Though I had received an invitation to the invitation-only Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski two weeks earlier, I back-burnered it and totally blew the RSVP deadline. Fortunately, Penn State SID Jeff Nelson hooked me up with a media pass at the last minute.
The event, featuring Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, was held at Eisenhower Auditorium on the University Park campus. There were some ridiculous constraints placed on the media -- and everyone else, for that matter. No cameras. No recording devices of any kind. No post-show availability to either coach.
Curious stuff for an event sponsored by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism and taped by what used to be a media outlet -- ESPN.
Anyway, it made my load lighter. I showed up to cover an event with only a notebook and pen for the first time in more than a decade. Well, I had an iPhone, too, which can be considered a recording device. More on that later.
What follows are some quick hitters from the taping.
The media were all herded into one area. Specifically, we were in a spot where no TV camera could possibly stray on to us. And that was just as well, and not only because most scribes are not exactly camera friendly. You see, for media members, clapping at an event you are covering is a no-no. So it would have been odd to view a crowd shot where one group was sitting stone-faced while everyone else was clapping like crazy. The guy next to me seemed to be one of those half-fan, half media types. He clapped at everything. And bit his nails a lot. I eventually moved one seat over.
Speaking of clapping, local radio personality and Bryce Jordan Center PA guy Jeff Brown served as a sort of MC of the event. I got the impression he was not receiving very specific instructions. At one point before taping began, he told the audience it should clap whenever he raised his hand. Kind of like a local version of Don Pardo. Only after he went to the effort of explaining his human applause sign routine, he never unleashed it. I'm still trying to figure out why Brown was there. He probably is, too.
At some point prior to the taping, it occurred to the powers that be that cell phones can be used to take photos and serve as recording devices. So Brown made two announcements for everyone to turn off their cell phones. That turned out to be less useful than his applause speech. Even after the second announcement, Penn State quarterbacks' coach Jay Paterno was Tweeting from the front of the auditorium. The ushers were particularly zeroed in on the media and their cell phones, giving stern admonishments to anyone who looked like they might sneak a Tweet. Not sure what sort of stupid logic was behind that. It was not as if a Tweeted image of the empty stage was going to spoil the show for viewers (it does not air until Thursday night). But hey, it made my life easier, so I didn't complain. Besides, the ban basically went by the wayside once the taping started and the ushers had to focus on a much more important task -- preventing anyone who left the auditorium to use the restroom from re-entering until the next break.
The taping started at least 30 minutes late. I'm not positive of the exact time frame since I could not look at my iPhone. Unable to check e-mail or Tweet or play video games during the delay, I was forced to talk to people around me.
There were about 60 students on the stage -- actually behind the interview area. I was stunned at the lack of diversity there. Then again, I wasn't.
Rece Davis was great as the host. He came out and greeted the crowd before the event, and was ridiculously smooth. Once the taping began, he was smart, funny and self-deprecating. But he also knew who the real stars of the show were and never took away from them. The poor bastard deserves better than May Day and Dr. Lou in the fall.
Before the coaches took the stage, there was a video introduction piece featuring Grant Hill and Jack Ham. Terrific stuff. Make sure you watch it.
When Joe and Coach K took the stage, I was struck by how much taller the latter was. And it made me wonder how much Joe has shrunk over the years. Anyway, they got a standing ovation from everyone but the media. Well, that one guy stood and clapped. Then chewed his nails. It was pretty obvious from that point that no human applause sign would be needed.
I don't want to say Coach K was deferential toward Joe. But he was extremely respectful. He called him Coach the whole time. Joe started off calling K Mike, but eventually called him Coach, too.
Both guys showed great senses of humor. Early on, Joe talked about dealing with athletes, and said how with some you have to be tough and yet some require a gentler hand. He said something along the lines of having to kiss some of them, meaning be nice (OK, so my note-taking isn't what it used to be). This started a funny banter between the two coaches, one in which Joe said it would be difficult to kiss a basketball player because they are so tall. To which Coach K deadpanned: and you gotta be careful what you kiss. The place erupted in laughter. I nearly clapped. That was only one of a bunch of extremely funny lines from both coaches. I won't ruin the broadcast by revealing many more.
Davis asked most of the questions. But the coaches also fielded questions from the audience and -- via some sort of online video -- from people at Duke. Organizers REALLY dropped the ball here, at least with the questioners who were called up in Eisenhower. It was one plant after another. So while they were technically questions from the audience, most (if not all) were clearly staged by the Curley Center For Sports Journalism people. It had partisan town hall meeting written all over it. And that was OK, given the overall tenor of the event. They just should not have implied ordinary audience members were asking the questions.
Speaking of so-called questions from the audience, Joe could not hear any of them. Goofy as it sounds, this is one area where Davis -- who as I mentioned was really good -- was at the absolute top of his game. At the first indication Joe could not hear a question, Davis quickly repeated it. It saved what could have been extremely awkward lulls in the action. PSU needs someone doing the same thing at Joe's weekly and postgame PCs. As an aside here, I'll be anxious to see if ESPN edits out Davis repeating the questions.
Otherwise Joe looked and sounded great. For what it is worth, I'm guessing he is going to come across looking very good to recruits and their parents.
I'm not sure how much of it will make the broadcast, but the four former players who participated (after the coaches were taped) were outstanding. They were Jay Bilas and Jay Williams of Duke, and Matt Millen and Michael Robinson of Penn State. Hopefully the telecast lets you see how all four guys represent their schools. I always viewed Bilas as extremely knowledgeable but also as a real stiff shirt. He showed more of a natural sense of humor during the taping, though. I'd grab a beer with him.
I really don't want to get into a lot of the details of what was said by the coaches or former players. I HATE it when people give spoilers for TV shows or movies I want to watch. So I'm not going to do that here.
Based on what I saw during the taping, this is a must-watch show for all Penn State and Duke fans. In fact, I think most college sports fans will enjoy it. Sitting through the long breaks between segments made it tough to digest everything during the actual taping. And more and more people filed out as it dragged on. But knowing a little about how TV stuff works, I can see ESPN streamlining everything into a nice package.
Life lessons I learned Monday? Great coaches can be really funny. Ushers are drunk with power but don't multitask well. Jay Bilas is not carved out of wood. It's kind of fun to cover an event with only a notebook and pen.
And maybe reporters take this no-clapping thing a bit too seriously, at least at non-nail-biting event.