Last week many of you might have noticed that Steiny ran the show for a few days, while I was conspicuously absent. Anyone who might have cross-checked that with my Twitter feed might have noticed random pictures of places in Philadelphia, photos of competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi at Wing Bowl or me holding a giant check. What did that have to do with TheJetsBlog.com?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
But I wanted to take the time to explain something that’s been rattling around in my head for some time and is starting to seep out of me creatively. I love this site, and I intend to keep on doing it for a long time, but I hoped to share another passion I have because I know you have it too and because I’m going to need your help. Bear with me and I’ll explain below.
So where does this story even begin?
For years, I’ve been lucky enough to take some time from my real job to get up close and personal with athletes. Even today whenever I get the chance to talk with Jim Leonhard by phone, or scribble down notes at Dustin Keller’s locker, I realize what an insane dream world I get to live in. It was always fascinating to interact with these people, and in some way it’s become quite addictive. It’s also something that I feel honor-bound to share with you, hoping that readers get to vicariously live through me during something like Draft weekend, or inside the ropes at training camp … so that in some way you own the experience just as much as I do. No bullshit, there’s a responsibility there for me, one that I take seriously and I hope comes across to readers.
Still, with all that, I get that I’m still an interloper. I’m not there doing this every day of the year. So time and time again, while the hordes of reporters would swarm one way, I’d try to skirt another. For example, back in 2008 right after the slim victory to the Chiefs in the Meadowlands, I remember approaching Calvin Pace. Pace was alone and changing at his locker, I asked if he’d talk. He said sure, I asked him about why it was such a close game … the Jets were the better team? Why was the win so hard to come by? Pace took a deep breath, arched backwards, looked up at the ceiling and exhaled. I knew this was going to be good.
Pace started talking about how the Jets were making it hard on themselves, and in seconds the bee swarm of reporters enveloped us. It was really that quick. While he never backed down off what he said, his demeanor was already changing as the crowd attracted a greater crowd. More cameras, more pens and pads. I felt self-conscious, and jostled my way out of the crowd. Just like that, our little moment of genuine personal exchange was gone. Discarded on the floor like so much athletic tape.
No for real. If you’ve never been there, the floor of the locker room after a game is like walking on flypaper. It’s crazy tacky.
The problem of course is that when athletes have a camera and microphone shoved in their face that is tethered at the other end to news outlets with millions of viewers, then amplified by a three day ESPN echo chamber of sports analysts, their guard goes up … way up. This holds true for most athletes, maybe with the exception of Bart Scott.
The Jets season of Hard Knocks was the turning point for me. My interview with HBO Sports’ Ross Greenburg planted a seed in my brain. Seeing what the lives of athletes are like behind the scenes was revelatory. Sure, I’d seen Hard Knocks before, but it made all the difference in the world because I cared about the Jets. Even if I didn’t care, I realize how powerful telling these stories are to people who are less attached. There’s a reason the Olympics does those magazine pieces on the down-on-his-luck member of the US Curling team. I wanted to know more about athletes, and I started thinking about ways to become part of that process beyond my writing. There had to be some way for that to link up …
Fast forward a year and a half.
The Jets season is a smoldering heap, and I’m starting to talk to people trying to feel out a concept I’ve been thinking about since last October. How about a documentary style web-based series on the lives of athletes following them during an interesting day? I started lobbing calls to my Blogs With Balls / Hugging Harold Reynolds pal Don Povia since he’s a walking rolodex. I wanted to stretch myself and get away from the Jets. How far could I get? I tell Don my idea, he thinks about it and asks …
“Hey, why don’t you come up to Philly and follow Takeru Kobayashi around during Wing Bowl?”
Wing Bowl? Competitve eating’s version of the Convention of the Juggaloes? With Takeru Kobayashi? The non-native English-speaking Nathan’s hot dog vacuum? That’s certainly about as far away from the Jets as possible … what could possibly go wrong?!?
Two weeks ago, I had no camera crew. I had no video production expertise. I know nothing about competitive eating. I’ve got no idea what I’m doing … how do you plan for something like this? How stupid is this idea for someone like me to try and make happen?
After a few panic attacks and many phone calls to people much smarter than I who told me they liked the idea of the project, followed by some mad scrambling, I got a few awesome camera people to help. Frank, David and Rich were all eager, and rose to the challenge. We meet in Philly, linked up with Takeru Kobayashi and the rest of Team Kobi on his way to destroying the Wing Bowl record. We followed him around for more than a day, accumulating tons of footage as he readied himself for Wing Bowl: meeting fans, getting weighed in before the event (he weighed 138 pounds, less than half of many of his opponents), discussing business with his manager, and hanging with pals like owner of the East Village’s Crif Dogs, and one of Philly’s proudest sons, Tony Luke.
One of my favorite moments was when I asked Kobi what his proudest record was. He told me during a competition he once gained about 26 pounds. I’m thinking he did it in days, and followed up.
Over how long a period?
Of course there were challenges, but in the end, we had a great time, and now we’re in editing to come up with the pilot for this series. I honestly can’t wait to share it with you. Even if you don’t care about competitive eating (I didn’t) it’s going to be good. I just know it. Once editing it down is done, the next step is going to be getting this “out there” … see what the response is and then of course doing this again and again and again with other athletes in other sports, in other cities (New York?). This could be really, really fun.
So this is where you all come in. I’m going to need all the support you can muster. I am personally asking you if you are reading this to help me with this process.
It would be good it if you will watch the final product, but I would love it if you can help me get this out there on Facebook or Twitter once we drop the video. It would be otherworldly if you know a story I should know. It would be intergalactic if you can connect me to your childhood best friend who now happens to play for the Chicago Blackhawks and might be up to being the subject of another episode. You guys are my network, and I’m going to need all the help I can get. Trust me, every little bit will help, every tweet, Facebook link share and we are going to succeed with this project together.
If you have any suggestions, let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can think of a way to help. No idea is too small, we’re going to need all the help we can get, and my hope is that you will be a big part of it.
So that’s it for now.
More very soon and I’ll try and keep from tainting TJB too much with this project, but I didn’t want this to be a big secret or anything like that either.
I want you to be part of the adventure with me, just like all our other adventures together. I really hope you’ll come along for this ride … it’s going to be a lot of freaking fun and I can’t think of anyone better to share it with.