Updated: Wednesday, 5 p.m. ET
HOUSTON -- When you're working for a TV show and coming up with ideas for pieces, everything always looks better on paper. Sometimes the difference between a home run and a double comes down to the tiniest of details ... and in the case of Cousin Sal's prank at Media Day, it came down to the color of a jersey.
Still a good piece? Absolutely. But it could have been a Hall of Famer. I screwed up, and it was all my fault, and it will haunt me forever.
(OK, maybe that's not the case. I just needed to build up the drama. Back to the column.)
So, we came up with this big plan for Media Day: Jimmy's cousin Sal (a frequent contributor to the show, as well as one of my good friends and the author of the best-selling book, "I Just Hit a Five-Player Parlay in the Australian Open!") is going to pretend he's one of the players. And with the staggering number of foreign journalists and non-sports fans running around at Media Day, we think it just might work.
Now we need to decide on a player. Sal has to pretend he's a kicker, since he's barely 5-foot-9. And everyone knows what Adam Vinatieri looks like, given that he's made two of the most memorable kicks in the history of football and all. That leaves Panthers kicker John Kasay. Who the heck knows what John Kasay looks like?
We spring into action. Our field producer Frat scours Los Angeles for a Kasay jersey. Can't find one. Needless to say, Kasay jerseys aren't exactly selling like hot cakes on the West Coast. That means our show's wardrobe designer (Rodney) has to make a No. 4 black and teal Panthers jersey from scratch. Which he does. And we find a Panthers ski cap -- because it's always harder to tell what someone looks like with a ski cap on -- and now we're ready to go.
On Sunday, we head down to the NFL Experience and shoot an unrelated hidden camera bit with Sal -- a premise where he's working behind the actual information booth and basically wreaking havoc. In retrospect, we should have gotten down there early in the morning, set up and duped the masses as they walked in. Again, 99 percent of the time, you learn these things after the fact. That's the most annoying thing about television. We still managed to get enough traffic for two pieces. Not bad.
John Kasay, right, was even angrier when he encountered the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" crew.
Anyway, during one of the breaks, Sal put on his Kasay jersey and his ski cap, then headed down to the autograph booth to sign a few autographs. It was just him and La'Roi Glover, which was ironic because Sal is a huge Cowboys fan. That led to this exchange:
Sal: "Hey, La'Roi, just between you and me, Parcells got too much credit for the defense this season.
La'Roi (nodding slowly, and affirmatively): Mmmmmm-hmmm.
But here's the thing: During all of this, fans are coming up to Sal and handing him footballs, helmets, pennants -- they have no idea. And since Sal's afraid to ruin anything that has other signatures on it, we have to run around and buy hats and footballs that he can sign, just so we can get footage of him actually signing things.
So, we roll for a few minutes and head back to the information booth. But Sal is still dressed like Kasay. Immediately, he gets swarmed by fans. It's unbelievable. We have a potential comedy gold mine on our hands at Media Day. Everyone's delighted.
In case you didn't know, Media Day gets split into two parts: Everyone has access to one team from 9-10 a.m., then the other team comes out at noon. We desperately need the Patriots to be first, so we can stake things out and see exactly how this can work. We check the schedule ... and the Pats are first! Fantastic stroke of luck.
Now, we're officially excited. Well, not all of us. Because of ... well, I'm not sure how this happened ... most of our crew is staying at the luxurious La Quinta, located conveniently about 35 minutes from downtown Houston. It's $54 a night, and that's during Super Bowl Week. Good times! It's the kind of place Billy Bob Thornton's son met with his weekly hooker in "Monster's Ball," only a little less classy.
Within two hours there, some of the gang witnessed a man leaving his room, with his dog on a leash, and about 10 different white towels that were soaked in pee. One of the other writers, Paul, described the sight as the worst thing he has ever seen, and this is a guy who has seen Kathy Griffin naked.
Of course, Sal was delighted because nothing makes him happier than seeing everyone else miserable. On Saturday night in Houston, after a delicious dinner at the Borderhouse Bistro, everyone started getting depressed about heading back to La Quinta. Paul was so mad, he was actually turning purple. (Later in the week, we stuck hidden cameras in his room, then stole his laptop, hoping he would pull a Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now," which didn't happen, but it still turned out funny).
And we were completely lost looking for a particular bar, because Houston doesn't even have a semblance of a grid system, and three guys were trapped in a cramped backseat, and Sal kept turning on the heat full-blast, and people were yelling at him, and Sal was laughing so hard, his eyes closed ... and he almost swerved into another car.
Meanwhile, Paul (sometimes called "The Rich Little of comedy") took his frustrations out by imitating Wayne, our director who sounds like Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb from "Silence of the Lambs" (deep, guttural, Southern voice): "Sal, I'm gonna punch you if you don't turn that heat down ... seriously, dude, I'm not kidding." And Sal's coughing from laughing so hard, and everyone's mad at everyone else, and if we had been on the same street as that murderous Light Rail, it would have been all over for everyone.
On the bright side, nights like that put you in the right frame of mind for screwing with reporters on Media Day. On Tuesday morning, I showed up for the Patriots portion to scout things out. All the players were wearing their jerseys, with football pants, high socks and sneakers. No pads. So we needed football pants and high socks. That meant Frat had to scurry out and buy pants and socks. Other than that, we looked good. This was gonna work. This was definitely gonna work.
Fast-forward to 11:45 a.m., minutes before the Panthers were set to arrive. I'm telling one of my Page 2 editors (KJ) about our prank. Like everyone else, he's excited. And then he drops this bomb on me:
"You guys bought a white Panthers jersey, right?"
It was like one of those movie scenes in a crowded bar, where someone says the wrong thing and everything stops -- the jukebox, the conversations, everything.
Me (tentatively): Whaddya mean, white jersey? Why wouldn't they wear the colored jersey?
KJ: They wear the same uniforms they're wearing Sunday.
Now, I'm winding up and punching myself in the head like Raymond Babbitt. The thing was, I knew this! I went to Media Day two years ago! How could I have forgotten this? I'm great with details -- how did I forget to tell them to bring two different jerseys, just so we were totally prepared?
As I'm hitting myself in the head, the crew shows up. From the look on my face, Paul immediately assumes that I just checked into La Quinta.
"Guys, they're wearing the white uniforms. I screwed up. I should have known."
And we're all standing there, searching for some way to salvage the piece. Sal wonders if we should just do interviews, and he could figure out a way to mess with some of the players. Then Wayne steps in with the Jame Gumb voice: "Ah, screw it, let's do the Kasay thing. Dude, seriously, some of those guys are so dumb, they'll fall for anything."
Everyone agrees. Sal gets dressed in his Kasay outfit. Please keep in mind, he's wearing a dark jersey with the wrong socks. Every other member of the Panthers is dressed differently.
So, we race down there, set up the cameras, and then Paul and I mill around Sal like we're talking to him. People start walking by us, taking an extra-long look -- almost like they're shopping or something -- and then walk away. Some even recognize him from the show. We finally get a nibble with a local TV station, then some radio guy falls for it hook, line and sinker. And so it begins.
Over the next 45 minutes, we end up roping in a handful of people, with Sal giving crazy answers like, "I'll let you in on a little secret: I have a metal left foot, the league has no idea," and "I don't care about the game, I'm just here for the strippers." And since we have something already pre-arranged for a beginning and ending with ESPN's NFL set and Trey Wingo, all we need is some sort of interaction with Kasay for a button in the middle, to show this was obviously a prank.
Poor Kasay has his own interview spot in the stands; he's talking to reporters with no idea what's happening on the field. Sal sneaks up there, barges into the pack and screams, "Guys, this man is an impostor! I'm the real John Kasay!"
Initially, Kasay seems fairly amused by the whole thing -- after all, Sal's wearing a different colored jersey, his pants are too small, and he doesn't look anything like him. Then they have this exchange:
Kasay (smiling): "Yeah, yeah, you can tell by his build, he's a real athlete."
Sal: "I'll tell you one thing, I would never wear my socks like that."
For some reason, this sets Kasay off. Why? I don't know. For God's sake, it's Media Day! There were people dressed like superheroes, child reporters, dimwits, bimbos ... this isn't exactly one of those days you mail right to the Pulitzer Committee. But this joke about his socks just rocked Kasay's world. He excuses himself and heads off to find the Panthers PR person. Meanwhile, some big reporter with one of those Penn and Teller ponytails looks like he's ready to fight Sal -- before Kasay bolted, he pushed Sal aside and stood defiantly between them.
Kasay returns with the Panthers PR guy, a redhead who's beyond furious; he's was angrier than the entire group of guests at La Quinta. He bitches us out -- Why? What did we do? -- and demands the tape from Wayne. You really have to know Wayne to know how funny that request was. He's the kind of guy who would have chopped off his own arm and eaten it before giving up a solid comedy piece.
Needless to say, within minutes, we were escorted up the stairs by security. And we're totally confused. Frat talks to the PR guy, who says something about Kasay being a devout born-again Christian and being uncomfortable with the whole thing. I'm not even sure what that means.
"What if we tell him that Jesus told us to do the bit?" Paul offers. We're just miffed and even a little angry, but we don't want to burn any bridges with the NFL, either. We decide to apologize, but we can't get back down to see Kasay before he leaves the premises.
As always, Wayne says it best (and with the Jame Gumb voice to boot): "Guys, seriously, screw it. I think we got a pretty good piece here."
Put the lotion in the basket!!!!!!!!
Everyone agrees. We race down to ESPN's set, film the additional stuff with Trey, and FedEx it back to Los Angeles. Except for those angry phone calls from the NFL all afternoon, everything went swimmingly. The piece airs on Wednesday night's show in Act 3.
Even with the wrong jersey, it still turned out nice.
But then something weird happened: The Kasay-Sal thing became a local story. Two different news stations mentioned it last night, with the ABC affiliate even devoting an entire segment to Sal and our prank. Most of the newspaper accounts screwed up the details -- like the one from a South Carolina paper, or a newswire story that was picked up nationally. A Corpus Christi paper even claimed that Sal was "dressed exactly like Carolina kicker John Kasay," insinuating that he nearly came to blows with that aforementioned reporter.
Even the L.A. Times even spent three paragraphs on it -- how did they even know??? -- mentioning that Sal "didn't level with the reporters, but he said he gave such outlandish answers that they should have figured it out. For example, when he was asked what it would mean to win Sunday's game, he said, 'It wouldn't mean too much because I already make more money than you guys.' "
Now everyone's delighted. If only we had the right jersey ... all hell would have broken loose. In a good way.
And if the brief commotion inadvertently affected Kasay's preparation for Sunday's game in any way, shape or form ... well, as a diehard Pats fan, I feel just horrible about this whole thing.
Updated: Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. ET
On Tuesday, I wrote how the NBA should copy the NFL Experience, then use it as a centerpiece for some sort of revamped NBA Finals that would take place partly in a neutral location. I thought it was a great idea.
Except the NBA already thought of it. Apparently during All-Star Weekend, the "All-Star Jam Session" does the same thing: Interactive exhibits, games, merchandise, memorabilia, everything. And they've been doing it for years.
So here's my question ...
Couldn't somebody have told me? Where were you guys? As one of the last 20 die-hard NBA fans on the planet ... I mean, over the past few years, nobody ever thought to say, "Hey, you would love this, you should check it out!" Not a single person?
Now the NBA guys are angry at me for not knowing about it; the NFL guys are angry at me over Cousin Sal's Media Day prank (more on this later today); the readers are angry that I screwed up; I feel like Joe Pantoliano on "Midnight Run." Marvin's telling me to (expletive) myself, you're telling me to (expletive) myself ... everyone's telling me to (expletive) myself!
(And I don't even have somebody here to say, "I better run out and get some donuts.")
I can't believe this was happening without my knowledge. Not only would I have forced ESPN to send me, I would have demanded a complimentary posse as well. What an outrage. When I told my buddy House about it on the phone Tuesday, he practically started crying. Neither of us had any idea. It's like finding out that there was a free porn channel on DirecTV for the past 10 years.
And you guys aren't off the hook either. Seriously, thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it. Fortunately, I was able to get some of you back with the second blog posting Tuesday. Taking a quick tour through my e-mails Tuesday -- and I mean, super-quick (as Gov. Arnold would say, "Dere's no time!") -- I was delighted to read e-mails bitching about my complaints with Houston's weather.
It was all so predictable. California has changed you ... You're getting soft ... Do you realize it's 6 degrees in Boston today? ... How can you complain about the weather when we've gotten 50 inches of snow this winter? And so on.
Like I didn't know that everyone is freezing back East. My whole family lives there! I torture them all the time! You guys are too easy.
Now here's where I did screw up. In Monday's "Pantheon of Babes In My Lifetime" list, my all-time favorite, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, was obviously included with her own section and everything. Here's how that read:
The Sports Guy would like to apologize to Ms. Thiessen for any pain he might have caused her or her family.
Tiffani Thiessen: She played Kelly Kapowski and Valerie Malone. Honestly, she would have made the Pantheon with just one of those characters. And just for the record, there's no sports equivalent to what happened when she replaced Shannen Doherty on "90210" -- it would be like A-Rod replacing Nomar in Boston, then hitting .400 with 60 homers for four straight years.
Well, I definitely wrote it. And then I was rushing to get the column up ... and here's where I get into trouble sometimes. Have you ever copied a paragraph to move it into a separate part of an e-mail, but you forget to actually insert the paragraph into the e-mail? I do this all the time. Most of the time, I catch myself. And in this particular case, I remember thinking that she should be between Jaclyn Smith and the S.I. Swimsuit girls, only she never made it. And I never noticed it. Until the e-mails started pouring in.
This will haunt me for weeks.
Some other quick hits from the past few days:
Houston isn't so bad. The unintentional comedy is pretty much off the charts. It's the kind of place where the sports anchors have names like "Ric Renner." The ABC station runs commentaries from someone named Marvin Zindler, who's a cross between Andy Rooney and Robert Evans, but with the hideous toup to end all toups. He's fantastic. When I'm running ESPN6 some day, I'm giving him a "Rome is Burning"-type show.
There's also a movie show on Saturdays that's like Siskel and Ebert, but with two Texans who are either heavily sedated or playing the best practical joke of all-time. Their names are Gordon and Gary -- part of me is convinced they're really Will Ferrell and Chris Parnell with tons of makeup. At one point when they were wrapping it up, Gordon looked right into the camera and said, "And always remember to leave your lobby light on because it probably is." I can't wait for next Saturday -- I might just transcribe the entire show and make that my Saturday posting.
The strangest feature of the city is this Metro Rail they built -- a new-wave version of the trolleys in Boston and San Fran that run right on the street. One of my readers (James from Houston) warned me about it last week, saying, "What's the Vegas over-under for how many people the new Light Rail will hit during Super Bowl week? This is right up there with first horrific Slam Ball injury and how many times will Doug Christie make that hand gesture as things you should be allowed to bet on. Am I the only one who sees this??? Or am I just crazy???"
Well, he wasn't crazy. If you're not from here, and if you're lost and driving/walking around at night, it's really, really, really easy to careen into the train. Like creepy-easy. I can't imagine what they were possibly thinking here. They even have to run commercials on the local channels urging people not to take a left-hand turn into the trains. It's like an "SNL" skit. They should just go the other way.
From the producers of "Look Out, You're Driving Right Into The Light Rail!", the city of Houston is proud to introduce ... Henry, the world's first robotic crossing guard programmed to wobble right into moving school buses!
I forgot to mention this. During Media Day, I snuck behind Kevin Faulk and Anthony McFarland to hear what they were talking about. There weren't any cameras or anything -- they were just sitting there watching the scene and making conversation. Nobody said anything. And then this happened:
Faulk: How's yo' mama?
McFarland: "Mama good."
Followed by about 10 more seconds of silence.
You have to love Media Day.
Questions you keep hearing out here: Who has the best barbecue, best steaks, and who has the best, um, gentleman's clubs? After consulting various people out here and quickly sifting through some e-mails -- and I can neither confirm nor deny whether I leaned on personal experience to make any of these selections -- here are the winners:
Best barbecue: 1.) Goode Company Barbeque; 2.) Pizzatola's; 3.) Otto's.
Best steak: 1.) Vic and Anthony's; 2.) Sullivan's; 3.) Pappas; 4.) Morton's.
Best, um, clubs: 1.) Men's Club; 2.) Rick's; 3.) Treasures.
Here were the two strangest events of the week, as described by the media information pamphlet handed out to everybody Sunday. I might have added a sentence or two.
"3:15 P.M. (Tuesday): Who will be crowned the NFL's loudest snorer? Grab your ear plugs and join Jerry Rice for a Breathe Right snore-off between the AFC and NFC. Get ready for a happy ending!
"1:15 P.M. (Wednesday): NFL Play of the Year, presented by Levitra, news conference featuring Mike Ditka. Please do not touch the coach, rub him or look him directly in the eye. Thank you.
Finally, I'd like to introduce you to the greatest newspaper series of all time. And yes, I know what I just wrote. This is the greatest newspaper series of all time. Except, of course, the idea was swiped from ESPN.com's own (and better) "Blue Chip Diaries" from last year.
Anyway, the Miami Herald has been following around All-State high school linebacker Willie Williams -- he's checking out various colleges and reporting back on his recruiting trips. I couldn't possibly describe what's happening here. I'm just going to give you the link, and you need to read all three of these features. And please read them in sequence. I don't ask for much.
Trip No. 1:Florida State.
Trip No. 2:Auburn.
Trip No. 3:Miami.
Back here with another posting in the mid-afternoon.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He'll be updating his Super Blog two or three times per day from Houston.