Just from living here in Los Angeles, I have had the opportunity to do things that I never would have thought possible. In 2008 I was able to attend the red carpet premiere of Guitar Hero III, where Poison played a spectacular show for less than 500 people. There were celebrities, there was great food, open bar, the works. That was nothing compared to what I got to do last night.
Because of some inside information, I knew where the players were going to be and when they were going to be there. Being the autograph hound I am, I decided it was worth an effort to try to get signatures from as many of the rookies as I could. As there is every year, there is a huge party in Santa Monica the night before the main event, so I made it a point to be at the venue as the players arrived. Boy am I glad I decided to go.
I arrived around 6:45 and sat down in the lobby with a stack of cards freshly pulled from packs of Prestige and notecards for the players I couldnt get. I had a football as well, but I was going to save it for the right moment. Around 7:00 players started walking in, no entourage, no anything. I walked up to Ndamukong Suh, who was probably one of the biggest beasts I had ever seen and asked if he could sign one of my cards. He was extremely nice, and happily obliged. As soon as people saw that the players were there, three others started to walk over. He signed for all of them without blinking an eye and even chatted with us for a few moments.
Ryan Mathews was next, and like Suh, he was incredibly nice. He posed for pictures, he signed whatever we wanted and hung around for a few minutes. As a Chargers player, he had to sign for just about everyone, but he was cordial and never made any notice of being swarmed.
Dexter McCluster stopped by as well, but didnt say much. Oddly enough, he hung around the lobby the most of any of the players before everything started.
After Mathews left, Eric Berry walked in, but was more hesitant to sign for us. After he got a few requests from kids there, he ended up signing for everyone, taking pictures and so on.
Jimmy Clausen showed up while Berry was signing, and I broke away immediately to go and get him. Clausen was a BIG guy, surprisingly, and signed the first of my cards that I had brought with me. He was somewhat cold at first, but didnt have a problem playing the role once he realized that we were all there.
Demaryius Thomas showed up around the same time as Clausen, so I had him sign the card I had for him as well. He was VERY shy and just passed through on his way to the elevator.
After Thomas left, it was about 7:20, and we hit a lull. We waited for more people, but no one showed until around 7:30. Thats when things got nuts. First Maurice Jones Drew, who was there for the NFL network walked in, and no one even noticed him. Once we got a clue, who he was, he nicely signed for the two of us who walked up to him. Then CJ Spiller walked in the door, and you could tell that everyone wanted his picture and autograph. He signed a card for me, though he didnt say much to anyone. That was two big names off my list. Then the boom fell.
Tim Tebow walked in, and he was pretty much on a mission. He saw that all his player friends were signing, did a complete 180 and headed straight the other way for the elevator. I was standing right there and asked him for his autograph to give away on the site. He shrugged me off with a “not now” as a woman walked up for a picture. She shoved the camera in my hands and asked for a shot, which I took. At that point, a bald guy walked up and confronted the five or six of us that were there. He wasnt with the hotel, but told us to leave because we were “harassing” the guests. Jumping on his cell phone, he said “im going to get hotel management over here” and pointed to the door. At this point, I was more interested in avoiding confrontation because I had just received news that I was going to be able to attend the actual party that night.
Shaking with excitement over the news of my party pass, I walked outside and waited for it to arrive. In the meantime, I saw a bunch of familiar faces milling about, including Tracy Hackler, but ill get to that later.
After my pass arrived, I chilled for a while to see if anyone else was going to show up. At around 7:45, I met up with Chris Carlin and Terry Melia of Upper Deck for a pre-arranged meeting and we walked into the party. It was like a mecca of complete ridiculous-ness and awesome-ness. I couldnt believe that I was going to be able to experience it, and was glad that I brought a huge stack of notecards. There was food, there was drink, there was everything, and it was pimped out with EA sports stuff and NFL players EVERYWHERE.
Considering I had never met Chris or Terry face to face before, I spent time with them talking about life and the upcoming year. Both of them were incredibly friendly, and were just happy to be in such a cool place, just like I was. For guys who spend their days around this sort of stuff, they seemed like fans too, it was kind of refreshing in a way. Chris promised me that this year, Upper Deck’s stuff would be incredible for football, despite the fact that their NFL license was gone. He knew it would be tough to carve out a new niche, but he felt confident that the design team would continue to make Upper Deck’s products look better than any others out there.
After we were done chatting, I started to walk around. The spread they had set up was crazy beyond belief. The party spanned the entire pool area, bordering the beach and the ocean, something that added a bunch of allure to the status of the event itself. They had a station where they made their own Chili, a station with a Mini Donut making company who did fresh donuts, a table filled with candy and caramel apples, a sliders station (chicken, pulled pork, burgers, and other stuff), a mashed potatoes station, and of course, an open bar. It was the first time I wished I hadnt had my surgery, but I was okay settling on the smell of the food rather than eating it.
In the midst of walking around, I got Sam Bradford to sign another card for me, Clausen to sign my football, Arrelious Benn to
sign a card, and a few others. I still hadnt seen Toby Gerhart, which was sad, so I decided to schmooze a little more. I was introduced to a few distributors and others who were there, all of which were pretty shocked to see me. I saw Tracy Hackler again, and introduced myself, we chatted for 30 seconds and I walked away. Nothing bad, just wanted to actually meet him.
After my Beckett encounter, I started to chat with the Marketing director for Upper Deck, who may have been one of the nicest people at the party. She was so happy and excited about the weekend, and I saw exactly why she had her job. She treated me more like a friend than a blogger, which I very much appreciated, and I hope I get copies of the pictures she took of all of us (hint hint).
I was in line to get some water when Scott Prusha of Panini walked right up to me and got in my face. Decked out in Adrenalyn garb for their new product he laid into me for past posts on SCU. For a smaller gentleman, he can be quite intimidating, thats for sure. I held my ground, hoping he wouldnt go too far into our history, but he wanted to make some points, and I was more than willing to hear what he had to say. We talked for about 20 minutes, and he actually had some pretty invaluable advice that I will definitely be using in the future for this site. After he warmed up a little, he wanted me to know that he really wasnt concerned with the business side of my blog, but more the history of my actions. He understood that my opinion on Panini products was just that, and didnt really care about what I said. He told me he really didnt read the site anymore, which was fine, but he was happy that the baby was doing well. Scott and I broke our conversation on good terms, but its not like we are going out for a drink any time soon.
At this point, it was about 8:30, and I was nearing the end of my rope with being away from the baby. I still hadnt found Toby Gerhart in the sea of 250 people, but I was determined. I spotted him at a corner table sitting with Colt McCoy, and approached him immediately. I told him I was from Minneapolis and asked him how things were going. He was genuinely a class act and started laughing about the picture from his Prestige card. They passed it around and he signed it for me. Colt McCoy signed another card for me, and I had determined my night was complete.
I saw Tim Tebow again, waiting in line for something, and tried approaching him more in a different situation than before. Again he told me he wouldnt sign and shrugged me off again. Others were coming up to him as well, to which they got the same answer. From what I was told, Tebow didnt sign a single autograph all night long.
Before I left, I had a great chat with a person from the Washington Post about writing and the way each person builds their brand. Chris had told him all about the site, and he thought it was pretty cool that I would be so passionate about writing about this stuff. Being on the business side of the paper, he completely understood the building of a “character” in your writing, and wished me the best of luck with the blog. Going to school in Washington DC meant that we had lots to talk about, hopefully Ill have another shot at talking to him in the future.
I think the most surprising thing about the night, other than the accessibility of the players, was how well the card companies got along. Even though they are in a brutally competitive industry, and really would benefit from each other’s destruction, they are all on good terms with each other. The goal of the night, and the weekend really, was to promote the cards and the players, something that definitely resonated with me. I know that I can get caught up in the soft underbelly of what goes on around the hobby, but this night was a completely positive experience thanks to the professionalism of the people from Upper Deck and Panini. Congrats on that to all of them, I want them to know that.
All in all, this night was epic to say the least, something I will never forget. A huge thank you to Chris and Upper Deck, Scott and Panini, and Clay from Topps for putting on a great event with EA Sports. It was truly the best way to leave Los Angeles behind, I had the time of my life.