Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Death Watch: Richard Jewell

The closest I've ever come to heroism is when, hundreds of miles away, some of my closest and oldest friends thwarted what could have been the signature act of terrorism in our nation's history.

Now obscured by 9/11, the Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta would have been a lot worse than two dead if the bomb had exploded in the manner in which anti-abortion terrorist and skilled bomb maker Eric Robert Rudolph had intended it to.

What prevented this from happening were the actions of my lifelong buddies. Dubbed the "Speedo boys" by law enforcement (because they had gone to the Olympics to work the Speedo booth -- not because they wore revealing bathing suits at inappropriate times), my friends were loitering drunkenly in Centennial Park when they drew the ire of a nasty fatman of a security guard named Richard Jewell.

Jewell argued with the Speedo boys. They eventually decided to leave, and went to grab the rest of their beer, which had been stowed in various backpacks. One of the bags in their general area seemed too heavy and full to contain beer, so they dismissively kicked at it before going on their way.

The deputy director of the FBI would later pay homage to what the Speedo boys had done by stating, during a press conference, "no doubt that movement (of the bomb) saved a lot of lives." This strange but true chapter in American history is documented in this book excerpt.

In subsequent interviews with investigators, my friends fingered the hated Jewell as a suspicious creep with "intense eyes." This characterization no doubt contributed to Jewell being profiled as a potential suspect in the bombing.

Of course that accusation proved to be false, and, in the aftermath, Jewell got all sorts of sympathy, Saturday Night Live and movie appearances, and libel settlements from news organizations.

Just a year ago Jewell was still receiving citations from the state of Georgia for alleged bravery -- some claim he helped move the crowd away from the bomb -- while my friends, the real heroes of the day, have toiled in anonymity for the past decade without a single NBC dime to spend.

I guess it goes to show if you are an unpleasant creepy looking security guard you should try your best to harass as many kids as possible just trying to have a good time during a national celebration.

Richard Jewell hit the jackpot with that calculus, and had been living large with the notoriety and cash it brought ever since. That is until he died today of natural causes. Richard Jewell was 44 years old.

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