I followed the security man with the pumpkin cheesecake who was following George Foreman. I could have followed the security man with the two Domino's pizzas, who walked out of Foreman's dressing room at about the same time, almost an hour after Foreman's 12-round loss by decision to Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight championship last Friday night at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but he seemed to go in another direction. So I tailed the man with the pumpkin cheesecake.
"That belongs to George?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," the man said.
"He's going to eat it?"
I learned later that the cake had been sent to Foreman by a waitress next door at the Trump Plaza Hotel's Broadway Buffet. Her name was Marie Wilbert, and for the past couple of months she had been serving The George Foreman Buffet Special, all you can eat, $5.95 for lunch and $7.77 for dinner. Foreman had not partaken of the buffet, preferring to eat in his room, but Marie had read about him and seen him on TV and liked his style. When her son read that Foreman had eaten three servings of pumpkin cheesecake as part of his unique preparation for Holyfield, he had encouraged Marie to make one for the big man because she has a special recipe.
"I was wondering if it ever got there," she said. "I sent it kind of late."
"It got there," I said.
I tracked the cheesecake and its keeper and Foreman to the postfight press conference. This usually is a grim piece of business for the loser of a big fight because he is probably hurt and certainly disappointed, and the people around him also are hurt and disappointed. A carefully packaged aura of invincibility has been ripped apart for a nation—no, a world—to see. The loser has been brought back to the pack with a pay-per-view thud. A dim future replaces an electric past.
This was not the case in Atlantic City. Not close. I could see Foreman walking in front of me, taller than almost everyone else around him. He was wearing a blue-and-white crocheted cap and a pair of sunglasses. A comic-strip lump protruded from the right side of his face, at the cheekbone. He was smiling, always smiling. Wherever he moved, trailing a conga line of people behind him, there were cheers. Honest cheers. Happy cheers. He was treated as if he were a politician who had never been indicted, an aeronaut who had landed after a trip in a hot-air balloon. He would have been handed babies to kiss if babies were allowed to stay awake this late.
"Way to go, George."
"You're the greatest, George."
In this curious production, the loser was a bigger winner than the winner. The loser had the better celebration, maybe even the better future. What would this 42-year-old man do next? Television? Movies? Endorsements? Fight again? I couldn't remember anything quite like this, certainly not in boxing. The feeling seemed to be a mixture of relief and respect and some kind of joy at simply being alive. Yeah, the old guy survived. He showed everyone. This was a validation more than a loss.
In three years, Foreman had slowly changed cold hearts and narrow minds. This was the final line in the rèsumè. He had started out as a buffoon, a pretender, a punch line to a lot of bad jokes and wound up as this...what? This grand evangelist of fun. This public service announcement for the positive. Yes, you can do it. Give it a shot. Have some laughs. He preached a doctrine that said age does not have to be a restraint and that games do not have to be played only by residents of some monastery for bionic research. Eat what you like. Eat as much as you like. Enjoy.
Most of the same people who had laughed at him in the beginning had twitched in their seats for all 12 rounds against Holyfield, crossing their fingers in the hope that maybe Foreman could unload that one good shot that would complete the story in the absolute best way. The shot never came, but there also was no disgrace.
"You can do it if you put your mind to it," he said, stopping for a television camera outside the door to the interview room. "That was the message of tonight."
I watched as he moved to the press conference. I was hoping that the security guard suddenly would open the box and hold the cheesecake above his head, the way the cornermen hold up a championship belt when they enter a ring. Maybe someone else could hold up a cheeseburger. Or a dozen honey-dipped doughnuts. Or a bucket of chicken. I stood at the bottom of the stage while Foreman talked to the press in this huge room filled with maybe a thousand people. I could see the smiles. I could hear the applause, rare as a deep thought from a crowd of sports reporters.
"Where do you go now?" I asked the security guard.
"I'm not sure," he said.
I know that Holyfield went to a party. I saw him dance to loud music and polite applause. I do not know where Foreman went. I fell off the conga line after the press conference. He said that he had to leave Atlantic City because he was preaching a sermon and teaching Sunday school at home in Houston. I like to think that he went back to his room for something to eat. I know that if he needed dessert, it was available, and he had earned it.