Riding tie-dyed coattails 

A Pacers game with Rupert

A Pacers game with Rupert

Last week, Rupert Boneham (America’s favorite Survivor) invited me and a couple of pals to the May 24 Pacers playoff game against the Detroit Pistons at Conseco Fieldhouse. It was like going to a game with a rock star.
Rupert Boneham

It started the moment we parked. We took a quick illegal turn on a one-way street as Rupert (riding shotgun) gave a knowing nod to the police officers at the VIP entrance to the Fieldhouse parking garage. After turning the car over to a valet, we were greeted by some Pacers marketing people and a very friendly Indianapolis Police Department officer. The marketing people gave Rupert a Pacers jersey with the number 1 on front and “Rupert” on the back.

The policeman and Pacers staff led us through an underground labyrinth, then we took an elevator up to the Varsity Club, a nice restaurant and bar. Rupert had steak, shrimp and lobster. Making reference to his recent island experience, he commented on the seafood, “Tastes a little fishy, a little frozen — out there it was so fresh.” He then hastened to add, “But it’s very good.”

It turned out that the police officer was assigned to be with our little group for the entire evening. “My wife loves you,” he told Rupert. “I even got on the computer and voted for you.” Later he tells me, “I voted for him a bunch of times.”

As we eat, fans and well-wishers come by to shake Rupert’s hand — many of the women want to hug him — and Rupert takes it all in stride. After he leaves a hefty tip for meals and drinks (on the house, of course), we make our way through the kitchen, down an elevator and into a small room called Star Room 4, which is stocked with snacks, soft drinks and bottled water.

More big-shots stop by to meet Rupert, and the Pacers staff shoots a quick promotional video spot of Rupert yelling, “Make some noise!” followed by his trademark roar. I pig out on snacks.

Finally, my friends and I are led to our $150, courtside row 5 seats. Rupert remains behind and then comes out on the floor right before the game with a microphone to shout, “Let’s hear it for the Pacers!” and to roar some more. The crowd loves it, and when Rupert returns to his seat, he leans over and asks me, “Could you understand what I was saying?”

Throughout the game the police officer kept a watchful eye on Rupert, politely but firmly keeping away the people who wanted to approach him for an autograph, a hug or whatever. During halftime, we were led back to the refuge of Star Room 4.

In the end, the Pacers lost to Detroit (birthplace of both Rupert and me) and our little party exited through the loading dock area. Here, Rupert ran into a bunch of ESPN people he knew from back in the days when he was a crew member at these types of sporting events instead of a guest celebrity.

After more photos, hugs and handshakes, we finally got in the car and drove off. A group of young men were standing on the street just outside the parking garage. “Rupert!” yelled one of guys, who then started running toward our moving car. “Keep going,” said Rupert, not wanting to be mobbed for autographs.

“Elvis has left the building,” I thought to myself.

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