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The inside scoop on the ESPYS  

John D. Hunter
ESPN.com

The 2001 ESPY Awards are in the books.

As you have come to expect, ESPN.com was there in full force. Check out some of the conversations we had backstage during this year's event:

Green Bay Packer wide receiver and ESPY Award winner for Spectacular Play, Antonio Freeman:

What does it mean to be at an event like this?

Freeman: It is a tremendous accomplishment and in most cases it means you have arrived. You look around in the Green Room and see Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Don King just to name a few. It is just a pleasure and delight to be around these people. It's breathtaking really.

Anyone you were excited to meet tonight?

Freeman: Everybody really. It has been a great day. But I enjoyed meeting Tiger Woods. He is probably the biggest star among us all. The accomplishments he has made this year are just phenomenal. To get to meet him and spend a little time with him meant a lot to me.

How would you assess your season?

Freeman: It was disappointing because we didn't make the playoffs and I fell just shy of a thousand yards. When you can't achieve those goals, it doesn't meet your expectations. But it hopefully gives us fuel and ammunition for the fight next year so we can come back and prove we are not washed up.

What was going through your head during that play that won you an ESPY?

Freeman: I knew it was coming to me because it was one-on-one coverage. We had originally called a slant on the play but when I saw the cornerback walk up, I gave Brett a signal and we changed the play. The defensive back bailed out and made a great play but I was just able to stay with the play with my eyes, hands and my body on the ball and make a spectacular play. I had enough field awareness to run into the endzone.

Where you amazed to make that catch?

Freeman: Nothing I do amazes me. I could have made that play in practice but no one would have ever seen it. But since I made it on national TV, it got the whole world to see what kind of player I am inside.

Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops

How busy has life been since the big game?

Bob Stoops: This week alone, I was in Columbus on Friday to speak at a coaching clinic, Connecticut on Saturday morning for the Walter Camp Coach of the Year banquet, flew to Palm Springs (all the way across country) to be at a fund raiser for the University and then flew from there here. So what day is it? It has been very hectic but all of the functions have been good and fun and I have enjoyed it.

Have you found any time to recruit?

Bob Stoops: We had a great recruiting year. It ended on Feb. 7 so I didn't do any of these before this so we had a great recruiting year.

What is the coolest thing that has happened to you since the big game?

Bob Stoops: I don't know. To me, nothing is cooler than being in the middle of a game. So everything is a let down after that. But this is special and a great event. The Walter Camp Coach of the Year was special and so was the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. All those events were great but nothing compares to being in the middle of a game.

Anyone special you are interested in meeting tonight?

Bob Stoops: I'm not much on that. It is always nice to shake hands and meet new people. But, I don't get too caught up in that.

Two presenters, singer Vitamin C and actor Orlando Jones.

What are you wearing and why are you here?

Vitamin C: I have a Christina Perrin dress and I am a huge sports fan so that is why I am here.

What sports do you follow?

Vitamin C: Baseball. I am a huge baseball and tennis fan. I was trilled to get to meet Tommy LaSorda and Pete Sampras tonight.

Orlando Jones: I am wearing Donna Karin and yes, it was by design that my sunglasses match Vitamin C's dress. We try and help kids out with color coordination. We're not just an actor and a singer, we're into fashion as well.

Actress Marg Helgenberger from the TV show CSI and an ESPY presenter

How did you come to be at the ESPYs?

Helgenberger: I was asked and I couldn't be happier. I'm honored. I'm a big sports fan, especially college football because I grew up in Nebraska. I live with two huge sports fans my son and my husband who have ESPN on 24/7, so I learn a lot through osmosis. But we are having a ball. My husband tried to introduce Eddie George to my son and my son was very shy and it was very funny.

Are you and athlete, you are in very good shape?

Helgenberger: I am more of a dancer than a team sports person. But I do a lot of things to keep fit and keep my mind occupied and my body fit like golf. So I am excited to see Tiger Woods because he is such a superstar.

Brain Cashman, General Manager of the New York Yankees

Why do you get involved in an event like the ESPYs?

Brian Cashman: It is a tremendous honor to be nominated for the Team of the Year by ESPN which is a huge news source in our industry now. It is one of the crowning achievements you can receive. So this is a bit of a chance to bask in your glory of receiving this award that encompasses all of team sports. So we had to be here for that.

How do you think athletes look at winning an ESPY?

Brian Cashman: It's neat and special. ESPN is now one of the big entertainers in our industry. A couple of years ago no one thought ESPN could do what they are doing now. And now it is here to stay.

The ESPYs and ESPN help promote baseball and sports. I know players don't want to be caught doing something embarrassing on SportsCenter like Luis Sojo tripping over his shoe laces like he did in the Wild Card series against the A's. So, it's special because it is how you wake up and start your morning.

Is there anyone you are looking forward to seeing at the ESPYs?

Brian Cashman: I am very humbled to be here and don't know what to expect because there will be a lot of people here that I am not used to rubbing elbows with because I am not an athlete because I am in the front office. So it will be nice to soak all this up and watch everyone have a good time.

The season is just around the corner, how is the team shaping up?

Brian Cashman: We had a good winter and now it is time to see if our winter acquisitions, like Mike Mussina, can improve our ball club. We are trying to do something not many teams have done -- win four straight championships. To do that you have to be stay healthy, be good and lucky. We look forward to applying those three things again to see if we can pull off a fourth championship.

How big of a signing was it to get Derek Jeter back in the fold?

Brian Cashman: It was something we had talked about for a number of years. He is a very special player and thankfully for George Steinbrenner and the Yankee organization they were able to find some common ground and get something done. He is a Secretariat type, a real thoroughbred. Athletes like that come around every 20 or 30 years. So when you have one, you have to hold on to them and ride that horse as long as you can. Again, they are very rare and precious and he is a winner. He doesn't drive this team but he is one of the important components of this team because it has been a team effort these last years. But he is a key element and we wanted to keep that key element from going to free agency. Because if it went to that, who knows what could happen, look at ARod signing with Texas. So we wanted to lock him up and we are thankful for that.

What are your thoughts about all the money that is being thrown around to guys like Jeter and ARod?

Brian Cashman: In theory, the players deserve what they get. The bottom line is that if someone is willing to pay it, they deserve every penny. The one I don't understand is the ARod signing. You don't like to get outbid by $100 million dollars. So that one didn't really seem to make sense to me. But if the players are getting the money, it must be there for the taking.

Everyone wants to know what it is like working for George Steinbrenner?

Brian Cashman: He is a very demanding owner and he is the Vince Lombardi of owners. It is high risk and high reward working for someone like that. The risk is the tediously long hours and excellence is always the bottom line. But the high reward is a structure that lets you strive for the golden ring every year. He is a leader and succeeds more often then he fails. So again, he is the Vince Lombardi of owners and there is a trade off but the bottom line is that I have four rings on my finger and I have become better in my personal and professional life because of my involvement with him and the organization.

Dara Torres, a five-time Olympic medal winner in swimming (2 gold, 3 bronze). She is also a sideline reporter for the XFL.

What are your impressions of sideline reporting for the XFL?

Torres: It has been an interesting challenge. I don't think anyone knew what to expect going in, but the football has been great and I am really enjoying my role as a reporter. There is a part of me that wishes I could do a little more sideline stuff with the athletes. But right now I am glad I have been given a chance as a roving reporter.

Has anything unusual happened to you on the sideline?

Torres: Yeah, I got pinched in the rear during the Vegas game. Plus, during my first game my IFB pack fell off so I couldn't hear what the guys in the truck were saying to me. There have also been some incidents where the crowd has gotten a little rowdy, stuff I'm not really used to. But the game this weekend at Memphis went well and the crowd was a little more tame.

What are your thoughts on the football?

Torres: It's not bad at all. The XFL is all sports, but it is about entertainment too. But I think it has been good football.

How busy has it been for you since the Olympics?

Torres: Oh, gosh it seems that I have been living on a plane the last five months. It has been wonderful, but I am looking forward to getting a little more settled feeling in my system. But right now I sort of have to take advantage of everything that comes my way.

What has been the coolest thing you have been able to do since the Olympics?

Torres: The best thing has been going to the schools and talking to the kids and going to charity events and talking about my Olympic experiences and sharing it with people that watched it on TV and looked up to that.

Super Bowl MVP and NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis:

Top five all-time movies:

Shaft
New Jack City
Scar Face
Purple Rain
Boys 'N the Hood

ESPN SportsCenter anchor Rich Eisen

What is the worst part of the ESPYs?

Eisen: When they end and they don't continually go on and on. I can't imagine there is a worst part of the ESPYs.

How big of a gambler are you?

Eisen: I think life is a bit of a gamble to be quite honest. When you get out of bed you have no idea what's coming your way, the chips are down, you have to focus and hope for the best. So I would think everyone is a bit of a gambler.

What's your game of choice here in Vegas?

Eisen: My game of choice would be craps because of the whole concept of sitting at a blackjack table and the dealer hitting 21 off of eight cards. That is not an enjoyable experience. The games of chance will break you anyway.

As an ESPY veteran, is there anyone new you are looking forward to seeing?

Eisen: Everyone. It is always fun to see if we can get some of the guys over at the Greg Maddux golf tournament to come over. I heard that Jack Nickelson may actually come so I will keep my fingers crossed.

Former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees

What's life been like since your college eligibility has expired?

Brees: It actually has been pretty focused it hasn't really been too relaxed and I haven't been able to look back at the season. It's basically been bearing down and getting ready for the combine because I know I have a lot to prove. I need to show people I can step in and be productive as far as NFL teams go.

As far as the combine, is there anything you feel you need to work on?

Brees: I just need to make sure that I am at my best at everything. I need to get used to dropping back in the 5 and 7 step drops, that kind of stuff we didn't really do in college. That is something they do all the time in the pros. I need to work on all the speed and agility stuff they do. The shuttles and 40-yards dashes are stuff I have done before and obviously the throwing, I just have to keep throwing and make sure I take care of my arm and make sure I am at my best all the time so I am accurate. I need to just work on my fundamentals and mechanics of that. But the thing that I have worked on the most are the 5-7 step drops.

It sounds like you have been incredibly busy since you graduated. Have you been able to find time to train?

Brees: Yes, I have found plenty of time to train. At the Hula Bowl it was just a week of just practicing and not working out as far as weights go. But it was nice to be in front of the scouts and it was a chance for the scouts to see me in a typical NFL offense -- one or two backs or maybe only two or three receivers at a time and not really spread out a whole lot. It was a chance to get out of what most people thought was my comfort zone -- five wide receivers. I hope I showed that no matter what system I am in, I can be successful and get things done.

What are your impressions of being here at the ESPYs? Is there anyone you are looking forward to seeing?

Brees: I don't know. But I know when I walk into the arena and start looking around the light is going to go on and it will be, "I know that guy and remember when he or she did this or that or a play they made." So, that will be fun to see all those people and go through the whole ceremony.

Tennis champion Pete Sampras

How do big-time athletes view the ESPY Awards?

Sampras: It is voting on your peers and to be voted for and be here is an honor. It is an honor to be here with the best baseball players and football players --- the list goes on and on. It is cool to just look around and just to be a part of it. This is just my second ESPYs and last year I had a great time and hopefully this year will be the same.

Anyone you are looking forward to seeing?

Sampras: Not really. I have pretty much met and seen everyone. I am really excited to see the tribute to Jack Nicklaus who I look up to and an individual athlete that has won a bunch of majors. I'm impressed with the way he did it with all that dignity and class is very respectful. So, I am looking forward to his presentation and to see what they say about him. It will be fun.

Your life revolves around tennis, but are there other sports you enjoy?

Sampras: I'm a big golf fan, I play a lot of golf. I like basketball but don't play much because of the ankle sprains. But just the normal sports like football and basketball -- sports across the board. But I'm a big NBA fan.

Who do you think will be the best dressed at the ESPYs?

Sampras: I have seen my wife's (actress Brigitte Wilson) outfit and I think she will steal the show. I guarantee it.


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