(This article was published in 2003).

The Super Bowl took place in the warm sun of San Diego, just a two hour drive from where I live. For the last year, I had been figuring out a way to go down for the game. I had semi-leads for tickets here and there; and, just a month before the game, I had decided I’d go down for the fun of the spectacle, with or without a ticket.

Instead, I ended up in Springfield, Missouri, watching the game with 300 straight people while the wind blew outside a frigid zero degrees.

At the beginning of January, Chuck Booms (comedian extraordinaire who co-hosted the Fox Sports show Kiley & Booms that I once did a weekly segment on) asked me if I would go to Springfield for the Super Bowl to do a local radio appearance and host his stand-up comedy show twice a night during the weekend, then host the Super Bowl party with him at the sports bar / comedy club, Sir Gregory’s. Chuck told me that, in my ten-week stint on Kiley & Booms, I became a bit of a celebrity in Springfield.

Yeah, right. There are more churches in Springfield than liquor stores. There are three Christian networks on the air. Hell, Springfield is the home of Redneck Trailer Supplies (no joke). And a gay guy from Los Angeles is going to be well-received?

Sun vs. Clouds; 80 vs. 0; Hillcrest vs. the Bible Belt? My decision was easy: on the Thursday before the game, I got on a plane headed for Springfield.

I had been told by a friend from Missouri that it’d be best if I just didn’t tell anyone I was gay while I was there. Too late for that. I was billed as, simply, a “surprise host,” and Chuck had been dropping hints all week – that the host was a big sports fan; that he was flying in from Los Angeles. I thought – yeah, they’ll be surprised when some stranger gets up on stage instead of Tom Cruise.

On Friday, I was the one that got the surprise. When the announcer came over the microphone system and announced to the 300 people in attendance that the surprise guest host was none other than Cyd Zeigler, from “The Fag Five,” the place erupted with cheers.

Wait, wait, wait. Cheers? I’m a gay guy. I AM GAY. They’re supposed to whip out their Bibles and start praying for me.

Yet, I saw none of that. The 300 people laughed when I proclaimed that I was, in fact, a certifiable “cocksucker.” They rolled in the aisles when I put the microphone in a precarious position. And when I insinuated that a couple quarterbacks of certain teams might be gay, they joined in the fun and threw out some names of their own.

Jim, a former loyal listener to Kiley & Booms, came up to me and told me how happy he was that the surprise guest host was me. He told me about his gay brother in the military, and how our bit on that show had given him more compassion for his brother.

There was Chad, the 24-year-old who had already been married for four years, who couldn’t stop telling me how much he appreciated me coming to Springfield, and how much he enjoyed my little “routine.”

There were Dwight and Tracy, an unmarried couple, with whom I spent much of the weekend, who laughed heartily at my often crude gay jokes. At times, I tried testing how far I could go before they said I’d gone far enough – I never got there.

Greg Hanson, the owner of the bar, told me as I was leaving that he’d personally finance a radio show with Chuck and me; a guy with an Eminem hat and I lamented the 2000 Grammys; Derek, another guy married at the age of 24, joked around with me as I hit on him, shared a blowjob shot and took my shirt off onstage for him.

As I was leaving Springfield the very early morning after watching the Bucs kick the Raiders all over the field (and it certainly helped the matter with these folks that I had picked the Bucs by 17 all weekend), I was left with a couple emotions.

I was amazed at how people in the middle of fly-over country could, with some humor and gentle nudging, come a long way when it comes to accepting gay people. With this Web site, and with the radio show, we reached into their homes and affected how they think about us.

I was also surprised. My perception of the Midwest was of a few million close-minded ultraconservatives who were rather you were a drug pusher than that you were gay. While the latter part of that might not be so far off, the former – the notion that they’re close-minded – got turned upside down last weekend.

Overwhelmingly, person after person, a theme developed in their comments to me. Dozens of them told me how they were, just a few months ago, homophobic; how no gay man could be appreciated in their eyes; how they thought it was wrong and the people who were gay would go to hell.

Somehow, through our humor and our honesty on both Outsports and the Kiley & Booms show, we got through to them. They started to realize that what we do with our lives is our own business, not theirs; they came to believe that gay people could be “normal,” and that they could actually enjoy their company. No small feat for a city of 200,000 Bible thumpers.

While it would have been fun to be in San Diego last weekend – this biggest party this country will see this year – it was so much more rewarding to freeze my butt off, listen to Kenny Chesney, and tell gay jokes to a group of recovering homophobes.

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