Like any red-blooded American male, I am a fan of the AMC show Mad Men. The men in their 1960s era advertising agency dress well, drink all day, and screw secretaries with no threat of a lawsuit. In my day job at a software company, the closest I get to behavior like that is when I watch the show on Netflix, hoping a manager doesn’t step into the cubicle I share with five other losers. This doesn’t make me different from 95% of Joe Sixpacks in this country who go to work every morning and leave every evening with no feeling of achievement or enjoyment, and certainly no shot at nailing the one hot new girl who I said “good morning” to once in the break room before she walked out of the kitchen with no response whatsoever, and what makes her think her shit doesn’t stink especially since I started working out last month and I was wearing a new shirt that I got for Christmas and my best slacks and she has the same shitty entry level job answering phones that I had two years ago and she’s not really that hot anyway she’s just “work-hot” and FUCK! Corporate life is so miserable I have to get “puke-in-the-closet” drunk every weekend just to cope with how much life sucks since I graduated college.
There is 5% of the work force (my estimate) who doesn’t trudge into the office every morning sporting the same glazed-over look that the Kardashian sisters have at all times. Some are billionaire playboys like Richard Branson, who teleconference from private islands while trying to monetize space tourism. Some of the 5% are literally playboys like Hugh Hefner and Joe Francis who were the first guys to think “Hey, men will pay to look at young women naked!” But many of the 5% are sports media, who get paid to do the same activity the rest of us spend thousands of dollars on each year, and that’s attend sporting events. Not only do they get paid for it, but they get gifts, food, and all the alcohol they can stomach, which happens to be a lot. I know this, because I spent a week at the Fiesta Bowl with media credentials pretending to be a journalist.
I’ll start from the beginning. I run a little web site called CollegeVisits.org. I like going to sports games and visiting new places, so I combined those interests and started writing about it. I don’t consider myself a real journalist, but maybe someday I’ll get paid for it. A fraternity brother of mine out in Arizona is a real journalist, and he invited me out for the game with the promise of media credentials. I cashed in all my Southwest flights points and made the trip. I love watching Oregon play ball, so worst-case scenario I would get to watch their bowl game for free. The game ended up being one of several awesome experiences that week.
I landed in Phoenix, and after dinner with some friends it was time to head over to the media hotel to get my credentials. The media hotel is the J.W. Marriott Camelback resort, a massive complex of suites that starts at $329 a night. Sadly, I am spending my nights on a couch at my friend’s apartment, because I live a sad life and can’t spend $2,000 on a hotel for five nights. I get my photo taken, and while I am waiting for my pass I walk over to the Oakley table where they’re giving away free sunglasses. The greatest thing about bowl games is the corporate sponsorships, and because this game takes place in The Valley of the Sun, Oakley is a great fit. I have a choice between Wayfarers or Aviators (retail price $149), or I can refuse the glasses and have Oakley donate $35 to a charity. I pick the Aviators because I love Top Gun, and I’m way too much of a greedy prick to donate the money to charity. On the way out, I also snag a media guide for each team ($15 each at the game), a bag of Tostitos and jar of queso. Tostitos is the title sponsor of the Fiesta Bowl.
The next morning was the Media Day for both teams. We went early to get the lay of the land. Having never attended a media day before, especially for such a big event, I had no idea what to expect. I did no prep work ahead of time; all I knew was I needed to hold a little video camera for my friend while he interviewed a couple players. He spoke to a couple of the stars, and then we stood around twiddling our thumbs. Eventually, I wanted to talk to some of the players, so my friend and I traded places and I got on the front side of the camera. You can see the result of my player interviews here:
I think Oregon’s Center really did want to fight me.
The next night was the media party back at the Camelback resort. Besides the Media Day, at which everyone was working, this was the first time I would be gathered with the rest of the real journalists. Sports media members are pretty much what you’d expect. You know the guy in your chapter that never had anything to talk about except Miguel Cabrera’s WAR? Most of the men are overweight versions of that guy. And as for the women, do you know Erin Andrews and Sam Steel? They’re mostly like that. I was excited for the open bar, and a chance to make a run at the gal from this video. I told her the EMAW thing by the way. No shout out for me? She’s as bad as the new girl at the office.
They were packing up the food when we made our late entrance, but the open bar lasted another hour and a half. We grabbed a media margarita before hitting the buffet. I promise you, NO ONE could go hungry at a media event. The buffet was loaded up with Southwestern favorites like quesadillas and bean dip, sopapillas and guacamole. The works, really. Full spread. We shoveled in some food while we stood at the bar. We had two hours to drink is much as we could before the open bar closed. It was during our two hours standing at the bar that we started chatting with some real media. They had a ton of great stories, none of which I am at liberty to repeat. Sitting with these guys, drinking free liquor, I couldn’t help but feeling like Don Draper. Throw away the millions, the dashing good looks, and the hot slampiece, and at this moment we were the same person. Just some guys throwing down booze, basking in a good day’s work, while young blondes walked all around.
Well, the open bar at the party ended shortly thereafter, but they asked if we were going to the after-party. I didn’t know there was one, but of course I was up for it. Back in the media hospitality suite, there’s another open bar, a backroom poker game, more Tostitos chips and dips than you could imagine, and one small bathroom that will never be the same after that night. After that night, I’m not sure I will ever be the same either. Why can’t my cubicle at work get a corporate sponsorship that provides snacks and alcohol? Does your company provide you with free gifts just for showing up? After a few more hours there, we called a cab, and I nearly passed out on an ottoman in the hotel lobby before it arrived. I had taken two bags of Tostitos and a jar of salsa as party favors. I made a huge mess eating them in the back of the Town Car.
The next morning was game day, which I had hardly even thought about after all the events that had gone on in the days prior. In just a few hours, I would be watching the number four and five teams in the land play in the second best bowl of the season. I should tell you a little about the press box. There was a private elevator that took me from the main concourse to the media suite. Once in the room, there were several blonde Arizona babes whose only job was to show me to my seat. Front row, center. I don’t know why a schmuck like me scored such a prime spot. There was a meal before the game (BBQ brisket, sides, and apple-pie cheesecake), snacks throughout the game, a soda machine, and then another meal at halftime (nachos and chili dogs). I had been sitting on my ass all day, but yes, I deserved two full dinners 90 minutes apart. With bowls of potato chips in between. And a couple pieces of cheesecake. And several cokes. Hey, did you I mention many media guys are overweight? I’m on my way to becoming a real journalist.
With five minutes remaining in the game, media are allowed down on the field. This is so that they can be there during the player celebration, coaches handshake and trophy presentation. I only wanted to get a photo with The Oregon Duck and cheerleaders (got both). While down there I saw Phil Knight (Founder and CEO of Nike) Neil Everett (SportsCenter guy and Oregon alum) and was also in the middle of the player scrum on the field, doing my best not to get trampled by men with eight inches and 150 pounds on me. I’m not a good enough writer to describe the scene. It’s five minutes of pure chaos. Players are either hooting and hollering, or solemnly walking to the locker room. There are cameramen everywhere, trailing enough cable to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge. Good luck not stepping on it and getting yelled at. People are handing out hats and t-shirts to the winning team’s players (and only the players, I tried). I just missed Coach Chip Kelly’s Gatorade bath, but I soaked my loafers in the puddle. There are so many emotions in this moment that I can’t imagine there is anything like it outside of sports.
Trophies were presented, players and coaches were interviewed, and stories were written, all while the average fans waited outside in traffic. By the time we left the stadium, most of the crowd had dispersed and we didn’t spend nearly as much time in traffic as I’d expected. The media shuttle took us back to the resort, we went back to the media hospitality room, where there was yet another open bar, several tables with Jimmy John’s sandwiches, desserts, and, of course, Tostitos and dips. It was a much smaller crowd because most people were finishing up their work for the night, so we snagged a few more bags of chips and a couple Bud Light ‘Nums for the ride home. On the way back to the apartment for my last night in Phoenix, I started thinking about the regular job I would return to on Monday. I had gotten to experience the mad life of a sports journalist, and it will be hard to go back. I’ll miss the camaraderie that develops over free cocktails. I’ll miss the omnipresent sports babes. Perhaps most of all, I’ll miss the tables full of food. There is a Mad Men work setting in America, but most of us will never experience it.