How a Big Idea Can Open Doors, Minds, and Exciting New Possibilities
How I ended up on the 50-yard line of Mile High Stadium two hours before the high-flying Denver Broncos were about to play the Oakland Raiders in the 1978 AFC Championship game -- one that would determine who would go to the Super Bowl -- was not a mystery to me, merely a testament to the power of a BIG IDEA.
Two months ago, while meditating in my low-rent Denver apartment, a fascinating thought welled up from deep within me or wherever fascinating thoughts originate from -- the first bubble, it seemed, of a perfectly chilled bottle of champagne I had no memory of having opened.
BIG. The idea was big. Very big. Goodyear Blimp over the Super Bowl big and all I had to do was make two phone calls to make it happen.
The first? To Denver Magazine, letting them know I had an exclusive interview scheduled (I didn't) with The Pony Express, the Broncos' super hot cheerleading squad. The second? To the Denver Broncos, letting them know that I was a writer with Denver Magazine (I wasn't) and ready to do a cover story on the Pony Express.
In my mind, this was a done deal. Like the sun coming up tomorrow. Or the dishes in my sink remaining there for at least another three days.
So I picked up the phone and called the editor of Denver Magazine. He loved the idea, committed on the spot, and gave me two timely bits of information: what my compensation would be and when the article was due. Then I called the Broncos' PR Director. He loved the idea too, and also gave me two bits of information: the phone number of the head cheerleader and the location of their next rehearsal.
I was in! I was on! Or whatever the right preposition was to express the championship delight I was feeling in this glorious moment of pure possibility.
My job? To watch 23 cheerleaders go through their shimmy, shake and grind routines once a week, then interview them, on the breaks, looking for clues beyond their extraordinary cleavage, to see if they had anything enlightening to say to the readers of Denver Magazine.
This went on for about a month until I knew all their names, all their moves, and all their career aspirations -- high-flying dreams of the future that somehow seemed to escalate with each passing day.
"Would you like to ride on the bus with us to the Raider game?" the head cheerleader asked me after the third rehearsal. "It should give you some new angles for the story."
Angles? Curves? It was all the same to me, watching, as I was, with great fascination, my now four-week old idea continuing to take shape on a national stage.
Sitting in the back of the bus on game day, marveling at the number of cordless hair dryers able to operate simultaneously at 60 miles per hour, I couldn't help but wonder how I was going to get past the security guards when we finally got to the stadium, me a man of no obvious credentials -- no press pass, no union card, not even a letter of introduction.
Before you could say, "I almost had a date with the fabulous, former Ms. Puerto Rico after the the third rehearsal", the bus comes to a full stop. The head cheerleader stands, tells us we've reached our destination, and provides the last few words of encouragement as we file out, moving like a great sea of bangles, beads and breasts to the final security checkpoint.
Two by two the cheerleaders are waived through. Two by two, I am getting closer and closer to the realization of my idea, heart pounding, palms sweating, feeling increasingly unofficial.
"Hey Stacey," I call to the cheerleader walking beside me, "give me your pom-poms."
She does. The line grows shorter and so does my breath, the crustiest of security guards trying his best to look right through me.
"Hey!" he barks to the last few cheerleaders, "Who's that guy?"
"Oh, him!" they chant in unison. "He's with us."
I smile, shake my pom-poms and keep on walking. I'm in!
The girls go their way and I go mine, which is where any self-respecting, 29-year-old sports enthusiast following the Broncos and his big idea for the past few weeks would go: mid-field -- the 50-yard line -- the smack dab center of the football universe and, as far as I could tell, the smack dab center of every other universe, as well.
Up some staircases, down some ramps, through some hallways, out a chain-linked gate and I am on the sunlit field.
No linebackers are pursuing me. No cornerbacks. No safeties. The field is wide open and so am I, moving as fast as I can, tape recorder tucked under my right arm, to the 50-yard line.
Off in the distance, I see a large man in a dark uniform making his way towards me. His uniform is not orange like the Broncos. It is not silver and black like the Raiders. It is blue. Dark blue. Policeman blue.
If there was ever going to be an ESPN highlight reel of my life, this moment would be in it, the large officer of the law fast approaching, the only visible obstacle between me and my heart's destination.
Seeing he was just about to speak, I extend my microphone in his direction and position it just a few inches from his face.
"Officer," I announce in the most resonant primetime news voice I can muster, "Can we get your prediction? Who do you think is going to win today?"
The policeman pauses, making sure he is talking directly into the microphone. "Are you kidding me?" he blurts. "The Broncos! Absolutely! 27-10!"
Cupping my ear, I look up to the mythical press box in the mythical distance and announce, "You heard it folks, live from Officer Willoughby at Mile High Stadium. Broncos, 27. Raiders, 10. Now back to you, Ed."
The officer continues on his way. I turn and jog the final few yards to the 50-yard line, TV technicians scurrying all around me. The air is brisk. The sky is blue. The big game is about to begin.
This story is dedicated to my son, Jesse, and my daughter, Mimi, both of whom are on the cusp of their own creative breakthroughs.
My next football-themed article will feature the Seattle Seahawks' victory over the Denver Broncos in this year's Superbowl and the "secret sauce" that contributed to their victory -- the impact of The Inner Game on Pete Carroll's out-of-the-box approach to coaching.
Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at March 5, 2014 10:53 AM
That was a great article!
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