The shirt off her back
Fern Leonardini would give the shirt on her back to her favorite celebrities.
The 66-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman proved it Thursday when she turned her back to “Seinfeld” star John O’Hurley, who played Elaine’s boss J. Peterman. He, in turn, signed the back of her shirt above the autograph of former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
Like so many fans with the same idea at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, Leonardini spied O’Hurley at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and seized the moment.
“I was absolutely surprised because I didn’t have my (autograph) book,” Leonardini said.
Leonardini is an autograph-seeking pro, sporting another shirt filled with signatures of retired superstars Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench and NBA forward Charles Barkley, who urged Leonardini to sit on his lap. She obliged.
O’Hurley is an important name to add to the collection, which she’s passing on to her grandchildren, because he’s such “a pleasant person.” She never tires of watching his antics on the award-winning show.
The devotion to the show appears to run in the family, as her husband and son have taped 150 episodes between them.
“To me, he is Mr. Peterman,” Leonardini said.
O’Hurley, who was surrounded by fans while leaving the ninth hole, said he enjoys coming to Lake Tahoe to play golf because of the people – the kids and big kids too.
“Especially the kids – I find they’re so much more polite here,” he said, adding he’s humbled and honored by the attention. “I wake up every morning and pinch myself.”
As it turns out, his star-struck fan has become well known herself. Leonardini has volunteered at the golf tournament for nine years.
Even caddies recognize the demure grandmother walking to her courtesy tent, giving her a ride to her post.
Mike Wingenbach threw his chest out to his favorite sports figure, former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.
“John, one more,” Wingenbach called out. Elway obliged by signing his name on the former Denver resident’s orange Broncos jersey.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Wingenbach said, adding he bought the shirt four years ago with the intent of getting it signed by his hero on and off the field. Wingenbach, 56, plans to frame the shirt.
“This has been his dream come true,” said Wingenbach’s wife, Cathy. “He told me he’d be in Bronco heaven if he got this.”
Matt Hernandez of Visalia turned his attention to the Los Angeles Raiders backfield, wishing his lucky stars he’d get former running back Marcus Allen’s autograph.
“Because he’s the greatest football player I’ve watched ever. He’s Marcus Allen,” he said.
The goal is a difficult one to understand for his girlfriend. South Shore buddy John Ruiz, who peered out at former big league catcher Gary Carter, agreed.
“(Our girlfriends) wouldn’t come because as soon as we see (the professional athletes), we’d forget all about them,” Hernandez said of the women.
The attention is a part of the celebrity territory to “Knot’s Landing” actor William Devane, who said mothers are the first to recognize him.
“It doesn’t bother me. It’s a pain in the (rear end) if you’re tired. But if you’re tired, you shouldn’t be out to events like this,” Devane said.
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