We all love ESPN, right? No? Oh. OK. How about Bill Parcells then? Surely, as he's a former Cowboys coach, we must think of him fondly. No? OK, geez. Stop yelling at me. I get it. Well, what if I told you I got the better of both of them? Are you interested now?
That's more like it, Cowboys Nation. = )
Before I get to the "prank", let me first give you some background information. I am a freelance videographer. And despite the fact that spell checker does not recognize that as a word, I assure you, it is a real profession. I operate cameras for several studios, including one in Boynton Beach, Florida, where ESPN has built a set for the recording of a few Bill Parcells specials. The three segments I have worked on include Bill Parcells' Draft Confidential, Bill Parcells' Mid-Season Review, and Bill Parcells' Super Bowl Wrap-Up. If you've seen any of them air on ESPN, congratulations. You're probably in the minority there.
When the studio first booked these gigs, they called me in to help build the set. ESPN had flown in a set designer, but needed some people familiar with the studio space, the way the lighting grid was set up, and for some good ol' fashioned muscle. As I am the biggest NFL fan who works there, and I meet at least two of those requirements, I was the first they called. I can't articulate how excited I was. Suffice it to say, it was a dream come true.
Not so bright and early one morning, I showed up at the studio not knowing what to expect. To my relief, the ESPN crew was as laid back as any other crew I've had the pleasure to work with. We set to work right away. First, we laid the tongue and groove hard wood floor. Not long after, we built and raised the faux brick wall which was to act as the main background for our center shot. We added several other walls and joined them with columns, then set the painters to work. While they painted, we adhered the custom desk on top of the pre-fabricated riser, and finished it all off with some basic lighting. We broke for a late lunch knowing that all that was left was some minor adjustments, some decorating and prop placement, and getting it all lit up. Although it was scheduled as a two-day build, we were way ahead of schedule.
When we reconvened in the studio, we were pleasantly surprised with how much the designer had already accomplished. Decorations and props were unpacked and laying on the floor next to the walls they were to hang on. As a memorabilia collector, I was impressed with their spread. On the ground lay a bevy of official helmets (no fake souvenir quality here), soon-to-be released official Nike draft jerseys (it wasn't even common knowledge that Nike was going to be producing the official jerseys yet) were set in fancy frames, lots of quality pictures of players and coaches, autographed balls, etc. There were several items that I would have liked to have lifted for my office located down the street.
After sorting through the props, we drilled some holes where it was marked for us to do so, anchored some screws in the walls, hung a couple dry-erase boards, then worked on hanging lights in the overhead grid. Day one was a major success. Day two was going to be a cakewalk.
When I arrived for day two of the build, most of the memorabilia was already in place on the walls, and the set was really coming together nicely. We worked on lighting it for a few hours, and after minor "tweaking", we were finished. I stepped back to admire and snap a few pictures of our work, when something dawned on me. I looked up and down each wall, but couldn't immediately identify a single Cowboys reference. Representing every team Parcells has been associated with, and many teams he hasn't, there was memorabilia for seemingly every team....except for our 'Boys.
For obvious reasons, this bothered me. It bothered me probably more than it should have. I stood there for several minutes stewing over it, not knowing if I should bring it up. My disappointment got the better of me.
So I pulled the set designer from ESPN aside and asked him if Dallas was left out on purpose. He laughed, and told me, "Yes and no. Look closely. There's not much, but it's there."
I immediately took to the task of walking up to each thing hanging on each wall, one-by-one, in order to properly inspect it for the Star. What I was looking for turned out to be the absolute last thing I came to, and was hanging on the edge of what we refer to as the "guest return wall". The "guest return wall" is the out-of-focus blur you barely see behind whatever guest may be on set. If there is no guest, you will never see it. Even if there is a guest, the content hanging on this wall has absolutely no chance at being in-focus through the lens and on TV, and will more than likely be covered by the guest sitting in front of it anyways. In other words, as closely as you watch the show, you will never be able to tell what it is.
The one piece of anything Dallas Cowboys that made it on Bill's set was a very small, maybe 5" x 6", framed picture of Bill Parcells himself, silhouetted against the old hole in the roof in Arlington. Even to the most distinguished Cowboys fan, it wouldn't have stuck out.
I made up my mind that I would ask Bill about this the next week while we were shooting his segment. However, as I debated on how to bring it up, I figured he was making it painfully obvious: of all the teams he has worked for and represented, the one he misses the least is the Dallas Cowboys. We recorded the first segment, and I wimped out. I couldn't ask. However, he offered to answer some questions when he learned that I was a huge football fan. So I asked him all about his opinions of Romo, asked a few about T.O., and figured the next time he was in the studio, maybe we'd have built enough of a rapport for me to joke with him about it. To my astonishment, he beat me to the punch.
As he's walking out of the studio after that first segment, he says (to me) something to the effect of, "Don't be disappointed by the lack of Cowboys on my set. You're the only one that will notice." Oh no he didn't. GAME ON, MR. PARCELLS.
For his "Mid-Season Review" segment, scheduled for several months later, I vowed to myself that I would insert more Cowboys stuff, sans permission from ESPN. I had my opportunity when the studio enlisted my help for some prop changes and re-light. I showed up to the studio armed for battle. I removed a few of my largest pieces of Cowboys memorabilia from my office, and wasn't going to let anyone stop me from hanging them.
Unfortunately, I was only able to sneak one thing onto the wall, but as it would be visible over Bill's shoulder throughout the segment (I hung it with care on the "host return wall"), I feel like I still won the war.
If you happen to catch this year's Super Bowl Wrap-Up (we had to cancel this year's filming of the Mid-Season Review thanks to Bill being stuck in NY after hurricane Sandy), look for Emmitt Smith, clad in all his Cowboys glory, hovering in the background over Parcells' right shoulder.
When Bill noticed the picture, he laughed, pointed at it, and asked me, "Did you do that?" I merely shrugged, but cracked a smile from ear to ear when he continued to chuckle.
I like to think I laughed harder, but I know that I laugh last.
Here are the pictures:
This first one is the original "Host return wall" with no Cowboys stuff:
So that's my story folks. No matter who you are, you just don't mess with or disrespect
my our beloved Dallas Cowboys. I hope I've done done well by you, BtB. Fear. The. Star. = )