Right before the camera lights turned red and ESPN College GameDay came on air Saturday, there was a moment that reminded me that I live in a world apart from most. Laura calls it a “fantasy world.” Digger Phelps, one of the popular analysts on the show reached out and fist bumped fellow analysts Hubert Davis, Jay Bilas and host Rece Davis.
Later that day before the doors of Allen Fieldhouse opened for the game against Kansas State, the ushers gathered in the south end to go over their assignments for the evening. They finally gathered into a huddle, clasped hands over head and cried out “Happy Birthday Kansas” in celebration of the state’s 150th birthday.
The “Red Vests”, as they are called, do this before every game. No, they don’t always yell out birthday wishes for our state, but they do yell something in an act of solidarity before heading off to the far reaches of the Fieldhouse to help the KU fans.
There is also a very public ritual that plays itself out right before the opening tip. The starting five Jayhawk players walk down the line of workers at the scorer’s table and fist bump each and every one. Along the baseline, the veteran photographers often do the same. I have fist bumped the Kansas City Stars’s Rich Sugg, the Lawrence Journal-World’s Nick Krug, the Associated Press’ Orlin Wagner and the Jayhawk Insider’s Steve Puppe often before big games. We wish each other a “good game” and get on with our business. That business is and always will be to get “the best” photographs from any game or match.
My supervisor is Chris Theisen. While he oversees the entire media relations department, to be truly honest, his real job is taking care of the massive media contingent that hangs on every breath from Bill Self and the KU basketball players. In many ways it is a thankless and very tiring job. However, you’d never know it by the smile that spreads across Theisen’s face so often. He truly loves his job.
Whenever I ask him how he’s doing, he will often reply, “Just living the dream.”
Chris walked me and Laura late Saturday afternoon into the ESPN compound where we were thanked by the producer of College GameDay and by the celebrated TV personality Erin Andrews for our photographs of the show earlier that day. As we walked along we noticed that Chris was wearing a brand new pair of black Adidas shoes with his suit.
The game was part of the annual “Sneakers and Suits Day” in the support of Coaches vs. Cancer. While it seems natural for all the coaches to be wearing the shoes, it might seem odd that the team’s media relations director would. However, trust me, Theisen is part of the team and deserves to wear the shoes.
I have often struggled with all this. I came to KU from a journalism background where neutrality was of paramount importance. I have balked at the wearing KU gear when I work and don’t buy into all the blind support that seems part and parcel with the job. I was told last year by a photographer, in anger, that I wouldn’t get half the photographs I do if I didn’t have a “KU” on my shirt. At times this all seems just a bit too crazy to me.
However, when Theisen sticks out that clinched fist of his to me with that big smile on his face, I simply can’t resist the bump. I work with wonderful people all living out their personal “dreams.” I appreciate the sense of team and flat out love the competitive nature that is behind all these little stories, cheers and fist bumps. Everyone in their own way is girding themselves to do their job and do it well. I might work in a fantasy world, but it is happily a world filled with competition.
Laura and I have a small ritual as well. It does not involve any fist bumps. We go over what needs to be done, give each other a quick kiss and always close with these words. “Kick some ass.” That about sums this all up.