I received a pretty cool phone call on Monday night, although not nearly as cool as the call Adam Amin received.
Amin, who is one of the top young broadcasting talents at ESPN (and in interest of full disclosure, a close friend) called me on Monday night with news that he was going to be calling the Notre Dame/Virginia game on Tuesday night...with less than 24 hours notice...along with Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps. Having nothing to do on Tuesday, I volunteered to drive Adam to South Bend. What followed was an experience that I'll remember forever.
Adam picked up me up around Noon on Tuesday and I took the wheel while he continued to cram as much Notre Dame/Virginia information into his brain. I've known Adam for nine years, dating back to his time as a student at Valparaiso, and his work ethic has always been top notch. Having less than 24 hours to prepare for a game would be stressful for anyone. For someone who bases his reputation on preparation, it can be nerve-wracking.
The Joyce Center (and much of Notre Dame's campus) was a ghost town as we arrived in South Bend. Our first stop was the production truck where Adam met with the producer, director and technical director for the broadcast. I expected a lot of work talk right off the bat, but instead it was Adam going out of his way to ask about kids, marriages and other personal topics. It didn't take long until we were watching phone videos of a little kid taking his first steps. I was struck by how close everyone on the production team seemed with one another (Adam included) and then was surprised to later learn that the team was largely a mixture of various staffs comprised because of the weather.
Once we arrived inside the arena, we met with the stage manager (I hope I'm getting all these TV terms down). He was a local Notre Dame guy who had a ton of stories. He razzed Adam a bit about preparing so much for the game. "You're only going to get a few words in before Digger and Knight take over." Adam constantly got razzed about this throughout the day and he took each joke in stride as he continued to prepare.
The preparation knew no bounds. From an article in the Virginia paper about a in-house meeting between Coach Bennett and sharpshooter Joe Harris, to a great story about Notre Dame senior Eric Atkins seeing the movie "Rudy" on the television in his hotel room during his official visit to South Bend. Atkins' late father William loved the movie and Atkins took it as a sign from his father that he should attend Notre Dame. Either one of these stories would've made for a great feature in the paper (my line of work). Adam had several of these for both teams, teams that he just started learning about the previous night.
As more members of the production team arrived, the conversations switched to where the staffers had been and where they were going next. Adam's next game is in Louisville and the director immediately started listing off lunch spots in town. Multiple people joined the conversation in order to chime in on their favorite food spots in various towns.
Once his preparation was done, Adam took some time to meet with an aspiring Notre Dame broadcaster and answer some questions about the profession. Knowing the internal stress that Adam was feeling, I got the sense that he felt grounded while getting a chance to step away from the broadcast while helping a student journalist. It was really a nice moment.
Adam confided in me before the game that he understood his job was to introduce the game, setup Phelps and Knight and then get out of the way while the two legendary coaches analyzed the contest. Adam had a series of storylines for the game that he went through with his producer. Virginia was off to their best conference start, Notre Dame was looking to stop the bleeding and Phelps was recently inducted into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor. Knight was responsible for handing Phelps Notre Dame's worst defeat in program history and that would be mentioned at some point as well.
I should also admit that myself, as well as several others, offered monetary incentives for Adam to broach the subject of Valparaiso's 1988 victory over Notre Dame with Phelps. I think the pot was up to $300 at one point. Adam didn't take the bait. Probably a smart decision.
Phelps worked the room when he arrived shortly before Knight. The former Notre Dame coach talked to players from both teams on the court during warmups and held court in various corners of the arena. Knight arrived and sat down near the broadcasting table with longtime friend and legendary sportswriter Bob Hammel. People walked up to Knight to say hello, but he mostly stayed in the same place until it was showtime.
Adam's director invited me into the production truck for the broadcast and I took him up on the offer in the second half. I've worked around TV before. I interned at the Fox affiliate in Milwaukee and I've watched the wonderful work from WebStream Productions and Karl Berner with the Horizon League Network. All of that said, I was amazed at everything I saw.
It truly takes a village to get to the final product we see on our television screens. I sat in the the middle of eight individuals who coordinated everything from camera shots to graphics to stat breakdowns to commercial scheduling to audio levels. There were plenty of stressful moments in the truck that never played out in the finished product. I walked away with a finer appreciation for the individuals that operate every part of the broadcast. Many of whom keep the same crazy schedules as the broadcaster but get zero public credit. As I walked back into the arena following the game, Bryan Cranston's quote from Argo was going through my head: "If we wanted applause, we would've joined the Circus."
Adam got some on-air recognition from Phelps at the end of the game and Knight signed the stat sheet as a nice memento. As we drove back toward Valparaiso, Adam allowed himself a few moments to enjoy the surreal evening before it was time to start looking at Louisville and UCF. The next broadcast is never far off and this time there's more than 24 hours to prepare.