Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Week 5 – Here Comes the Boom

Denver, CO – 10/9/06.

Harry: “I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.”
Lloyd: “I was thinking the same thing. That John Denver's full of sh*t, man.”
- Dumb & Dumber, New Line Cinema © 1994

When we touched down in Denver on Sunday, I had to agree with Harry & Lloyd. Although the two were mistakenly gazing at the cornfields of Nebraska, I found myself in the Mile High City with nothing but gray skies on all sides. No mountains in the distance. No snowcaps. No ski lifts. Nope, the Denver skyline was painted a shade of ugly, which was a sign of things to come.

After a week of actually paying attention to all of the ESPN promos asking, ‘Is it Monday Yet?’, it finally was. But first things first, the weather report didn’t get any better over night and they were calling for 2-3 inches of snow. Yes, in October! Of course team officials must have known this prior to leaving Baltimore and I’m sure all of the players had enough clothes to keep them warm, but someone forgot to tell the production crew. The result, a field trip to REI to stock up on long underwear, fleece jackets, and ski pants. Some nice souvenirs I suppose.

Back to the reason we were in town. We arrived at the stadium a few hours before kickoff and I had been telling Lauryn all week that if given the chance, I was hoping to meet Chris Berman, an ESPN living legend. ESPN, now home to Monday Night Football, apparently travels a small armada of sportscasters and production crews to each game as we saw three production trucks outside the stadium, another two trucks inside the stadium, a stage in front of the main entrance, a stage up in the stands, and a war room complete with laptops, video cameras, and umbrellas for the lovely sideline reporting duo of Suzy Kolber and Rachel Nichols. The point of all this is that I assumed it would be impossible to find ‘Boomer’ amidst the fleet. Lucky for me I had a lot of water to drink on the bus.

Most trips to the bathroom are uneventful, at least to my reading audience. But this was no ordinary bathroom visit. As I turned the corner to find the facilities, I recognized a familiar face. It was Steve Young, former San Francisco 49er and current ESPN analyst. Once my brain processed the fact that I was standing next to a hall of fame quarterback that I used to despise during my Cowboy fandom days, I noticed another familiar face. Mr. Berman. The two were chatting it up with Steve McNair. I couldn’t interrupt, and I really had to go, so I darted into the men’s room hoping to formulate a plan.

I entered the bathroom and saw a man getting dressed in the corner. Normally I would pay no attention, but I noticed that this man was wearing a superman shirt and a cowboy hat. Odd I thought. Turns out, the clever people in the promotions department at the Broncos decided to have an actual horse run around the field every time Denver scores. Well this guy, he rides the horse.

So after, well, using the bathroom, I washed my hands and went to dry them. I was hoping Chris was still outside so that I could find a way to casually introduce myself. But then I panicked – no paper towels! A $500 Million dollar stadium and they run out of paper towels! I started waving my hands as fast as I could, maybe they would air-dry in time. At least the cowboy had left so no one was in there to see me flutter around the sink. I did the whole dry-your-hands-in-your-pockets trick, and had to take my chance before it was too late. I left the bathroom. Chris, Steve, and McNair were still talking shop, and I tried to catch Berman’s eye as I walked by. He was of course still having a conversation and had no idea someone was looking for him. I sort of nodded as if signaling hello to an old friend and walked right past him. I’m pretty sure he ignored me, but it was closer than I thought I ever thought I would get.

As I headed back to our staging area, the remaining team buses pulled in. The camera crew scurried to set up along the entranceway to get a glimpse of the players making their way to the locker rooms. Funny, a few minutes earlier when I got off the bus, those same camera men were still set up but seemed a little disappointed at who was staring back at them. So to the delight of all media, this bus was a bit more star-studded, as Ray Lewis walked down the steps and into the eye of the storm.

The game was a mess. Not just a defensive-battle, lots of turnovers, only two field goals in the first half kind of a mess; but a rain soaked, muddy field, wet gloves, cold feet kind of a mess. We had Ed Reed wired this week and we were getting great sound from him the whole first half. He was calling plays, yelling at teammates, talking to coaches, even smiling back at the camera. But then, we heard static. With about 3 minutes to go in the first half, the battery in his wireless microphone died. After five weeks on the job, I’ve learned to put the camera together and pack my bag full of batteries, tapes, extra pens, etc…but I must have skipped class the day they taught us about the ‘boom mic’. The ‘boom’ is that fuzzy ball of fur you sometimes see hanging over actors’ heads in b-movies. It picks up sound and is usually attached to a pole that is attached to an audio technician holding the pole. Well, my loyal readers, this week in Denver, I became an audio technician. For three minutes.

Jeff kept rolling and Lauryn handed me the pole. I held it over the players on the bench, fearful of someone getting up too quickly and knocking themselves out. Or at least getting mad at me and breaking the pole. I kept looking back at Lauryn for assurance. She kept saying to bring the mic lower. Lower!? I was practically cleaning their helmets. But I listened to her; after all, she is the boss on game day (yes, just game day, right sweetheart?). Then, as my shoulder started to tighten up the boom made contact with Ed Reed. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear. Ed apparently is used to the attention and ever so slowly he reached his hand up from the bench and shook hands with the boom. I froze. He smiled. Initiation complete.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, we were able to switch his battery at half time and the boom was no longer needed. It is rare to be able to actually change a player’s pads mid-game for a television feature, but as you can tell, Ed was a willing participant. But our team only had a few minutes to make the switch. When I walked into the staging area, Larry, Don, and Jeff were hovered over his pads performing what seemed to be open heart surgery on the gear. As soon as the battery replacement was complete, Don ran the pads back to the locker room and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The show would go on. And in the quote of the year, as we walked back on the field, Ed commented to another teammate while straightening his uniform and pads, “Saw my mechanic. Had to get a tune-up.”

The rest of the game was brutal, we were wet and cold and losing, but the trip home was the real rough part. We took off well past midnight on the east coast and we were scheduled to land around 4AM. But with less than 30 minutes left in the trip, we had to make an emergency landing in Pittsburgh. One of the players on the team, who had been injured during the game, had to be taken to a hospital. We all knew how serious it must have been since we were so close to home. The paramedics rushed onto the plane and helped him off. The injury does not appear life threatening, but it was a clear reminder as to how brutal the game can be, and how insignificant one loss can be. It was a Monday Night to remember, but more importantly, one we can forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haha, welcome to Denver. You're in my house now, better bring your A game.