Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Ponder offered an explanation for why a certain Vikings QB was 30 minutes late for an autograph session last week.
“I’ll be at the Mall of America @champssports signing autographs on Thurs May 23rd from 6:00-7:00pm on 2nd level near Sears- Come see me!” @cponder7 wrote to followers on Twitter.
I asked a guy, who seemed to be among those in charge of the Champs Sports appearance, why Christian Ponder was late and this guy said: “Can’t make him do everything, you know. You’ve got to pick and choose your battles, right?”
It’s worth noting that members of the NFL face fines for being late to practice, team meetings and games, without excuses. This behavior is also astonishing because Ponder isn’t considered among the flakier personalities in the NFL. Some fans were miffed about his lateness but not ticked off enough to leave. There were approximately 200 waiting, but the line was not prohibitively long or regulated with wristbands, so fans such as Brooklyn Park’s David Gunderson were able to queue up twice to get a second item autographed. (If there was a limitation on items signed, it was not strictly enforced.)
About 6:30 p.m., Ponder took a seat at the table where there had been placed a few dozen Vikings caps, Sharpies, two bottles of Gatorade and two bottles of water without acknowledging his tardiness or apologizing.
Not while I was within earshot did I hear Ponder saying, for example, that he got caught in traffic. (That’s not a good excuse, anyhow, because you should always factor in that possibility when there’s a crowd awaiting your arrival.) He did not say he had been delayed because he was comforting a sick friend. (That’s at least understandable, forgivable.)
To his credit, he didn’t leave until he’d signed for every fan.
As he made his exit about 7:15 p.m. I used a playful tone of voice to ask: Now, why were you late?
“We’re not going there,” he said, giving a semi-gruff glance.
Ponder did a TV interview or two before being taken to the back of the store, the same way he entered, where he remained ensconced for reasons that shortly became evident.
A woman in black and white graphic print dress had walked through the front entrance while I was looking at the area in the back of Champs Sports, where Ponder could still be seen. By the time I noticed her, she was entering the backroom. Doggone it, I just missed getting video of someone who had better be his wife of five months, I thought to myself.
The woman in the black and white dress then walked out of the back area and into the store proper. Yes, this was definitely Twitter’s @samsteeleponder.
I scurried away from her to put myself in a better place to shoot decent video of Samantha Steele Ponder; Twitter profile: “Current ESPN broadcaster, future Wal-Mart greeter. God 1st, people 2nd, cake 3rd. Jeremiah 17:7,8.”
To my everlasting shock, Mrs. Ponder wanted to know if I was the person she thought I was. She wanted to have an off-the-record conversation, media person to media person. We did.
As we’re talking I’m sizing her up a bit. She’s confident, funny, smart, edgy, self-effacing, savvy and she looks just about perfect. I couldn’t even see any split ends, and I was looking.
I asked her why Christian was late and Mrs. Ponder said something along the lines of: Haven’t you ever been late?
Not for a public appearance, I told her.
In the end Mrs. Ponder offered to do an on-the-record interview with me. We parted ways shaking hands. Before parting, I was most amused that my introduction to Mrs. Ponder brought a nervous look to Christian’s face. My chat with the missus was not brief and Mr. Ponder was clearly ready to leave.
Eventually the QB had to come from the back of the store to fetch her.
So in the end, fans who waited 30 minutes, I may have detained Christian Ponder, which seems infinitely fair in this context.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.