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This list goes beyond brush with fame.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

Saturday morning, I watched on ESPN2 as Linfield battled for an NCAA Division III football championship. From time to time, a camera showed Linfield Coach Jay Locey on the sidelines.

Only he looked out of context to me. When I think of Locey, I think of being in John Woodman's basement in Corvallis, back when we were in high school, and playing some dice football game. And how I'd invented a defense called "Gambler's Bet" in which you simply blitzed all 11 men. Or I think of him playing ice hockey with me on Devil's Lake - one-on-one with a tuna fish can as the puck.

A few weeks ago, ABC's `20/20' was featuring "The Incredibles," a new computer-animated film that's getting considerable national attention. The host said it was written and directed by Brad Bird.

Suddenly, it dawned on me: He was the little brother of Leslie Bird, my eighth-grade girlfriend, the freckle-faced kid who kept bugging us to look at the cartoons he'd drawn in tablets, then flick with his thumb to make it look like an animated movie.

And now here he is, on `20/20' and in Newsweek and in theaters all across America.

This, I've realized, is a pattern of my life: For some weird reason, I have this long list of `I-knew-them-when ...' people. People who are now nationally known but, when I knew them, were just ordinary people.

Last month, at Borders, I saw a CD by a horn player named Chris Botti. His new album, "When I Fall in Love," has reached No. 1 on Amazon.com. He's touring next year with Josh Groban. He's an international heartthrob.

But in my mind, he's the kid who lived four houses away; my wife used to baby-sit him.

What is it with me and famous people? I don't offer this list to boast; I'm far more enamored by obscure people who deserve attention than by the rich and famous. But this pattern keeps showing up in my life - sometimes tragically.

In 1988, seven people were killed in a Silicon Valley high-tech firm when a guy rebuffed for dates by a woman named Laura Black opened fire where she worked. When I was growing up, Laura Black was literally the girl next door. Her story - she was wounded, though survived - became a movie starring Brooke Shields.

Maybe it's a family thing. I've written about my grandfather having delivered newspapers in Portland with Linus Pauling, the two-time Nobel Prize winner.

Maybe it's a Corvallis thing. When I was 17, CBS News featured our bus driver, Bob Skelton, because he'd been chosen to give the Class of '71's commencement address.

Among the other riders on our bus was Barb Minty. I once chauffeured her and Danny Emmons around in an "unsafe-at-any-speed" Corvair. Years later, she made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a swimsuit model. And married actor Steve McQueen.

I ran junior high track against - and lost a girlfriend to - writer Jon (`Into Thin Air') Krakauer.

I used to play whiffle ball with

Oregon State football coach Mike Riley; drove the green Fiat of ex-Oregon baseball player Dave Roberts after he became the No. 1 pick in baseball's 1972 draft; and lived in the apartment next to now-Sen. Ron Wyden when I was a UO junior.

I have a hard time seeing these people as they are today.

Wyden helping guide the country? Naw, he was the guy playing his stereo too loud. Riley on ESPN's Sports Center? He's a mug shot in my High-O-Scope column. Krakauer climbing an ice wall on the Discovery channel? Naw, he's skiing at Hoodoo.

In my mind, they're all locked in the '60s and '70s. And so it was that, in the dying minutes of Saturday's game, with Linfield clinging to a one-touchdown lead, the Wildcats needed only to make a fourth-down stop to win the title.

"Gambler's Bet!" I yelled at the TV. "Blitz! Bring everybody, Loce!"

I'm not about to take credit for Locey's success or anyone else's from my past. But let the record show: The Gambler's Bet worked. Linfield won.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 21, 2004
Words:688
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