STATELINE, Nev. â€” Ray Romano glances at the two burly Douglas County Sheriff officers assigned to him â€” and by burly, we're talking bears burly (Chicago linebacker or Canadian grizzly impressive, take your pick, just don't smile at them wrong) â€” and does a double take. This is his beef?
"What, have I been downgraded?" Romano asks, drawing chuckles from the cops. "Where are the rest of the guys? The show hasn't been off the air that long. Has it? Get my agent on the phone."
Romano's joking, but he's still hitting on a new celebrity truth. Forget entourages. Having the largest group of people you essentially pay to hang with you is so April, 2006. It's now all about how many taxpayer employees get ordered to protect you from the great unwashed masses.
You know, the 8-year-old in the Spiderman shirt who looks a little suspicious or that 37-year-old watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" reruns in a near endless loop in his parents' basement who looks a little ... well, literally unwashed. Dude, how about mixing in a little soap with the adulation.
Forget the bling. It's a nightstick thing. The best jokes carry truth. Many of the celebrities playing golf in the American Century Championship paid attention to how many police officers escorted each player on the short walks from the last green to the clubhouse.
Sure, soap opera actor Jack Wagner ended up winning the tournament. But that's only remembered in his own household. Ben Roethlisberger took the real prize. No one received more cops whisking him here and there than the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback did in one of his first public appearances since the motorcycle accident. It turns out slamming his grill on concrete may have done wonders for Big Ben's celebrity standing.
And don't think the rest of the field didn't notice.
"I remember when I had it like that," former Bears punk quarterback Jim McMahon said wistfully as Roethlisberger's "Reno 911" looking posse roared by on a golf cart, sheriff deputies hanging off the sides. "Of course, half of the time, the cops were chasing me."
OK, it's hard to be too wistful when Coors Lights are appearing in your hand faster than you can empty them â€” and McMahon empties them faster than almost anyone â€” and women are calling out your name. Still, the truth is out there in those tan cop shirts and dark sunglasses. There are lessons for celebrity and regular golfers alike.
What could you possibly learn from vain blowhards who count cops like your neighbor counts his fantasy football trophies? You'd be surprised. A week on the celebrity golf beat can give you new faith in the game.
The first golf shot I saw Donald Trump hit, shank sliced so hideously that people who had no idea where the ball went ducked reflexively. Heck, Both squirrels scampering in the trees and worms wiggling below the ground covered their heads.
It was that bad. A tournament volunteer telling me what a nice game Trump had stopped in mid sentence at the shot and let out a low, soft, "Oh, that's not good."
Trump couldn't have been more unbowed. He marched over to his ball, still strutting that Master of the Universe vibe. He didn't even blink his hair, let alone go Bobby Knight when a few teenagers let out a mocking, "Hey, Trump." Instead, he launched his next shot right onto the 18th green.
"Golf," Trump said afterwards, offering an explanation before any was asked. "You play well all day and then you hit a shot like that on 18."
Trump's assured shrug made it clear that you should think that was the only shot he hit like that. This is one of the big celebrity golf secrets. Truth is your average celebrity golfer is probably worse than your average regular golfer.
Trump's "Apprentice" executive Carolyn Kepcher couldn't beat Bea Arthur in match play based on the game she showed in Lake Tahoe. NBA star Chris Webber could drop a Wilt Chamberlain 100 on any golf course in America (including many pitch-and-putts). "Saturday Night Live" alum Kevin Nealon would have trouble topping a stoned golfer. Come to think of it, Nealon did finish behind Cheech Marin of "Cheech & Chong" fame.
The difference comes in that the celebs never stress it. Most of them don't even admit to themselves that they stink.
Scott Hamilton, the 5-foot-3 figure skating champion, Johnnie Cochran-argued how his game was really better than what I saw over several holes. You try getting that five minutes back.
Imagine if regular golfers carried such baseless chutzpah.
Somewhere along the way in real world, grown-up living you forget how fun it is to sit in the back of the room. Bosses tend to frown on you observing the meeting from spitball gallery distance. Celebrities never relearn though.
Sitting in the supposedly prime forward row seats at a Cedric The Entertainer celebrity comp show would you in the company of such unhip stars as Dan Majerle and Marcus Allen. Romano and Charles Barkley cut it up in the back of theater.
Of course, you do want to step forward when you've been wronged. Steve Spurrier â€” the college football coaching legend who's won SEC titles by the bushel, a national championship and his own Heisman â€” walked into the press room/scorer's den to argue one stroke he'd been denied in a celebrity golf tournament. A celebrity tournament he wasn't in contention for. Spurrier got his score corrected.
"He's the most competitive son of a gun you'll ever see," talk show host Maury Povich said admiringly of Spurrier.
And you didn't think you could learn anything from celebrity golfers? Yes, your ego probably is much too small.
Time for me to go. Heading out to hit a P. Diddy party. First, the call to 911. To make sure, I roll in right.
August 7, 2006