Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NFL Draft Sweepstakes - the after

____Remember when you were growing up, how fast those actual minutes of birthday-present-unwrapping would come and go? How you had been absolutely living for those moments for months and even as they played themselves out, you knew it just wasn't living up to the anticipated glee you thought you'd feel? Yay! A sweater ...smile. - socks! (socks?? seriously?) ahem. "what's umm.. next?" And as you kept an eye on the dwindling bounty of presents, your relatively undeveloped mind somehow, in those rapidly shrinking moments, understood things like nihilism, the illusionary falsehood of anticipation and Buddhist tenets of desire as the source of all suffering - you 'got it'; you understood then and there that you'd built up a model for earthly nirvana that couldn't really exist while simultaneously berating yourself for that shallow greed that had you wanting more.
____Such was the reality of the Sprint to the NFL Draft Sweepstakes.
____Don't get me wrong; I had a blast. I had a "unique experience" that I'll "remember always". Yes. I had tickets to the NFL Draft and I had a 40th floor hotel room with Central Park view that, for three nights, cost more than my monthly rent. And yet......
____As I "unwrapped" each of my sweepstakes "presents", something seemed... strangely missing. Siphoned off, I found out later, by the very people bestowing my free weekend. [insert suspenseful music here] don't worry, I'll explain. But before I do, I'll reiterate, I had a truly great weekend and I'll always remember it as such.
____So.. I left work Friday at 1pm, rushing to get Hambone to the vet for what turned out to be him expertly feigning a broken leg (later that night, my roommate Brian said he was running around without even a limp - thanks Hambone! I didn't really need that $225) The boys needed their shots anyway so I'll mentally chalk up the $225 to vaccinations and not to a desperate cry for attention Hambone seemed to think was necessary. But I digress....
____I made it up to the Hilton hotel 10 minutes before I was supposed to be there, set down my bag in the room and waited for a call from the Sweepstakes folks. Right on time, the call came in. The voice, I intuited (correctly, it turned out) to be that of a southern Cal mid-level marketing rep with a heaping helping of "So-Cal street-cred". He said there was a bit of a problem that would be corrected within the hour - It seems the "limo" that was to pick us all up turned out to be one of those luxury airport type vans and as my sweepstakes' contact's boss told me later "yeah, like we're gonna pick up Matt Leinart in a luxury airport van!" (OH, the horror!) - so... a slight delay while they got their stretch limo coordinated... it'd meet us in midtown where we'd make a van-to-limo switch and then proceed on towards the Union Square W hotel to pick up Leinart and his agent.
____The sweepstakes guys were nice enough, for sure; friendly, accommodating and most definitely, in possession of a crazy amount of street cred with no qualms over displaying it proudly. (facetiousness alert). They seemed overly concerned with my thinking that this sweepstakes thing was the coolest thing ever and how I was basically living out the pinnacle of possibilities the American dream could ever imagine for someone. What was kind of fun and funny for me was that I went along with it. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I went along with it because I didn't want to disappoint them (hmm, the birthday present analogy again?). As we rode in the limo south towards the W, sweepstakes-rep-#-2 (the "boss") was in almost constant contact with Matt Leinart's agent, coordinating where and when we'd pick them up; would we need to use the back entrance of the hotel to avoid the fans out front? would they have enough time to eat or shower before we picked them up? could we.... wait ... while Matt's agent ate a sandwich? No, really. Esra and I sat in the limo while the agent ate a sandwich and Matt took a shower. Honestly, I didn't really mind. The scene out in front of the hotel was hilariously entertaining. Fan boys in NFL jerseys and baseball caps stood out front with their deflated footballs and loose jerseys or 8x10 photos, eagerly waiting and peering into every dark windowed limo or SUV, waiting, hoping for Matt Leinart or any other famous person to sign their... stuff. (sign my stuff, sign my stuff!! - maybe it's just me, but I don’t understand the joy of having stuff signed by famous people - minus the signature I got from Dr Seuss, age 11)
____And then the time came for my every hope and dream to be fulfilled - Matt fought off fan boys with a few signatures here and there and then, reaching the limo... genuine smiles and handshakes for Esra and I - and off we went.
____The conversation flowed much easier than I thought it might.. rather, it wasn't as awkward as it had the potential to be. We talked about the crazy media-week he'd been having, with ESPN riding his coattails, filming his every move - luckily, for him at least, the nonstop filming had ended earlier that day and his sense of relief seemed obvious. We covered the up & down nature of his draft stock (he'd been slated to be picked anywhere from number 3 to number 13 depending on which butt-kissing or butt-kicking sports journalist you were reading - and if you think #3 vs. #10 doesn't matter (#10 was where he ended up getting picked), most sportscasters are agreeing that he would have been at least $40mil in guaranteed money richer had he gone at # 3) and then talked about what teams he would like to go to. I said at one point "I read that you were out in Oakland, how did that go?"... I heard "it went great" - but at that precise moment, something distracting passed by out the window and during the time it took me to look at it, I heard "I love the Raiders, I've been a fan since I was a kid" - my brain seemed to spin it's wheels for a moment because I wasn't sure who had just said that, Matt Leinart or his agent. I looked back and stammered out "sorry, did you.... say you were a Raider fan??!" He laughed 'cause he caught the fact that I was asking because I genuinely wasn't sure who had just said it and agreed that yes, he and his brother had grown up in Pasadena as huge LA Raider fans. He said he'd love to play for the Raiders and of course would love to stay in California but that he was hoping he wouldn't slide down as far as the Raiders pick (number 7) and would hopefully be picked by New Orleans, Tennessee or the NY Jets - which segued us into him asking about NY and it's weather - how if we had to name some major differences between So Cal and NY, what would they be (not enough Raider fans, not enough good Mexican food). We talked about watches and the mammoth one he was being paid to wear to which he quoted, almost verbatim, his umm.. blog on NFL.com saying that he had a major watch and shoe fetish. Sounds bites. This man has done far too many interviews lately. Hmm. ok, break him out of the sound bite routine - I know, the Raiders!! (heheheh... everything comes back to the Raiders) How was Al Davis? Amazing, what a football mind and really nice - they talked for a few hours on nothing but football after having a great workout for the Raider trainers & scouts. What had he done in NY so far? Site seeing... the basics, but it was hard with an ESPN crew in tow. Hmm.. what else... do I want to know... from this 23 year old kid? Hmm... But before I got to ask if he wanted to have a whiskey-on-fire drinking contest, he was handed his agent's phone, saying he had to do a phone interview with some sports writer and Tiki and Rhonde Barber. That lasted most of the rest of the ride up to the ESPN Zone which was fine by me - the guy had had a ridiculously long week and was somehow doing amazingly well with this Sprint contest winner so I was fine listening to a live interview, conducted by two great football players to a potentially great future football player.
____We arrived at the ESPN Zone and the fan boys swarmed. "Matt!" "Matt!" "You're Great!" "Sign This!!" "Who's that hot Iranian lookin' guy with the hot Turkish lookin' girl behind you?" - you know.. the normal things I hear ... in my own head. We entered, were arm-banded by a hostess and before I could even look up, Matt was introducing me to Braylon Edwards, wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. We were then led behind a black curtain where there were lots of... hmm, how do I describe this without sounding.... business jerks. Sorry. Plain and simple, there were -a lot- of business jerks. Suits with cocktails and finger foods and networking upon schmoozing upon networking. "Matt, I'd like you to meet so&so from AOL" - "Matt! great to meet you!" with a firm business jerk handshake. So & so from Burger King and this company and that and of course Sprint. I chatted briefly with the event planner for the evening, a Ben-Stiller's-wife-look-alike who explained (needlessly, thanks) the benefits of networking and corporate tie-ins with sports stars and how blah blah blah I'm gonna get another drink now.
____And so... we ate and drank a little, we chatted with publicists and agents. Matt introduced me to Shawne Merriman of the Chargers annnnd... another h-e-uuu-ge player who's name I didn't catch. As Matt got dragged from meet-and-greet to meet-and-greet with the different business jerks dying to meet him, he'd shoot me a here-we-go-again look or a few times, he waved me over, I think to help get him out of a particularly awkward meet-and-greet. Frankly, I'm not sure how any of these guys do it without snapping. There's gotta be a mathematical formula involving your projected draft pick number having a direct relation to your level of tolerance for obligation... and business jerks.
____By 7:30 or so, everyone had met and greeted pretty much everyone there. Matt had to get to some sort of dinner with (guess?) more business jerks so we shook hands, I thanked him for the hospitality, wished him luck and jokingly made him promise to introduce me to Al Davis when "we picked him with the #7 pick". And that was it. We said our goodbyes to the sweepstakes handlers and one or two of the less annoying business jerks, I got my tickets for the draft the next day and we beat a hasty retreat to our hotel room where.... we ran the ever-famous hotel-indecision-gauntlet of what and where to eat - finally justifying, after much effort, a far too expensive room service meal.
____Saturday. the big getting-out-of-a-limo-on-national-TV day! yeah! except- No. I got a call from our main sweepstakes handler guy with, I kid you not, the full "calling in sick to work voice" in full effect. "Heyyy, Kory... man... how.. um.. set were you on the breakfast at our hotel thing?" - Eh, that's ok. "ok, cool... we'll uhh, definitely swing by and pick you up for the trip to Radio City Music Hall" - Ok, cool. Two hours later I got another call, no call-in-sick voice this time "Hey, Kory.. bad news man.. we got in the limo, I said we had one stop to pick you guys up before Radio City and the limo driver said 'no can do, I'm slated for one stop only, no pick ups'" - yeah-right - it's two blocks away and YOU're paying for the limo, you cant make him go two extra blocks? Ok, whatever. In hindsight, I suppose that's where I started to get a little irked at being jerked around. No matter.. I walked, met my buddy Matt out front and we entered the fantastic fan-atic fray (pardon the punny poetics please).
____Radio City Music Hall, as you can imagine or have seen, is amazing. The place was packed with media and fans from all 32 teams, about 2/3rds of which sported out of date team jerseys. It was much as you might expect from a convention-type atmosphere - food booths, corporate tie-in booths manned by 20-something day-laborers (business jerks, notably absent) and of course, everybody's favorite, the shwag booth. Anyone paying enough attention to the booth as they walked by stopped to get their complimentary bag of: a radio with headphones to listen to NFL Network or ESPN coverage of the draft, an NFL folder with draft info papers within, some Topps football cards, a Sirius radio ballpoint pen, a Sprint phone card and $.75 cents off Chunky soup coupons (McNabb's mom was in attendance, I suspect she stuffed all the bags with coupons herself) and... what else? hmm. oh, a Chunky-soup-imprinted beer cozy... 'cause.. you know, you keep your Chunky soup in beer cans that you like to keep cold or... you uhh... fit your hot Chunky soup into beer cozies that... yeah, it's making my brain all cloudy thinkin' about why they included that. Oh and .. .Wait! the best thing ever!! EVER!!! a huge, 6 page fold out poster of the new Hummer II!! I know!!! You want it on your bedroom wall? I know!! Sorry, I'm framing mine. By framing I mean, I left it on the floor and tore it with my feet before I left.
____What else? Oh, yeah. the Draft. Good god is it slow and boring. I mean really, people - I know this is your big day in the spotlight but that artificial feeling of suspense you create by using ALL of your allotted time to make your picks is just that - artificial and everyone knows it and is annoyed by it. The Houston Texans, picking first had already picked and signed their #1 pick 10 hours before the draft actually got underway and yet they still took 11 of their allotted 15 minutes to formally have their pick announced at the podium!! And so it went - every pick.. pick announced, come to the podium, handshakes, hold up new jersey for photos, announce the next team is "on the clock" and then wait. and wait. - repeat.
____We stayed for Matt's team's picks (Minnesota at # 17) though we almost lost patience waiting for it. By #14 or so, a lot of attendees had already lost patience and split, allowing Matt and I to sneak down to the floor level and get a ground-level view of things. Ahh. Which leads me to the main "prize siphoning" I mentioned at the beginning. You see, it was told to me in the limo, the day before, that the sweepstakes guys had "fought hard" to get the two tickets for me and they weren't even sure they could get themselves in to the draft. The seats Matt and I had were second mezzanine, which actually turned out to be a great view, above the huge NFL Network and ESPN news desks and cameras that blocked a major part of the view of the ground floor folks. Well, wouldn't ya know it, our sweepstakes handler guys somehow did get tickets and ... hmm... interesting... THEIR seats happened to be on the ground floor. No way. I never could have seen that coming. "Hey, Kory.. where are you guys at?" said one of them via cell phone near the end of the day. After I told him where, I heard "woah, no way, I thought you guys were on the floor too". Frankly, it wasn't the siphoning of the good tickets or not picking us up in the limo on draft day - it was the totally transparent lying and half-assed cover up attempts that were, well.. a little bit insulting. But again, whatever. See? again, I'm feeling a little guilty for complaining a bit about what was a free gift. The point is, if you're giving someone a gift, don’t go buy something new but then give the 10 year old used one you had lying around your house.
____Esra and I spent Saturday afternoon in Central Park, four blocks away. Near sunset, it got windy rather quickly so we headed back to the hotel and prepared for a little wine party thing we had slated for the eve. (worthy of note: friends who work at places that have alumni parties but accidentally buy too much wine for the alumni which then gets drunk by the friends of said friend... well, those friends rule.)
____Sunday was the real Central Park day - sandwiches and a blanket at Sheep Meadow. Does it get any better? No. the answer is No, it doesn't. Well... barring all ladies in the park being naked, No, it doesn't. We lounged, we sun-tanned, we ate, chatted and people-watched. Esra's friend Holly joined us and we did more of the same. Around 6:30 or so, it started to get a bit cold so we headed back to the hotel, rested a bit (you know, from our exhausting day), we got some food and watched the Sopranos.
____All in all, an absolutely great weekend. It really wasn't even worth mentioning the sweepstakes-handler-guys and the siphoning but darn it, that was part of the weekend and you know for a fact that you would wonder what was wrong with me if I didn't complain a little. I wouldn't want you to worry... so... the whole truth and nothing but is what I gave ya.

I'll have pictures up soon.

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