Everyone remembers this classic line from the late 1980s film Bull Durham:
“You hit white balls for batting practice, the ball parks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains,” aging farm hand catcher “Crash” Davis said as he told the young bucks his story of the two weeks he spent in the major leagues, or The Show.
As citizen sportswriters, we would give anything to be in Our Show, The Hallowed Ground: the press box.
Well, thank God there are no balls there, the stadiums are finally gaining some character, there’s buffet service, and black-clad, pretty college women hand out sheets of paper with statistics.
And that, Crash, is not bad.
Some of us have been in a press box. Those of you may recognize the press box at Heinz Field, which is to the right middle of the photograph. So, let me tell you of the time I was there; the time I the Internet blogger was in Our Show.
During the 2001 season, I wrote for The Football Network, the now-defunct Web site primarily established to cover the NFL. As with Bleacher Report, TFN was a vehicle for those of us who love to write sports and cover a team.
Living in a city in West Virginia only four interstate hours from Pittsburgh, my team was the Steelers.
And, my compensation was zero.
The only tangible benefit was the availability of press passes. When you’re working for free, this is about as lucrative as it gets.
TFN was able to obtain a press pass for me on two occasions, one Thursday pre-season game and the Monday night game. Since I had a day job, I couldn’t go.
The Steelers did well during the 2001 season. The team finished 13 and 3, guaranteeing home field in the AFC through the playoffs.
Pittsburgh beat the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional game. And, mostly because of the Tuck Rule, the New England Patriots took the Oakland Raiders down in the snow.
The city of Pittsburgh, with its Steelers at 14 and 3, was set to play the rude host to young quarterback Tom Brady and his 12 and 5 Patriots at Heinz Field at 12:30 pm on Sunday January 27, 2002.
I checked my e-mail that Wednesday night January 23 to find a message from Suzy, the coordinator for TFN correspondents. The subject was: “Woo-Hoo!” I opened it. Suzy broke the news to me that TFN had secured a press pass for me for the AFC Championship game that weekend.
After running it by my wife, who was understanding and also excited, I immediately accepted by return e-mail.
The following is the chronology of that endeavor.
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Saturday January 26, 2002; 9:00 am
I kiss the wife and kids (girls 17 and 14, who for once think their old man is awesome) goodbye, pile into my 1993 Mercury Sable (103,000 miles, but who's counting) and aim it up Interstate 79 north.
Saturday January 26, 2002; 1:00 pm
In downtown Pittsburgh, looking for the William Penn Hotel, I drive by the PPG glass tower for the third time. I'm officially lost and think of asking for directions since Mapquest has failed me. Luckily, I find the hotel.
Saturday January 26, 2002; 1:45 pm
The kind young concierge in the ornate lobby tells me the press passes are available in the Grand Suite, Mezzanine Level. I'm there in a flash, presenting my e-mail letter and my photo ID to another young lady to get the...
Saturday January 26, 2002; 1:46 pm
...media credentials, or press pass to us commoners. Hot dang! It's orange with the words Working Press on it and it comes with a press kit and everything! I'm there!
Saturday January 26, 2002; 1:50 pm
Almost. As I examine the press kit in the Media Workroom, accompanied by a legal Iron City beverage, I find a document that effectively tells me I’m not going to be in the press box after all. I have been relegated, the document says, to the buffet room to watch the game on any of the fourteen televisions provided. So, it will be as if I’m in my family room, without the beer.
Saturday January 26, 2002; 2:00 pm
I quickly overcome initial disappointment and do what I was sent here to do, be a member of the Working Press. In other words, I get to work.
Saturday January 26, 2002; 3:00 pm
The Media Workroom is of spartan décor, with long tables arranged in a C. To the walls behind the folding chairs are attached temporary computer ports for those members of the media who are more technically savvy and have laptops. For everyone else, there are land line telephones with coiled wires.
With exception to the computer ports, you get the feeling that this is what a Media Workroom looked like when the Steelers were absolutely dominating the NFL in the 1970s.
Saturday January 26, 2002; 4:30 pm
The press kit has more information than one can process. So, I bypassed the bios on Leslie Visser and Jim Nantz, even skipping that of a true Super Bowl hero Phil Simms to go right for the teams’ stats.
I spent five minutes on the League Team/Offense Rank page of the stapled compilation of everything one would want to know about the 2001 season.
As a Steeler fan first and a Steeler writer second, I was delighted to discover that Pittsburgh was at the top in all categories that had to do with yards gained per game. In the same categories, New England was a mid-packer or less. Looking good.
On defense, it was more of the same. The Steelers dominated with their 3-4 while the Patriots maintained with multiple sets. Great matchups for Pittsburgh.
In an attempt to be objective, I found the strengths of New England to be in the kicking game. The Pats were ranked near the top of the league. I had lamented over this as the season progressed; when a foot hits the ball - punts, kicks, field goals, whatever - Pittsburgh struggles. Baltimore had scored a touchdown on a punt return just the week before. Unfortunately, Troy Brown of the Patriots is at the top in punt returns in the AFC. Whoa.
I went to the brass tacks, wins/losses. At 14 and 3, the Steelers hold sway. Their last defeat was in week 16 against the reeling Bengals in a pride game. Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart began his annual late season swoon that day, throwing (or heaving) four interceptions.
However, New England is on a roll. At 5 and 5 in week 11, the Patriots peeled off seven consecutive wins, arriving in the Steel City with a streak. As a Steeler fan, not good. As a writer, it will make for an interesting tomorrow.
It remains to be seen.
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Next: Game Day.
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