Thursday, May 22, 2008

Humbled At The Hall

Being a sports fan along with working in the media you sometimes come across assignments where you find it hard to avoid the sports fan mindset and be a professional member of the media at the same time.

For instance one of the incentives of working at WHBC in Canton was the fact that our station had all access to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies, festival and inductees. Most people only see the annual ceremony on ESPN at Canton's Fawcett Stadium. What they may not realize is that there are weeks of related programs & such in and around the city leading up to the big day. This includes the ribs and music festival, Hall of Fame Queen Pageant and a huge parade with many of the past & current inductees. The ribs burn-off is outstanding. The aroma of BBQ coming from the Stark County Fairgrounds - deep in the heart of Canton - for those four days could wake the dead.

Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival:

During the parade, of which WHBC ran live on the radio with commentary, I had the job of getting interviews from the members of the hall of fame as they waited to enter. I would get the interviews on tape and head back to the station to pull soundbites which would be played over the air once that member's float was announced on the air. Not a bad gig at all.

Pro Football Hall of Fame:

The best part was the inductee breakfast which took place the Saturday morning just prior to the parade. There our station was the only local media outlet allowed inside to interview, at length, the hall of famers on hand. I only worked in Canton for a little over two years, but I had the opportunity to interview the likes of John Elway, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Gale Sayers (very stoic), Tommy McDonald (hilarious), Mike Ditka, Anthony Munoz (His hands are the size of my car!) and Barry Sanders among others.

My first interview was with Mr. Sanders. Following the chat I walked to an unoccupied area of the breakfast hall and called my brother (waking him up at 7am) and whispering, "I just interviewed Barry Sanders!" I had to repeat it twice - each time whispering just a little bit louder - in order for him to understand what I was saying and avoid being detected by those around me. Trying to hide my enthusiasm and being professional at the same time was tough.

As much fun & memorable those times were I did not come away unscathed. One episode will live in my closet, along with the other skeletons, till the end of time. My first year in the Hall of Fame City (2004) during that breakfast I'm tracking done all the hall of famers I could. Some, if you didn't recognize them off the bat, wore name tags. You knew the names, but sometimes people look different in person than they do on television. Those name tags allowed me to recollect who they were - especially for those of us who are football fans. Some of them did not wear identification, but no worries I shouldn't have a problem. Luckily there were some who had physical features that made it obvious who they were. This is not a 100% accurate way of identifying someone, but I was confident in what my mind was telling me.

As members of the hall file through I'm a bit starry-eyed though still focusing on my task. Most of them were courteous and happy to assist by giving a short interview or comment. A few weren't exactly cordial, but this is a very busy weekend and they had a lot on their plate. I understood. Suddenly I see Dan Dierdorf come in. A hall of famer, tv football analyst & Canton native - this was a must have for my personal resume.

His physical stature (he's a big guy) and mustache were hard to miss. As Mr. Dierdorf comes in he is greeted by hall of fame employees and others and I'm standing in the distance to avoid being a bother - this weekend was about the hall of famers. I didn't want to make it about me or the media. I casually raise my hand and attempt to grab his attention by calling, "Mr. Dierdorf?!" He's busy shaking hands and I don't believe he heard me. So moments later I again I callout, "Mr. Dierdorf?!" Again my request seems to fall on deaf ears. Its obvious what I'm after so it isn't anything he hasn't seen before. I have a recorder, a microphone complete with my radio station's mic flag and I'm wearing my station's bright red polo shirt with the logo & call letters printed on it. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out.

I wait another couple of minutes and one last time I, with a big smile, call out, "Mr. Dierdorf?!" Finally - I've grabbed his attention. I prepare myself to sound like a professional member of the media as the mustachioed figured steps toward me. He shakes my hand rather briskly, leans in with this eery sarcastic smile and says, "HI, I'M TOM MACK. IT IS A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU!" His rather unnerved demeanor was topped off with his purposeful mouthing of each word as if I were six years old, not very bright and learning english from one of the characters on Sesame Street. Imagine my horror realizing I wasn't being ignored - I was calling him by the WRONG name!!

Wholly crap! Not only had I mistaken Hall of Fame Offensive Lineman Tom Mack for, ironically, Hall of Fame Offensive Lineman Dan Dierdorf, I continued to do so for several minutes in front of several hall of famers, employees and officials. After struggling to swallow my pea-sized pride I tried to take solace in the fact I had at least mistaken him for another member of the hall and not jimbo the drunken parade float driver.

As he turns away I stand in place stunned, embarrassed and at a loss for words. Only a handful of people had actually witnessed the train wreck and they were doing exactly what I would have been doing - laughing & trying to hide their faces as to avoid being pummeled by the pissed off former NFL star.

If you look at their pictures those two look very similar. No they aren't twins by any means, but its pretty damn close. They have the same build, the same mustache, both were offensive lineman, played against each other and both played for teams that were either in or had been in St. Louis. It was an honest mistake, right?! Either way I was definitely put in my place.

Take a look for yourself...they look alike!

Tom Mack:

Dan Dierdorf:

For the rest of the morning I sit back and only make feeble attempts to ask for interviews from those who have name tags or I overhear someone call them by name. That way i wouldn't give my career another blackeye. I was lucky that the news of my screw up didn't travel and until now have I been able to publicly talk about it. I can hear sports fans worldwide gasping in shock this very second. My membership will be revoked soon, I'm sure. I can see soccer fans taking pitty on me as they too wonder when they will be allowed to return to the land of sportsdom.

I did get to do some pretty cool things in Canton, including covering all of the 2004 presidential election events as the Hall of Fame City was the national spotlight. Other opportunities included watching a live episode of CNN's Paul Zahn Now from the Stark County Courthouse and interviewing the Canton native afterwards, as well was interviews with Ben Stein, Christine Todd Whitman, Anderson Cooper and a number of others.

Paula Zahn:

Ben Stein:

Anderson Cooper:

Christine Todd Whitman:

I was told this business has its pitfalls and every now & then we all trip over one; you just have to make sure to fall into those that aren't that deep. You see potholes are stumbling blocks and you can recover quickly. Craters are career enders - and I hear Tom Mack resides in of them, ;)

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