It all started with a phone call.
Back in the 1980s (I know; I'm really old), I saw Australian Rules football on ESPN. (If you're unfamiliar with Aussie Rules, check this out and then come back.)
It was a blast to watch even though I couldn't figure out the rules, couldn't figure out the scoring, and definitely couldn't figure out some of the announcers' expressions. (Go ahead: Try making sense of "front posse," "it's on for young and old," "daisy cutter," "sitter," or "Colliwobbles.")
I decided it would be fun to learn more about the game, but pre-Internet research meant using obscure tools such as books and libraries. And because the U.S. tends to be, well, U.S.-centric, those were no help. So I called an overseas operator (remember them?) and was connected to Melbourne, Australia's directory assistance so I could ask for the newspaper's phone number.
The operator asked, "Which newspaper?"
I said, "Is there more than one?"
She laughed. She said she read The Age, and would that be OK? I said sure. She connected me, and I asked to speak to someone in the sports department.
"Which reporter would you like to speak to?" the receptionist asked.
"I don't know," I said.
"Um, any of them?" (I was long on initiative but really, really short on preparation.)
I asked the reporter how I could learn more about Aussie Rules. I thought at best he might recommend a couple of magazines. But he did much more, setting me up with a free subscription to the paper's sports pages, sending several books, and even getting the league's PR office to send me a football.
Fortunately for me, that reporter was Rohan Connolly, the award-winning senior football writer and radio broadcaster who has now been with The Age for more than 30 years.
A couple of years later, The Age conducted an early version of fantasy football in which you mailed in your entry for an entire season. I decided to play and a couple of weeks later got a 3 a.m. phone call from an intern at a Melbourne radio station who clearly didn't consider time zones, thought the idea of an American playing fantasy footy was interesting, and wanted to have me on the air.
"Sure," I said. "But how did you find out about me?"
"You're one of The Age's celebrity players," the intern said. The list included, as I recall, people such as Greg Norman and Elle Macpherson. (I was "notable" because I was the only American who entered.)
So I did the radio show a few times and in the process struck up a friendship with the intern. One day, he said, "Hey, why don't you come to Melbourne? We'll have you on the air and I'll get you tickets to some games..."
So I did, and over the course of two weeks, I went to four games; was in the Richmond dressing rooms at Princes Park before the Tigers played Carlton; went to a Richmond team function and met players such as Matthew Knights, Brendan Gale, and Matthew Richardson; went to the Seven Studios for the Sunday morning pregame show and met Sandy Roberts and Rex Hunt; met Tony Shaw, Robert Shaw, and the late Jim Stynes at radio station 3UZ...
The next year, I even did weekly NFL recaps for Brian Taylor's morning radio show, an experience that proves 1) I do have a face made for radio and 2) I do not have a voice made for radio.
Fortunately for me, that radio intern was Wayne Campbell, who at his full-time job with the Richmond Tigers became a two-time All Australian (think All-Pro), four-time club Best and Fairest (think MVP), and member of the club's Hall of Fame.
My one ill-conceived, poorly planned phone call set off a chain of events that took me to places I never could have imagined. Not because I made the call but because of the person who answered. I was just some goofy guy from America. Rohan could have politely brushed me aside.
But he didn't. Instead, he was incredibly generous even though there was nothing in it for him--except, I hope, the satisfaction that comes from doing something nice just because you can. The same was true with Wayne. He was generous for no other reason than because he could be.
Once in a while, when someone reaches out to you, don't reflexively think about what you can't do. Don't reflexively think about what you shouldn't do. Do what you can do and then take the time to go one extra step.
Sure, you'll know you won't get anything out of it--but what you won't know is what it might start, and what it might eventually mean, to the person who asked.
Go that one step further not because you should but simply because you can.
More in my "The Power of..." series: