The time was right for SI to pay tribute to the man who had become known as the biggest Olympic hero of them all. It was three days after a bomb had ripped a hole into the heart of the Olympics, and a group of dignitaries joined hands onstage and officially rededicated Centennial Park. He stood among the buttoned-down Olympic bureaucrats and grandstanding celebrities and seemed to write the story for us: true hero welcomes back the people he saved.
After the brief ceremony I approached the stage and asked a security guard named Greg if I could talk to Richard Jewell for a few minutes.
"Yo, Rich," Greg said into the microphone attached to his headset. "A guy from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is out here. He wants to do a story on the hero. You're big time now, buddy."
He had been big time since the explosion, appearing live on numerous TV programs and sitting down with Katie Couric on the Today Show minutes after the park's reopening. His courage had overshadowed all the athletic achievements of the first week of the Games. Two people died as a result of the explosion, but on the morning the park reopened, another guard insisted that Jewell's actions "saved at least 150 to 200 lives."
Greg sent me to a gate along Techwood Drive and said Jewell would meet me there in two minutes. I waited five minutes, then 10, and finally a beefy, blond-haired guard strolled toward me. He was escorting an entourage led by Jesse Jackson out of the park, and I reached out and introduced myself to Richard.
"Ah...I think you've got the wrong Richard," he finally said. "I'm Richard Del Pozo. You want Richard Jewell."
The wrong Richard sent me back to the rear of the Global Village, where I asked a guard named Chris to run inside and get Jewell. Chris returned five minutes later and nervously explained that Jewell had just gone home. Chris said Jewell was tired and needed sleep before returning to work that night, but he gave me Jewell's phone number and said Jewell wanted to talk.
I returned to my hotel room at noon and called Jewell at his mother's house, but I got an answering machine. I called again at two o'clock and again at four, and couldn't understand why this supposedly publicity-hungry hero was avoiding me. Finally, just before five o'clock, an editor called and asked if Jewell had gotten back to me.
"Actually, he hasn't," I said. "I don't get it. I thought this guy wanted to be famous."
"He's famous all right, but he's probably not going to call you back today," said the editor. "Maybe you should turn on CNN."