Johnny, Jeffrey, Lyle

Johnny Carson, Jeffrey Osborne and Lyle Alzado. An unlikely trio, forever entwined in my memories.

It was late December, 1983, and me, my twin sister Laura, and four fellow Illini fans were on the red eye to LA to see Illinois take on UCLA in the Rose Bowl. We had tickets for the game on January 2, but decided to make a longer vacation out of it since we were on semester break.

We got off the plane at somewhere around 6 a.m., and headed straight for the Burbank Studios to get in line for Johnny Carson tickets. There was already a long line of people assembled, but even though it was early in the morning, there was a party atmosphere to the crowd. We were there to see Johnny, after all!

Somewhere around 10 a.m., bleary eyed and tickets in hand, we headed to our hotel where 6 of us were sharing one room for the week. Don’t judge….we were college students! Naps, showers and some food later, we were headed back to the studios to stand in line for round two. I can’t imagine why you’d go through the trouble of standing in line at 6 a.m., only to not show up later, but what do I know?

So, we stood in line again, got in the studio sometime between 2-3 p.m., got to our seats and had to sit and wait. The studio was freezing cold and we were in shorts and tee shirts.  But we had our tickets and we were going to see the king of late night, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We were all so excited!

Soon enough, the man himself was on the stage delivering his brand of pithy humor with Ed McMahon, his forever sidekick there on the couch and Doc Severinsen leading the band. This was my first brush with celebrity like that, I have to admit I was a little starstruck.

The first guest? Some guy, can’t remember his name, who did an act twirling plates to music. Might have had a Vegas act or something, Not something anyone would pay to see today, but then it was kind of a thing.

Next up? Jeffrey Osborne. His song, “On the Wings of Love,” was recently released, and we got to hear it live and in person. I liked the song already. Getting to hear it live? Icing on the cake.

So where does Lyle Alzado fit in? For those of you too young to remember, he played football with the Denver Broncos, then Cleveland, then LA. He died of brain cancer in the early 1990’s which he ascribed to his lifelong steroid habit. He wasn’t a guest on Carson that night, but he was in the audience. He was actually sitting right in the row behind me. When the camera panned to him as Carson introduced him to the audience, you could see me on the screen. My five seconds of fame! Friends at home who were watching saw it; unfortunately, I never got to. But hey, I was there, right?

The game? Unfortunately, the Illini left their best back in Champaign, and lost big to UCLA in the Rose Bowl that year. But that loss didn’t overshadow the highlight of the trip for me–I got to see Johnny Carson!

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