A Day In The Press Box
October 03, 2011 at 07:17pm by Scott • 6 Comments »
Earlier this summer, I had been invited by the Bucs to attend a home game in the press box. I picked the Falcons game because the timing worked out well for me and it’s a divisional game, so I knew it would be a good one regardless of either team’s record. Plus, and I’m not ashamed to admit this, I knew I’d be able to rub it in the faces of my friends who are Falcons fans. So I made my way down to Tampa on Friday, spent Saturday with friends and family and got myself ready for the game on Sunday. After a short lunch at the Kilt with some cats who frequent this site, I made my way down Dale Mabry to One Buc Place, following the instructions sent to me almost in the form of a scavenger hunt. I had to ask one person for a parking pass, another for a press credential and enter through the right door in order to get to my destination. I love it when life becomes a game!
I pulled up to the security guard’s house (I assume he lives there) and asked for my parking pass. He asked me my name and started looking over his list. This is usually the time in one of these scenarios where I start thinking of good alternate names that I can make up. This time around I was trying to think of a good Atlanta sportscaster name. “Oh, did I say ‘Scott’? I meant Hank. Yep, Hank Pigskin’s the name, host of the Sports Spittoon. We’re on 1610 on your AM dial, broadcasting at a cool 1,000 watts out of Cumming, Georgia.” But it turns out all that was unnecessary because my name was actually on the list. He went into his desk, pulled out an envelope with my name on it and asked for my ID. After rejecting my Federal Booby Inspector card, he took my license, wrote something on a clipboard and handed me my envelope. I opened it up to reveal my official parking pass for Lot 5 — the media lot. It was a FULL COLOR pass complete with a notch so it would hang on my rearview mirror. These guys thought of everything! And the lot was just around the corner, so I left One Buc and a mere 45 minutes later I was there. That green arrow from MLK onto Dale Mabry lasts about 84 microseconds, by the way.
I finally get directed into Lot 5 and guided into my parking space. It’s close to the stadium right across Tampa Bay Blvd, so it’s a short walk. The media has its own entrance next to Gate D, right under the huge picture of Josh Freeman. There were no chicks dressed in showgirl outfits waving feather fans at us like I was led to believe. There’s a table just inside the entrance where media people receive their media credentials — after another ID check, of course. Media folks talk about being credentialed like it’s this huge deal. I had assumed once you get a job at a newspaper or TV station that you get a tattoo of a barcode that gets you into important functions. No, it’s a cardboard pass you hang around your neck. Mine had my name and this web site on it, so I asked the girl handing them out if I needed to wear it at all times. She said it wasn’t necessary but it was probably a good idea. I went ahead and put it in my pocket. God forbid Fennelly sees it and tries to eat me right there in front of everyone. Did you know he can unhinge his jaw like an anaconda? It’s true.
We also get patted down like anyone else entering the stadium. They wave the magic wand around me and then a very polite man touches various parts of my body with the back of his hand. No cupping — very classy. I look around for a minute, but there’s not much to see. The locker rooms are ahead and to the left, there is the “Media Dining” room in front of me where they will hold the post-game press conference (still not sure why they call it a dining room) and the elevator to the press box is to the right. I walk over to the elevator, which is guarded by a woman checking to make sure I’m authorized to be there. I flash my credential like I’m a secret agent and BOOM! She presses the button. There’s no turning back now.
I step off the elevator and walk through a small hallway into the press box. “Box” is only accurate in that it has six sides. This place is HUGE. It pretty much takes up the full length of one side of the stadium. Against the glass facing the field, there are three rows of seats and tables for members of the media to set up. There are all assigned and there is a key where you look your name up and find where you’re supposed to sit. I had my own space with my name on it and various media materials waiting (rosters, starting lineups, history, etc.) Behind all that are various food areas — tables set up with sandwiches and desserts, a carving station with brisket (To. Die. For.), someone serving bananas foster, and pretty much anything you want to drink (no booze). I had no idea or I would have worn my oversized trench coat with the huge pockets or maybe even brought along my hollowed-out wheelchair to smuggle some of that sweet, sweet catering out and live off that for a couple weeks.
There are televisions everywhere. Most are on the Bucs game, but there are several tuned to other games being played around the league. Sadly, none are tuned in to porn. During the game, when the rest of the world is watching commercials, those TVs display fantasy stats from around the league. Some people seemed more interested in those.
Beyond all the press seating, there are various rooms where TV and radio people do their broadcasts, one room for team management and one room for the instant replay official. The sign on that particular door says “POSITIVELY NO VISITORS” in 100-point type and is signed by Roger Goodell. An armed guard would have been a nice touch. One room is the open-air press box where all the beat reporters sit and watch the game with their laptops in front of them. They take notes and post stuff on Twitter and pretty much just keep to themselves. It’s feels more like a football game in that booth because you can hear the crowd and aren’t looking at the game through a pane of glass. To my right, I could see Gene Deckerhoff calling the game.
This is about the time Mark Dominik was basically running through the box trying to get somewhere in a hurry. Still, he recognized me and took the time to say hello. I thought that was pretty cool. I wish I had thought to run alongside him and just go into which ever room he was going to as if I belonged there or even knew where I was. Would have been worth a shot.
As the game gets ready to start, a voice comes over the PA instructing everyone that no rooting for either team is allowed and can get you kicked out of the box. I’m sure there is a good reason for this, but I can’t think of one. Maybe because it would be embarrassing for the Bucs if other people saw the local beat reporters rooting for the other team? Not that they were doing it right in front of me, but when Josh Freeman was intercepted on the first offensive series, a couple of them got a smug smile on their faces as if they knew it was coming if someone had just asked them. The voice announcing the warning is the same voice that calls the play by play for the press box. He almost sounds like KITT from Knight Rider. There’s very little emotion to his voice, but it’s very soothing. This guy could call a kid’s birthday party or a lethal injection and everything in between. And yet Joe Buck is still employed.
I watched the game from various vantage points around the box, depending on which table had the best food at the time. There are no bad seats, but the open air box is the best because it’s the closest to the 50. Halftime is mostly spent checking out the fresh selection of food and desserts and catching up on other games. After the game is basically decided, there is a mass filing to the one elevator to get to the locker room and then to the dining room where the post-game press conference will be held. I got off the elevator and followed everyone to the tunnel under the stadium leading to the locker room. If I had looked closer at my credential, I would have seen that it allowed me access to that locker room and also the field. But since I didn’t, I kind of hung back and chatted with players as they came in off the field. It probably would have been a little weird having this awkward dude hanging around the locker room not knowing where to look. Do you stare straight up so as to not accidentally catch a glimpse of some strange dong? I wasn’t going to ask any questions while I was in there and I definitely wasn’t going to take pictures, so there probably wasn’t any point except to say that I did it. Oh, and NO PICTURES IN THE TUNNEL! I found this out when a stadium employee shouted it at me as I snapped off a shot of Corey Lynch.
I found my way back to the dining room and they were setting up the podium for Raheem to speak at. Various cameras were set up as were several rows of chairs for the reporters. I hang back around the cameras. Raheem eventually makes his way in and starts addressing the reporters. I’m listening intently when… sigh… my phone rings. It’s in my back pocket and not loud enough for anyone but me and whoever I was standing next to to hear it. I’m holding a bunch of stuff with one hand and I want to get this thing shut off in a hurry, so I quickly walk backwards away from everyone while simultaneously squeezing my left ass cheek trying to shut this fucker off. I never was able to do it, but it finally went to voice mail and I thought I was in the clear. Until the caller tried me again. This time I pulled it out, shut it off and caught the gaze of the only other person to hear it, who was utterly disgusted with me. These are the protocols you have to learn the hard way, I suppose. The funny part was that someone else’s phone went off during that same press conference and he made a joke of it. After Raheem is done talking, he leaves and so does everyone else.
But I’m not done and there are still people doing things, so I hang out for a couple minutes longer. As I’m watching various players come out of the locker room, a large door to the left rolls up and several cars drive through the tunnels and out of the stadium. Did you ever wonder where the Glazers parked their cars on game day? Now you know. They keep them inside the stadium. I guess if I owned a stadium, I’d do the same thing.
There was a group of military people outside the locker room and the players were taking pictures and signing things on their way out, which I thought was very cool. The soldiers were obviously happy to get a chance to talk to the players and the players were gracious and humble and generous with their time. Someone else hanging out after the game was Warrick Dunn, who was chatting up a couple people I didn’t recognize. I stood in the background and wasn’t going to say anything, but when we made eye contact, I just had to stick my hand out and hope he shook it. He did! I told him I had just finished reading his book and thought it was excellent and then I asked him for a picture. He obviously wasn’t there to meet and greet anyone, but he smiled and said sure and I got my picture with him. And now some thug in north Atlanta has that picture. But it really happened, I swear.
The rain had stopped and after meeting Warrick, I didn’t figure anything else could top it, so I took off. I guess most media types take this kind of access and pampering for granted, but to me it was like being in the world’s coolest luxury suite. Big big HUGE thanks to Jonathan Grella and Kelly Schutz for making this happen and not kicking me out when I let out small, happy squeaks after Buccaneer touchdowns. It was an awesome experience.