Late in "Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper," Stephen Dubner acknowledges that he's begun to scare himself a little. He recognizes that he's working at "yanking (his) hero off his pedestal," rather than merely telling the story he set out to tell...the story of a needy boy's discovery of Franco Harris as hero and father-figure, and then the examination of that phenomenon by the man whom that boy became.
Happily, events conspire to save Dubner from himself. He develops a terrific relationship with Franco Harris's mom, who's as open and warm as her son is distant and reserved. Then Dubner becomes a father himself, and has an epiphany: ""The key to not being needy, I discovered, was simply being needed."
What precedes this happy ending is a worthy and entertaining exploration of the nature of the relationship between a fan and the player who captures his imagination and comes to represent for him grace and dependability, two qualities lacking in the life a boy who's lost his father early in his life. Dubner's story is personal, of course, but he's canny enough to know that what various other folks have said and written about hero-worship can inform his tale. He's read widely on the subject, but "Confessions of a Hero Worshiper" never gets bogged down in academic prose. It's a brisk first-person account in which lots of sports fans will recognize themselves.
It would be interesting to know more about what Franco Harris makes of this book. Dubner and Harris have remained in touch, but there's no indication in "Confessions" of whether Harris resents Dubner's resentment of him, or of whether Harris has gained from the encounter the wisdom, serenity, and inclination to laugh at himself that Dubner has achieved.
This program aired on January 25, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.