ANAHEIM, Calif. — Yoo-hoo. He’s over here. Sitting behind that crowd of reporters. The guy with the Grace Jones haircut and the earrings and the hobby of painting women with thick eyelashes and . . . ooh, what’s that? He took off the earrings? No problem. They’re in his bag.
“I’ll put them back on as soon as the team pictures are done,” said Vance Johnson.
What a relief!
Here he is, America, the next great left turn of Super Bowl tradition. Just when you thought we’d have nobody to take Jim McMahon’s place, or to walk in the Refrigerator’s oversized footprints. Just when you thought the Giants and Broncos were dull, average, maybe a tad boring. . . .
Vance, kid, tell us about your painting.
“I only paint women, OK? I use a lot of bold lines. I like to do thick lips, real red, and concentrate on the eyes.
“I did an acrylic after we won the AFC championship. It’s a woman holding up a mirror and peeking out from behind a chic blanket. I call it ‘A Peak in 87.’ ”
“Gotcha,” said a reporter, nodding, “and did you always paint beautiful women? Was it always your favorite subject matter, even as a child?”
“No,” he said. “I painted stick figures then.”
Natch. He’s an eccentric one And there you have it. He’s young. He’s fast. He’s in the Super Bowl. . . . Vance Johnson, wide receiver, graphic artist.
He held court for one hour Tuesday afternoon, the first full day of media madness as the countdown to Super Bowl XXI continues. And Vance — who said he knows the power of publicity — did not waste any time. He opened with his artwork at Arizona, moved into the earrings bit, shifted gracefully into his prize possessions — a Porsche 911, and a boat — and then to his nickname,
“Dash,” earned not because he is so fast but because “on the first day of practice I showed up in a fur coat and gloves and the guys started calling me
‘Dash Riprock,’ after the guy in ‘The Flintstones.’ “
The tape recorders hummed with glee, the pencils nearly ignited on the pads. Steadily the crowd on the practice field grew larger and larger as the word spread. Reporters left the dull old Broncos’ linemen in mid-sentence.
“Psst. Over there,” they whispered, “a colorful character.”
There is one every year, isn’t there? The eccentric. Or the player we dub the eccentric. Last year, McMahon spit tobacco juice out one end and took acupuncture needles in the other. The media ate it up. The year before, Bubba Paris talked about delivering religious sermons to opposing linemen while in his crouch. Ate it up again.
So why not Vance Johnson, a 23-year-old former world-class long-jumper who lists among his idols Olympian Carl Lewis — the king of speed, grace and orange lip gloss.
“Carl had it together,” Vance said.
But Johnson is catching up.
Prepare yourself for plenty more on him, at least until someone figures out which is the real No. 82. True, he is a lightning-quick receiver, the son of a
military man, a guy who came back from a brutal knee injury this season to take more violent licks every Sunday. It is also true that he favors clown dolls, long earrings, and complains that the wind has blown his hair down. So a lot of people want to know whom Vance is taking to the dance.
“What do you think Lawrence Taylor thinks of your earrings?” someone asked.
“I was hoping he’d go easy on me because he figured I was gay,” Johnson said.
Hold that quote.
Click, click. The price of artwork Vance held out his hands. “All my fingers have been dislocated except my two thumbs,” he said. “That’s John Elway’s passes for you.”
He does that, too. Catches Elway’s passes. He caught a 48- yard touchdown that helped seal the playoff victory over New England. He will be a big target
on Sunday. If we ever get there.
For now, though, he is this year’s model of eccentricity, a football player who will be quoted across America as saying, “My signed lithographs will go for $250 apiece, unless we win the Super Bowl. I imagine the price will go up then.”
It is hard to tell which is more ridiculous, the things coming from his mouth, or the fact that they are all being written down. You ponder that for a while. You decide that both are ridiculous.
“What do your teammates think of your artwork?” someone asked him.
“They love it,” he said.
“And what do your artistic friends think?”
“What do they think?” He paused, squinting in the midday sun. “Actually, they think I’m crazy for playing football.”