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About Those ESPYS (With Update)

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 13, 2006

Earlier today I wrote a couple of stories for tomorrow's Beacon Journal about being at the ESPYS. Here are the backstage highlights:

--  The red carpet is one long haul. According to notes handed out to reporters, a celebrity walking the red carpet passed, in order, platforms for ESPN News, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, The Insider, Good Morning America, Cold Pizza, ESPN 360, and E!, among others. After all of those, they hit an area for print and radio writers; papers on the ground marked precious locations by the red-carpet rail for different organizations. And banked at different spots along the way were photographers.
   ''It was so hot,'' said Danica Patrick, ''and I was wearing silk.''
   The stars also walked by a cheering section encouraged by announcements of which star was coming. LeBron James arrived a little more than 10 minutes after the two-hour red-carpet ceremony began but received the biggest ovation I heard during that time. (The arrival of Janet Jackson and boyfriend Jermaine Dupri was a very close second.) And, while some players could walk down the red carpet in a few minutes, James appeared to be stopped by every crew, taking more than 20 minutes to finish the walk.
  Because of all this, celebrities were highly selective about talking to people in the print and radio sections. Singer Vince Neil and comedian Kathy Griffin (who confided that she hates sports) were among the chatty folks. James walked past with a wave -- although, once he was out of the sun, he paused to talk to some regular fans and even to pose for a few pictures.
  Those who did talk also risked getting caught by a crew from Howard Stern's show. I couldn't hear the questions, but some would look stunned and walk away after a moment. Others chatted away, including Kurt Warner and Doug Flutie. Flutie's reponses were especially funny to hear: ''No. No. No. No. ...''

--  It's no picnic when you win an award, either.   OK, you  did get one of this big ESPY trophys and a gift bag from the ''diamond gift lounge.'' But here was what happened to people after they won: an official ESPY photo with the presenters, sound bites for ET, GMA, Access Hollywood and Extra, a stop at the diamond gift lounge with a sound bite for E!, the press room, the photo room and then a last sound bite for *li The Insider. *lf
     I spent the ceremony in the press room, a noisy area accommodating radio, print reporters, TV crews and one woman who spent a lot of time complaining that she didn't know who any of the athletes were. The ceremony was on monitors, but those were muted when winners came in to talk.
One reporter asked almost every winner about the best advice he or she had ever received. Some asked about music (Dwyane Wade listened to Eminem before playoff games), or clothes (Danica Patrick was in Dolce & Gabbana).
  Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the man behind CSI and Pirates of the Caribbean, was asked about Pirates' record-busting grosses as much as about Glory Road, which won the ESPY for best movie. (''Glory Road wasn't a huge success,'' he said, '' but it was a meaningful picture for me.'')  But Bruckheimer knows how the game is played; the real-life Texas Western players portrayed in Glory Road talked to the press first, with Bruckheimer following, so the players got their own share of press time without being overshadowed by the producer.
  Again, different stars had different reactions to the ritual. Shaun White, for one, seemed happy to talk as long as anyone listened. So did Andre 3000. And Alonzo Mourning was still emotional when he arrived. When Mourning was dealing with his kidney transplant, Lance Armstrong had been especially supportive. But they had never met before Wednesday night, and Mourning was moved when Armstrong paid tribute to him onstage.
  -- The ESPYS have a dress code. The stars of the ESPYs don't.   ''Dress is Formal,'' said the notes to reporters. ''No Exceptions. No jeans, tenis shoes, t-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, etc.''  Now, ''formal'' no longer means a tuxedo; I got by with a jacket and tie, and was still better dressed than some.  In the press room, a cameraman carped about having worn long pants as a result while seeing plenty of his red-carpet counterparts in shorts.
  Celebrity fashion, though, varies. Plenty of stars dressed up, but actor Matthew McConaughey, a friend of Armstrong's, didn't even have his shirt tucked in as he ambled down the red carpet -- and he had a comparable sloppy-casual air for the telecast.
     -- Lance Armstrong was happy as a host.  ''It felt good,'' he said after the ceremony. ''I was into it. I was really into it.'' And he was genuinely surprised by a bit where Will Ferrell serenaded him. ''We rehearsed the whole show (but) they wouldn't let me see that piece. It was the first time I heard it.''
  I asked him if he thought people would be surprised by his opening monologue -- since I thought some of the jokes were PG-13.
  ''Really?'' he said with a sly grin. ''Well, if (people) lived with me, they would know that was actually a step down, from R.''
  Update: I also wrote a piece about press-room comments of interest to Northeast Ohio sports fans. You can find it here.

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