one of the boys yelled: “Jon Steve Young, you’re my favorite player.” “Oh, yeah,” Steve said, skeptically. “How do you spell my name?”
“J-O-N,” the kid said.
Steve looked at me and nodded. The kid was legit.
The older New England fans kept saying thinks like: “After Brady, you’re the best, Steve.” I told the fans to turn over the book and look who endorsed it: “Steve Young is a hero of mine, and his story is a source of inspiration for me. His perseverance, intelligence, and, most of all, grace under pressure NFL-style, makes this book a fascinating read. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story with one of your biggest fans!” Tom Brady.
My favorite moment, though, was when this guy pointed to a child who was sitting silently. “He needs a book,” the man told me.
I gave one to the boy, and after Steve signed it he clutched it like he had just received a gift from Santa Claus.
I believe. Do you?