For more than 13 years, Old Hat has been an industry leader in design for athletics organizations. There is no firm in the country over that same period of time that has worked with more athletic programs and produced more creative for sports organizations than Old Hat. The majority of what we've done, however, has been small format projects. We've done thousands of posters and schedule cards, websites and tv spots. And while the hundreds of intro videos we've produced play in very large formats, our focus has always been on the attendance and game experience aspect of athletics. Pure and simple, Old Hat helps universities and professional sports organizations fill their seats and improve the fan experience once they're in those seats.
But along the way, we've been called upon to put our design skills to use on large format offerings. A wall wrap here, a pole banner there. And over the course of time, we ended up producing hundreds of environmental graphics pieces for our clients. Mall banners for Michigan Basketball. A building wrap for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Window clings for the University of Utah. We designed it and sent it off for production and installation.
Then one day, I got a call from SMU. They had received estimates from a number of vendors to redo all of the environmental graphics for their football offices. The costs were astronomical. So they came to us and asked us to handle all of the design, production, and installation of the entire project. They did that because there is an established level of trust. They knew that Old Hat would do top-notch design and that we would seek out the most cost-effective ways to print and install it. And that's exactly what we did. Three floors of wall wraps, 3-dimensional lettering, a digital wall display, a back-lit SMU logo, fabric wraps and more.
Because of the success of that project and because the environmental graphics business is growing and growing... and growing, we decided to launch a new company with its own mission, separate from Old Hat. We didn't want environmental projects to be just one more thing that Old Hat does.
Powerhouse's mission: To help athletic organizations build their powerhouses.
To build a powerhouse athletic program, one key element is attracting the talent necessary to win championships. And these days, doing that means having first-class facilities that are covered floor-to-ceiling with your organization's brand.
That's exactly what Powerhouse does.
Using our nearly two decades of experience in athletics design, our production facility, and our nationwide network of professional installers, Powerhouse has the ability to deliver the absolute best in creative without breaking the bank on production and installation. And you can count on the same level of customer service you've grown to expect out of us. Because even though Powerhouse is its own company with its own staff and mission, it's still an Old Hat company, and therefore, you can expect us to always be on time, always be available, and always be on target.
Scott Yogodzinski, Director of Marketing at Florida International University, has the perfect baseball surname which we think probably gives him an advantage when coming up with awesome concepts for posters. Check this out:
We've had the pleasure of working with Scott and the FIU Athletics Marketing staff for two years now. We have a blast working with these fine folks and look forward to 20Qs with the rest of them. Be warned: Scott has set the bar pretty high. This Kesha and Disney Channel enthusiast from Big Sky Country is a man of many talents and tastes. As for #8, Scott, we're going to need photographic or video proof. So without further ado, we present 20 Questions with Scott Yogodzinski.
1. NAME: Scott Yogodzinski
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Director of Marketing, FIU Athletics
3. HOMETOWN: Whitefish, Montana
4. PREGAME RITUAL: Taking strolls across our beautiful campus.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Cookies and milk! What a combo!
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Working and interacting with students on campus…whether that’s through student-interns, student-athletes, or simply our student body fan base. It’s great to know that I can have an impact on their futures.
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Sometimes I simply don’t have the time or resources to give all of our teams the marketing attention they deserve.
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: I can balance a baseball bat on my nose for long periods of time.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: If you work hard and are a genuine, kind person to those you meet and work with, everything will fall into place and you and those around you will find success.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: This is an easy one… Timber by Kesha
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Sports: Field of Dreams, Brink!, Johnny Tsunami; Non-Sports: Lord of the Rings
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: Big Bang Theory; Modern Family; Even Stevens
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: Lars and the Honeytoasters
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Right now, it is this new bakery on FIU’s campus called Vicky’s Bakery.
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: The croqueta preparada sandwich…after being in Miami for a few years, I’ve really taken a liking to Cuban and other Hispanic foods.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: Snow White…she was adventurous.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: Not sure, I’ve always thought that pelicans are really cool animals.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: Well, just the other day, before a game at work, I tried taking a stroll across campus in a rain storm and got soaked through to the skin…not sure what I was thinking there.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: I know I was like two years late, but I recently binge-watched the final season of How I Met Your Mother.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: I like being and working outdoors. It’s possible I might be a snowboard instructor, as my hometown is a ski-town in the mountains of Montana. Shortly before being hired at FIU, I had actually even printed out the paperwork to become an instructor.
The wait is finally over! For a few weeks now, we've been teasing about the release of a new podcast. Yesterday, we published Episode 1 of Stop the Clock, featuring an interview with Matt Roberts, Director of Athletics at the College of Charleston.
Stop the Clock is a podcast about the most amazing moments in sports history when you just wanted to stop time and live in that moment forever, or, those not-so-amazing moments when you would have done anything to have another shot at it. The idea for the podcast was actually born out of the book I'm writing, also called Stop the Clock. I've been conducting a lot of interviews with the nation's top collegiate athletics administrators and I'm recording those interviews to then turn into content for the book. What I'm discovering though, is that many of the people I'm speaking with are great storytellers. Some of these stories are too amazing not to let the world hear. So, I decided to turn the best stories with the best audio quality into a killer new podcast.
Mark "Hot Rod" Riordan: He has a few nicknames, "Godfather," "White Rhino," and a horribly-awesome rugby nickname that we cannot remember, nor should we probably write for people to read. Mark is an OH OG. Full disclosure, we heart this guy. If we were a celebrity couple we'd be OldMark or MarkHat.
So OldMark goes back all the way to 2005 when he was with the University of Michigan. It would be an understatement to say this relationship helped put Old Hat on the map. Mark is probably 100% the reason why Zac needed to create the position of video project manager and why I'm living in Norman, Oklahoma. Mark is the man. Which makes perfect sense since he's working for the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M. Partnering with Mark and his crew on KyleField.com is arguably one of OH Interactive's proudest moments. The site broke the mold for most stadium development sites you see today.
Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up. It's time for 20 Questions with Mark Riordan.
1. NAME: Mark Riordan
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Vice President – Marketing & Communications
3. HOMETOWN: Olean, NY
4. PREGAME RITUAL: I used to like to get to the office before everyone else and crank the music up to 11 while I put the finishing touches on the script. Now that I’m in the development world things are a little different. I’m not in the office 6 hours before kick…more like two before kick and visit a few tailgates before starting my responsibilities.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Bison French Onion Dip with potato chips. Anyone from Western New York will know what I’m talking about.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: I like connecting with the donors. Also, I like being part of the process that gives student-athletes a world-class education.
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Fan message boards. TexAgs, I’m looking at you!
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: I have a Harley. I like riding but don’t seem to have the time to ride as much as I would like.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Appreciate your education and think more critically.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: Not much of a karaoke kind of guy. The last time I did it, I went with Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise at Old Hat’s 10-year Anniversary party. Actually, I think I have ever “karaoke’d” in public like three times in my life and two of those were at Old Hat parties. What’s with you guys and karaoke?!?!
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Dumb & Dumber / Caddyshack
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: All-time: Seinfeld Current: The Walking Dead
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: White Rhino (nickname from my lunch league basketball days at Michigan).
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Wings ‘n More here in College Station.
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: They have the best wings that I’ve found outside of Western New York…and that’s saying a lot. Notice I didn’t call them “Buffalo Wings”? If you are from WNY, they are wings. Also, it’s pop, not soda.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: First off, I didn’t know there were only eleven princesses. I thought there were many more than that. Gun to my head, Belle.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I like wolves…let’s go with that.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: So many things to choose from! I guess one of the big ones is when I worked at a full-service gas station and thought it would be a good idea to start dipping to pass the time. I quit over 16 years ago but I spent almost 9 years rotting my mouth. All out of boredom.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: I have three kids from 10-15 years old. Each one is in multiple sports (school, club, travel and rec leagues). Who has time to binge-watch anything?!?!?
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: Teaching high school and coaching football.
Zonie: Short (for) Arizonian, these people invade local beach towns in California… causing traffic jams, and straight up annoying the population of the local town (Urban Dictionary)
We live in the desert, our lakes are just as parched as we are, and we help drive the tourism economy in California, yet they still think it’s allowable to insult us Arizonians with such a name.
However, it is true; everyone resorts to the SoCal coast. The only thing you can do in the Phoenix metro area is… actually, I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. I mean there’s good shopping in Scottsdale, golf courses, expensive cars, and resorts galore. But college bound, I wanted to get out. I made the move to Norman, Oklahoma in August 2016, and nobody back home understands why I love it so much.
Culture shock: it’s a thing. I was introduced to the frying of foods, grammatically incorrect ways to use “y’all” in a sentence (ex: Get y’alls stuff done so we can go.”), quite a friendlier population, and speed minimums on the highway. A sharp contrast to the juice bar craze, valley girl lingo, the “shoulders back and avoid eye contact” mindset, and driving an acceptable 25 mph over the limit back home.
It is even acceptable for me to walk in public here without makeup.
But I also got to ditch my job at a neighborhood juice bar (they really are EVERYWHERE) and intern part-time at Old Hat in Norman.
I have some advantages in the current marketing world: I am caught between the Millennials and Gen Z and I’m a college student. In other words, I am a part of some of the most targeted audiences in marketing. I can tell you why we think Snapchat is so great. Why did I buy this brand instead of that? Because my friend posted about how excited she was to get it. Facebook ads don’t really do much for us, you know. I can tell you that all of us would rather work for Wendy’s than McDonald’s because their twitter is goals (if you don’t know what that means, you’re behind and need to read this).
I’ve been in the office part-time for a little over a semester, and I have a list of things I am determined to master:
Relationship building. This field is so interconnected; everyone knows everyone. It’s pretty intimidating coming from the outside.
Every social media platform. Advertising on Snapchat and Facebook are completely different. And those are just two platforms on the list.
Being an adult working a real job. As much as the #adulting hashtag drives me crazy, “Being 18 and working with real adults” is definitely a skill I should be allowed to put on a resume. I am currently sitting in a silent office where the staff is intensely creating posters and websites and videos or talking to big, exciting, important clients; I’m listening to “Nelly’s Best Songs of the 2000s” and writing this.
Plenty of the skills I learn at the office I already put to use with my journalism major. Communication is a big one. I am a lot more confident in establishing relationships and taking initiative - and not getting upset when my ideas are shut down (not that it happens frequently, I should note). I get double the constructive criticism, so I grow that much more. And I get to take a class on the media on campus, then see the magic happen in the real marketing world. It’s pretty great.
Old Hat and the University of Utah Athletics Marketing Department go way back. We're talking almost eight years. It's a special relationship that has grown from designing Football and Basketball tickets to having an On-Campus Designer and creating court projection videos. Grant Robertson, Associate Director of Athletics Marketing, has been the force behind some of the Utes coolest marketing projects, including the Men's Basketball Projection video the last couple of years.
Grant had some issues answering the Spirit Animal question so Hannah and I took a quiz for him. Turns out, Grant's Spirit Animal is The Bear which apparently is emblematic of grounding forces and strength. Do what you will with that information, Grant. Actually, if we're talking Stock Market (see answers to Q.8 and Q.20) we recommend you sell, sell, sell!
1. NAME: Grant Robertson
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Associate Director of Athletics Marketing
3. HOMETOWN: Bartlett, IL
4. PREGAME RITUAL: I wouldn’t say I have a ritual as every game/meet/event is unique in its own perspective. More or less, I try to walk our staff through every game day element and promotion we touch. Otherwise, I love gum! It helps me stay talking for an extended period of time.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Besides gum, probably nothing. I don’t snack often.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: The Process! I love the grind of the week and all the little details that get you to the end product, i.e. the game production. Furthermore, when you work in a team environment, the process becomes more enjoyable and you get to share the successes with your team. No better feeling!
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Probably the 10-15 emails you get each week from “perceived” fans around the country asking for a schedule card or poster. Most of the time these fans send mass emails to every Athletics Department in the continental US. I don’t mind it at first, but once you’re 6 months in and have sent hundreds, it's not as fun.
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: Talents - None that I can think of that set me apart from the 99%. Hobbies – Basketball, Snowboarding, Buying & Selling Stocks, Reading.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Work hard at every little detail. People do notice, it takes time but your efforts will eventually be rewarded. Also, live in the moment! There’s a reason George Shaw quoted “Youth is wasted on the Young”.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: Hotel California
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Jurassic World
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: This is tough, it changes every year. I don’t watch a lot of TV but I would say all time favorite is Archer.
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: I wouldn’t be in a boy band, I literarily have zero musical talent.
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Depends on where I am in the country. I live in Park City, Utah so I would say High West Distillery & Saloon
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: An Old Fashioned & Salmon.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: Elsa. Primarily because I have 3 nieces who love her and want to be her when they grow up. Easy choice.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I’ll be honest, I have no idea what a Spirit Animal is or what it does. I am not the most spiritual guy, so I may have to plead the fifth on this.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: Drive to St. Louis at 3 am when I was in undergrad with 3 buddies at SIUC. There wasn’t a clear reason to why we did this, but it was an eventful trip, to say the least. I believe spontaneity will drive you to do and try things you never thought were possible. It also humbles you.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: My fiancé binged watched “Elementary.” I was in the room so I guess that counts.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: Stock Broker. I love analytics and the stock market fascinates me.
Yes, today’s the day. You know, the day you were supposed to do that special thing for that special someone, but it’s very likely you forgot. So instead you’ll go buy a card, a gift or a flower (or maybe lots of flowers) after work and pretend that was the plan all along. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. I’m not here to shame you.
For me, Valentine’s Day has never been a very big deal. Maybe it should be, maybe I’m just not a romantic, or maybe I like to use the excuse that I love my wife as much every day, so Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be any different (that's a copout, I know). And as much as I'd like to express my undying love in the form of a dying bouquet of flowers, my wife agrees that buying her roses is a waste of money.
Being that I work in the sports industry, and because of my cynical attitude toward Valentine's Day, I thought it would behoove me to find some positive collaborations between sports and love. And what better example is there than sports marriage proposals!? There's not one, I looked. After a comprehensive scouring of the internet, I was able to narrow down the top sports marriage proposals, either at a sporting event or by athletes themselves. I've picked the top five, although they're all winners in my book (it's a short book with lots of pictures).
But other than the clearly significant act of celebrating one's love by asking for a significant-other's hand in marriage while being surrounded by fanatic fans, bratwursts and beers, there's also a marketing element that comes into play with each of these marriage proposals. It's an opportunity that every sports team should be taking advantage of because every team has at least a few fans each year that would probably be willing to use a gameday experience to help pressure their significant-other into saying "Yes, I do". And that's the entire point of this blog.
I'll run down the short list of my top favorite marriage proposals, but I also want to point out why they're significant from a sports marketing point of view. Sure, people are making life-altering decisions, but what can you do as a sports marketer to capitalize on it? I mean, isn't that the very essence of Valentine's Day? Yes. Yes it is.
The first proposal comes from the San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium, which was the very first proposal at the new stadium- before the stadium was even completed. As far as stadium proposals go, this one was unique in that sense.
Marketing takeaway: Events like this are great PR, especially for something as impactful as a new stadium. It's not only showcasing more behind-the-scenes construction updates with photos, but the chances are your story will reach demographics beyond your typical fanbase. People everywhere are seeing how the 49ers created a special occasion for two of their biggest fans, and that connection leaves a strawberry-goodness taste in everyone's mouth.
Here's another proposal that likely ended with a "yes", but it's a good example of making your sponsors part of the event.
Marketing takeaway: Sponsors love to see their names associated with positive events. Find ways to make their sponsorship meaningful. In this example, you not only have everyone at the Heat game seeing the logo, but also everyone following on social media. It's a great promotion that couldn't be more fitting with this particular sponsor.
Similar to the proposal above, except this one involved one of the Bulls dancers. It was a nice, positive half-time event that gave fans a glimpse into the personal lives of the Bulls organization.
Marketing takeaway: Let your fans experience moments with people from your organization. Fans love their teams, but they really like to feel they're a part of the team. No better way to do that than to get them involved in something like a marriage proposal for one of your own.
A little back story on this one, the guy is (or was in 2013) an assistant soccer coach at Fresno Pacific University. He set up the proposal plan with the women's soccer coach, as his then girlfriend was a senior on the women's soccer team. The acting wasn't great and the guy seemed to drag this one out a little too long, but kuddos for pulling this stunt off.
Marketing takeaway: In 2013 when this happened, the marketing buzz word was "viral". And this one had "viral" written all over it. With over 3 million views, I'd say it was a success. It shows how the power of the unexpected can spread like wildfire, and this video leaves a positive impression for most of the world that's never heard of FPU.
I'm not gonna lie, this one stings a little. But only because seconds before this proposal (which seemed to be on the top of everyone's sports proposals list), the Broncos had just beat my Sooners. It was an incredible game for anyone but a Sooners fan, and Ian Johnson ended it the right way. If he was uncertain that his cheerleader girlfriend might say yes to his proposal, there was no better time to ask her than right after he scored the game-winning 2-pt conversion. I just have to think for them as a couple, that was the highlight of their relationship together. Gonna be hard to top that during their lifetime together.
Marketing takeaway: This is what you call a freebee. You're riding the gravy train with buttered biscuit wheels. You did absolutely nothing to deserve such a fortuitous situation, but you will surely benefit from it as an organization. Live it up while you can.
So after digging into all this and providing some takeaways, I might not be quite as cynical as I had thought. Or maybe I'm slightly more convinced now that love and sports can work together in a meaningful way! I feel like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes today!! Thank you, Valentine's Day!
When somebody visits your website, you have to grab their attention right away if you want them to stick around and consume the content you are offering.
In the past, we have always told our clients they have between 30 and 60 seconds to get a site visitor’s attention. If you don’t give somebody a reason to stay before that first minute is up, they’re gone (and they probably aren’t coming back).
That’s a short period of time in which to win somebody over. But guess what? It’s about to get even shorter.
Recent reports indicate that Millennials only have an eight-second attention span. Eight seconds? Really? How does one go through life with only an eight-second attention span?
I am usually classified as a Millennial. I may be at the very top of the age range, but I am a Millennial by most accounts. It has taken me more than eight seconds to write this much, so I am confident in saying my attention span is at least double that of the average Millennial! YES!!!
Jokes and time keeping aside, how do you capture somebody’s attention in such a brief amount of time? For that matter, how do you keep their attention through an entire game?
The NBA is thinking about cutting back the number of timeouts to shorten game length and keep the attention of those eight-second Millennials. If even the NBA struggles keep somebody’s attention, how can you possibly succeed? It is a challenge, but one that can be accomplished.
First, you have to know your audience. The NBA meticulously studies their fans and their games. That helped them identify the issue of attention-loss and provided insights on how to make adjustments that will keep people more engaged.
Data is key, and when it comes to your website, analytics are a great place to start. What content is garnering the most attention on your website? What pages do visitors tend spend the most time on? Studying this information will help you make strategic decisions.
The same goes for game day. You may have won the fight against the couch and the HD TV to get people to the game, but once they’re there you have to make sure you engage them enough that they want to come back. Each fan base is unique, so it’s important to study your fans and understand their habits and preferences. Research will help you take the guesswork out of your decisions.
Second, you have to be open to change. After looking at what’s working for them and what’s not, the NBA might change their rules to shorten games. I am sure basketball purists will cringe at the thought of changing the game, but like other businesses, the NBA has a brand to protect and a bottom line that they want in the black. There are plenty of examples of leagues or businesses that alienate people by trying to change things, and that’s why doing your homework is so important. When you have data to analyze, your decisions will be more informed and the change you make will be more likely to be successful.
Think about your website. Is there a different type of article you have been considering, but never published? Is there more information you can provide so you are positioned as a trusted resource for your visitors? What content do you have access to that no one else does? Those are the items that get people to come back. Your goal should be to be a part of your fans’ daily habit. What content will do that for you?
Making large-scale changes to game day comes with greater risk than making changes to your website, so it’s even more crucial to have a solid understanding of what’s going to resonate best with your fans.
Finally, you have to plan. The NBA isn’t just changing things on the fly. They have collected data, they’ve explored possible changes, and they have a long-term plan that will help them reach their goals. You should, too.
If attention spans are down to eight seconds now, where will they be in five or ten years? The data you gather today not only allows you to make informed decisions for the near-term, it should also help you recognize trends that you can incorporate into your long-term plans. If you spend a month working to engage visitors and become a part of their habit, but run out of content, you will drop out of their daily habits in less than eight seconds. Think about your goals for the year. Think about what has been successful in the past. Analyze your data and come up with a plan for how you can deliver engaging content throughout the season, the year, and the life of your website. Then continue to gather data so you can refine and improve your plan over time.
Bob D'Amelio is a Michigan guy with a Michigan accent as thick as his burly mustache (all credit has to go to Robert with that amazing lead sentence). We've partnered with Bob, Associate Athletic Director for Marketing, Ticketing and Trademark Licensing at Western Michigan, for nearly six years. Robert describes Bob as an easy-going guy who usually gives a little guidance, but allows us to be creative with their projects, especially football. We always look forward to working with Bob and the Broncos (which would've been an excellent choice for the boyband question, Bob). Here is our very first poster for WMU back in 2011.
We're excited for Bob's answers to this week's 20 Questions. The next time we're in Kalamazoo we're definitely stopping by his house for some homemade Italian deliciousness and maybe even some old school Sinatra karaoke.
1. NAME: Bob D'Amelio
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Associate Athletic Director for Marketing, Ticketing and Trademark Licensing
3. HOMETOWN: Lansing, Michigan
4. PREGAME RITUAL: Breaking down the upcoming game with our Assistant Athletic Director for Ticket Operations
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Popcorn
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: I love the variety in my job and the opportunity to mentor young people
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: The short answer? Politics
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: I consider myself a pretty good cook. Love to make homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Stop and smell the roses
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: Fly me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra)
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: The Sting
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: Breaking Bad
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: Good Question (Yes, Good Question would be the name of the band)
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Mangia Mangia
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: Linguine & Clams
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: Princess Jasmine
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: A horse
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: When I was 16 and had my driver’s license for only three days, I ran a red light and almost caused an accident. Needless to say, my father wasn’t a happy camper!
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: I would be enrolling in culinary school.
I grew up during the Barry Switzer era of Oklahoma Football. We'd travel to Norman from Guthrie, OK and watch the Sooners lay victim to whoever dared enter Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Winning wasn't just expected, it was a foregone conclusion. We never really entertained the idea that losing was a feasible option. After Switzer left in the late eighties, the Sooners lost a step, but winning was still an expectation. We might not have been competing for a National Championship on an annual basis, but certain things were understood:
1. We'd have a winning record. 2. We'd be nationally-ranked. 3. We'd never get blown out. 4. We'd make a bowl game. 5. Under no circumstances would we ever lose to Oklahoma State.
In 1995, two big things happened: One, it was my freshman year of college. Two, it was Howard Schnellenberger's first year as head coach at OU. The Sooners had made a change at the head coaching spot to restore glory to a waning football program. And Schnelly was the answer. Or so we thought. The season didn't end up seeing the great turnaround we'd hoped for, but it was after all, a rebuilding year. He needed time to right the ship. Our only losses toward the end of the season were to Top-10 teams and we even managed to tie Texas in the Red River Rivalry.
Two games left: We'll beat Oklahoma State, as we had every year of my life since I'd been alive, lose to top-ranked Nebraska, take the off-season to lick our wounds and come back in '96 ready for a championship run.
Only that didn't happen. No, somehow that cool, autumn day in November of 1995, something happened that I'd never witnessed in my life. The Oklahoma State Cowboys beat the Sooners. They didn't just beat us, either. They shut us out. 12-0.
TWELVE to ZERO!
To that point, it was the worst day of my life. I couldn't fathom it. I didn't speak for hours after the game. I just went back to my apartment and fell asleep. That may have been the first time I realized the true power of sports. I knew the highs it could provide. I had no idea the pain it could cause, but I sure learned it that day.
My 1995 had to have been a lot like Leon Costello's 1984. Leon is the Director of Athletics at Montana State University and when I interviewed him for the book I'm writing, he talked a lot about the heartbreak of growing up a Chicago Cubs fan. The biggest difference is that he didn't have the years of seeing the Cubs win championships. No, as a Cubs fan there were no peaks. Just valleys. Which is why in 1984 when they were playing for the National League pennant his hopes were so high that he'd finally get to witness a championship and a trip to the World Series.
The Cubs had a two-game lead on the Padres that year in the NLCS and then went on to lose three straight, keeping the curse alive. It was gut-wrenching for Leon and every other Cubs fan out there. They were ascending to the peak and had it in their grasp, only to have the rug pulled out from under them again.
That ended up being Schnellenberger's only year at Oklahoma. He was promptly fired after the season and while I'm sure there were probably plenty of reasons for his forced resignation, I like to believe that he was let go because he lost to OSU and caused me so much personal anguish.
Unfortunately, his replacement John Blake didn't fair much better. Three losing seasons in a row and my entire college years were spent watching my beloved Sooners get embarrassed week-after-week-after-week. I attended nearly every home football game during college. My friends and I joked about how long it would take our Sooners to commit a false-start penalty and the unders usually won. It was a comedy of errors only I saw little comedy in it. This football program was the entire reason I wanted to go to OU. I dreamed of coming to OU and seeing my Sooners win a National Championship while I was a student. Not only were they not living up to that expectation, they couldn't even manage a winning season.
To say that this was the deepest valley of the history of the Oklahoma Football program would be an understatement.
It. Was. Awful.
What could be more painful than that? Well, for Cubs fans it would have to be "The Bartman Game."
"When I think about the Cubs, I think about the Bartman game," Leon says.
In the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with Chicago ahead 3–0 and holding a three-games-to-two-lead in the best of seven series, Moisés Alou attempted to catch a foul ball off the bat of Marlins' second baseman Luis Castillo. Steve Bartman reached for the ball, deflected it, and disrupted a potential catch by the Cubs outfielder. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Instead, the Cubs ended up surrendering eight runs in the inning and losing the game, 8–3. When they were eliminated in the seventh game the next day, the incident was seen as the "first domino" in the turning point of the series.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, had to be escorted from the stadium by security guards and was placed under police protection for a time when his name and address were made public on Major League Baseball message boards.
"I think about the ball going into the stands. Everybody looking at Bartman as the curse. But really it was what transcended after that, with the error by the shortstop and then really just the fever from then because they were on the verge of going to the World Series for the first time since 1945."
Fortunately for me, it took me an extra semester to graduate. Why is that fortunate? Because Bob Stoops was hired after the 1998 season and in 1999 (my second senior year), he launched the Sooners on an ascent that would take us to the highest peak the program may have ever seen. And thanks to my inability to finish school in four years, I can always say that I attended school during the Stoops era.
In 2000, OU fans were riding high after a 7-5 season and a trip to the Independence Bowl, but no one could have expected what was to come.
The Sooners started the season strong, going 4-0 against opponents that just a couple years before could have given us trouble. But not Stoops' Sooners. Then we rolled into Dallas for the first big test of the season: Oklahoma vs. Texas. We were scared to death of that game, but it ended up being one of the most euphoric sports experiences of my life. OU dismantled Texas in a 63-14 rout.
OU then went on to beat the #5, #2 and #1 teams in the country in a single month taking the number 1 ranking for the first time since God was a baby and it sent OU fans into a frenzy. Norman was as exciting a place to be as any town in the country. And then, by some miracle, OU went on to beat Florida State in the National Championship game. OU shocked the world that year and returned Sooner Football to glory.
Nobody Wanted to Leave
Words can't describe what that football season did for OU fans and the state of Oklahoma. As I'm sure that words can't describe what the Cubs winning the World Series last year did for Cubs fans and the city of Chicago.
Leon Costello was in Chicago for Game 5 of the World Series and told me that it was one of the greatest experiences of his life. "Cubs fans finally got to witness a World Series victory in Wrigley Field. Nobody wanted to leave."
Victory does that for us, doesn't it? It makes us want to live in that moment forever and we know that as soon as we leave, the feeling will start to fade. I had that feeling after OU beat Nebraska at Owen Field in 2000. The crowd rushed the field and I just stood there in the stands in awe of what I'd just witnessed. Cubs fans stayed after at Wrigley field for a good half-hour. They sang "Go Cubs, Go." They sang "Sweet Home Chicago." They had reached a peak and as they'd find out a few days later, they'd reach the ultimate peak, making all those years of suffering that much sweeter.
The Deeper the Valley, the Higher the Peak
No one likes to lose. No one likes to spend a day in the valley, much less 108 years. Spending my college years as the basement dwellers of college football made the 2000 season far more magical than anything I've ever experienced. At the end of that season, a job came open at OU Athletics for a graphic designer. I could not imagine not taking that opportunity. So I jumped at it and now, 16 years later, I've spent my entire career working to drive attendance to sporting events and improve the game experience for fans. My career path might have been entirely different had it not been for that 2000 OU Football season.
Winning just isn't as fun when you don't know how it feels to lose.
Leon Costello agrees: "You look back and you wish you had the Yankees dynasty. But doing that, this year wouldn't have been as special. Sometimes you have to go through the hard times to truly appreciate the great times. That truly epitomizes what sports can do. You see the impact it had on a city, on a nation and even the world... the impact the Cubs winning the World Series had on everything."