I am pretty sure I was the first person in the world to see Tom Brady's pants split.
It was the seventh hole of Capital One's "The Match: Champions for Charity," our company's golf competition between two teams of sports champions—Brady and Phil Mickelson vs. Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods. The Match II. I am the director of content for House of Highlights, and I was the only person from Bleacher Report on the greens in Florida for the event.
For the early part of the afternoon, I watched with fascination as Brady struggled. For the better part of two decades, we've all seen Brady dominate the NFL. Now we were all watching this mythical figure become mortal. I know a lot of fans were smiling, but up close, it was almost surreal. Just when I was convinced the story of the day would be his shortcomings, he delivered the shot of the day—that beautiful backspin birdie on the seventh hole.
Then, he tore his pants.
For a moment, I had a dilemma. What would you do if you saw the greatest quarterback of all time tear his pants on television in front of nearly 6 million people?
On one hand, he assuredly would want to know. On the other hand, I knew I could create the moment of the event by posting a single iPhone photo to B/R's social media accounts.
Before I had decided, the eagle-eyed director told Brady what had happened.
Brady was asked if the broadcast crew could talk about the incident on air, and he said yes right away. In what could have been an embarrassing or awkward moment, we got to see a side of Brady rarely in view. This incredible competitor took a moment to laugh at himself. And let's face it: It was funny.
That's the way it was all weekend at Capital One's The Match. The return of sports was something we all desperately needed, and it showed, with an average of 5.8 million viewers on TV and more than 172 million impressions across B/R's social channels. After the sluggish start, the end result was razor-thin, with Manning and Woods winning by a single stroke.
More important than the final score was the way that the event allowed diehard fans to take a deep exhale. It was a reminder of all that is good about sports—the fun, the playfulness, the rivalries. And most important, it raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief.
At first, because of the caution around the coronavirus, B/R wasn't going to get a course credential. Of course, I still did everything I could to convince my bosses to let me work the event. Our offices are in New York and San Francisco, but I live in Atlanta and I'm from Florida. I told them I could maintain social distancing and drive down to the course. In a game-time decision, they finally agreed, and I got to be the kid with the iPhone acting as the fan for our entire audience.
Turner/WarnerMedia operated the event carefully. We worked with the absolute minimum staff to broadcast the event. The production crews were almost entirely local, and everywhere you turned, there was Lysol, hand sanitizer and gloves. If you watched the broadcast carefully, you likely noticed that the camera crews kept themselves six feet apart and were wearing masks at all times.
One of the best things about being there was the conversation among the four athletes continued even when we all knew we were on commercial breaks. I'll never get over the feeling of walking down a fairway and eavesdropping on Mickelson giving Brady a tip about his footwork, or sensing Brady's frustration with each wayward shot he struck.
Everything about the weekend felt unprecedented. The silence left by the absence of fans was unmistakable and strange, but it also gave us the freedom to tell stories in ways we haven't before. It allowed for an intimacy one could only get by following four of the most recognizable athletes in the world around with an iPhone, experiencing some of the same rain-soaked conditions they did.
On Saturday, the production crew organized a three-hole walkthrough for the four players. After that, they were excused for the day and replaced with stand-ins to make sure we were ready for every possible angle on the rest of the course. A few hours later, as we were about to wrap up, I saw the outline of a player on the seventh hole. For health and security concerns, the entire course had been closed off, so I couldn't imagine who would have been able to get a few strokes in. I squinted and realized it was Brady.
I figured he was just walking the course one last time, but when I showed up the next day at 10 a.m., he was out there swinging again. At noon, a few members of the crew stumbled upon him doing sprints in the parking lot. I'm not sure whether it was a football workout or golf, but either way, he clearly was taking the competition seriously. Meanwhile, Manning showed up the minute he was expected to arrive.
On the morning of the event, we were all nervous about the weather. Being from Florida, I know that daily rain during warm months is to be expected, and I thought it would blow over.
As we awaited word through a lightning alert (during which Charles Barkley spent time checking in on each member of the crew and entertained us with a story of his difficulties ordering room service), we worked on a backup plan for Monday. Then, tee time neared, and the crew had a feeling that we'd be able to play. Although I got drenched from head to toe and my iPhone stopped working, we were eventually able to take to the course.
I'm so glad that we did. I've never been so tired at the end of a day, but I was so grateful to be covering live sports again.
That night in the parking lot, I witnessed a fitting coda to a remarkable day. As I was in my car uploading footage of the event, I saw Mickelson walk up to Brady at his car and tell the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback what a blast the day had been.
"Give me a call anytime," Mickelson said. "I'm happy to help whenever."
I thought about rolling down my window and shouting: "Same!" But instead, I’ll just take a moment to send a message to my bosses: Give me a call anytime. Happy to help, ready for The Match III.