When the shadow of the camera appeared on the desk it was between nine and ten o'clock and then I was in time again, watching the teleprompter. It was Charley Steiner's and when Bob Ley gave it to me he said I give you the crypt of all joy and fandom; it's rather agonizingly apropos that you will use it to gain the sine qua non of all sportscasting experience which can suit your personal predilections no better than it suited Craig Kilborn's or Keith Olbermann's. I give it to you not that you may enjoy football, but that you might forget it now and then for an interval and not expend your every on-air exhortation in a vain attempt to celebrate it. Because no game is ever won he said. They are not even played. The pregame show only reveals to an anchor his own preposterousness and dejection, and victory is an illusion of coaches on the field and boosters in the stands.
It was directly above the camera lens and I sat watching it. Looking at it, that is. I don't suppose anybody ever purposefully pays attention to a teleprompter. You don't have to. You can be without consciousness of your own reading for a couple or three segments, then in a single rolling sentence it can create in the mind in toto the long descending array of games you didn't watch. Like Bob Ley said down the flowing and flitting script you might see Raghib Ismail walking, like. And the good Beano Cook that said Haven't They Suffered Enough, that never coached a football game.
Through the earpiece I heard the producer's voice and then his shoes on the floor pacing. I got up and looked down at the desk and slid my hand along its edge and I looked up at the teleprompter and the production assistant turned it off and I sat back down. But the shadow of the camera was still upon the desk and I had learned the script almost to the letter, so I'd have to turn my back to the camera and the desk, feeling the eyes mothers used to have in the backs of their heads when their children were in short pants and contemplating misbehaving.
It's always the misspent hour between preparedness and airtime which you will regret. Bob Ley said that. That Woody Hayes was not fired: he was worn away by the infinitesimal tightening of tiny copper coils wound around an enormous thin membrane containing a viscous gout of molten anger always on the verge of bursting. That was credited with 238 victories but never used a teleprompter.
And so as soon as I knew I couldn't see it, I began to wonder what words were on the screen. Bob Ley said that incessant fretting over the location of the lines of a monologue on a light-emitting diode which was a symptom of sportscasting was excrement. And I saying All right. Wonder. Go on and wonder outside the lines.
If it had been sunrise I could have looked at the dim dewy lot behind the set in the grey emptiness of dawn, thinking about what he said about the ephemerality of victory. Thinking it would be nice for them back in Bristol if the weather held up like this. Why shouldn't it? Rivalry week, the voice in the earpiece that breathed He could go all the way, not so fast my friend. The Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network proudly announces the addition of Desmond Howard to the cast of. The Rose Bowl. Not a staple crop like the Cotton Bowl or the Orange Bowl. I said I have no control over where the parent corporation sends the show, Bob I said. The Rose Bowl. Cunning and the Granddaddy of 'Em All. If you attend a Southern California football game, but don't see the inside of the Coliseum, there should be a refund. Let Nick Lachey have it. Give Nick Lachey a ticket to the U.S.C.-Nebraska game.
The production assistant, Connie, stood at the edge of my vision, holding my coffee in her hand, her glasses glinting smokily, as though fogged over by the rising steam. "You skipping makeup this morning?"
"Is it that late?"
She held out her arm, twisted at a funny angle so I could look at her watch.
"I didn't know it was that late." Connie was still holding out her arm, her elbow in an odd attitude in relation to her bent wrist. "I'll have to hustle. I can't go on the air without---" She withdrew her arm. Then I quit talking.
"You'd better get off the set and run," Connie said. She handed me my coffee and stepped away.
I got up and moved away, training my vision in the direction of the makeup trailer to prevent my gaze from falling on the teleprompter. I walked to the makeup trailer and passed through the door.
"Aren't you ready yet?" said the makeup girl who awaited me there.
"Not yet. Do it quick. We'll make it."
I stepped in. The door closed. I descended into the chair. My eyelids dropped shut as she lowered the back of the chair. Then I could picture the teleprompter again. I could see the exact word on which it had stopped, glowing white and blocky against a deep blue background.
At the anchor desk you are ashamed of using a teleprompter. Boys. Men. They lie about it. Because it means less to analysts, Bob Ley said. He said it was anchors who invented the script not analysts. Bob Ley said the pregame show is like a funeral: only an exercise intended to palliate those left waiting before the inevitable arrives and I said, But to believe it doesn't matter and he said, That's what's so tragic about all sportscasting: not only the pregame show and I said, Why couldn't it have been me and not Kirk who is unanchor and Bob Ley said, That's why that's tragic too; nothing is even worth the changing of the arrangement of the chairs on the set, and Bill Pidto said if he's got better sense than to want to share the title analyst with the likes of Sean Salisbury and I said, Did you ever coach football? Did you? Did you?
It was a while before the makeup girl ceased her labors. I stayed in the chair, more sensing than feeling, for a long time. Like all the pancake that had ever been applied still appearing fleshlike under the large glaring Klieg lights and Beano Cook talking about suffering. Because if it were just a pregame show; if that were all of it. Finished. If scripts just finished themselves.
Nobody else there but the camera and me. If we could have just done a Shelley Smith human interest feature so dreadful that they would have fled the set except us. I am an unscripted analyst who does not need a teleprompter I said Bob it is I it is not Kirk Herbstreit And when he turned Kirk Herbstreit. Kirk Herbstreit. Kirk Herbstreit. When he turned the teleprompter on I didn't read. That's why I didn't. He would be there and Lee would and I would. Kirk Herbstreit. Kirk Herbstreit. Kirk Herbstreit.
If we could have just done a pregame show so dreadful and Bob Ley said That's tragic too nothing is too dreadful for Disney they cannot do anything they consider dreadful at all they cannot even remember tomorrow that U.S.C.'s Rose Bowl victory over Texas seemed inevitable yesterday and I said, You can script all things and he said, Not so fast my friend.
I rose from the chair and asked her the time, with my eyes still closed, still picturing the lingering word hanging motionless and luminescent on the teleprompter. I raised my coffee from where I had placed it on the counter and poured half the contents into my mouth and stepped outside and looked across the lot at the set. The shadow hadn't quite cleared the desk. I stopped in front of the door, watching the shadow move between Lee and Kirk where they were seated in the analysts' chairs.
Lapel mikes not attached and not mikes. In a few years I can not wear a mike. I could not. Was. Will there be lapel mikes then if I am not and not "GameDay" then. Where the best of previews Bob Ley said droop like flaccid ivy tendrils upon a corporately-sponsored set. Not "GameDay" then. Not to me, anyway. Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again.
Kirk had his mike on; then it must be. When I can see my shadow before me if not attentive that I fooled onto the desk shall tread again upon my invincible teleprompter. But no football. I couldn't have played it. I won't have the show sent to Los Angeles I couldn't have.
How can I control any of it when you have openly declared that you have no respect for the anchor's wishes I know you look down on the analysts but is that any reason for teaching my viewers my own viewers I broadcast for to have no respect Trampling my shadow's ankles into the asphalt with heavy heels and then I spied the teleprompter, and I envisioned the letters glowing in the inky midnight blueness as I carried my half-empty coffee cup in quiet solemn solitude like the shield-bearer of all journalistic integrity and pride weighed down by granite pillars of regret.
I will not have my show sent to a second-rate game by you or Disney or anybody no matter what broadcast rights you own
At least you agree there is a reason for wanting people to watch
I couldn't have I couldn't have. I know you couldn't I didn't mean to speak so critically but analysts have no respect for each other for themselves
But why did Kirk The production assistant moved as my shadow fell across the desk, but it was not yet air time. The producer wasn't in sight anywhere. think I would have coached could have played
Bob Ley and I protect analysts from one another from themselves our analysts we are anchors Analysts are like that they don't acquire degrees in journalism we are for that they are just born with a practical talent or ability that gives them expertise every so often and occasionally right they have an affinity for football for supplying whatever the anchor lacks by breaking down game film instinctively as you do Fellini pictures in repose training the mind for it until the football has served its purpose whether the game was played or no
I said That Buckeye blackguard Lee
Were you trying to keep Craig James with us were you
A rogue and a scoundrel Lee known for his brazen good looks and rakish charm played quarterback at the Ohio State University
Well what about it we're not going to play football with
now say his name
I felt the first surge of blood it throbbed in my temple in powerful hastening beats
say it again
Lee looked off toward the Bristol horizon and a wistful look flitted across his face in a flare a flash of nostalgic remembrance shared distinct mutual apotheosis and synecdoche Louisville Indiana first recipient of the Alan Berg Memorial Journalism Scholarship haven't we suffered enough
say it again
my blood surged steadily throbbing and throbbing against my temple
I said you must leave the show
he looked at me
did Lee send you to me
I say you must go not Lee not anybody I say it
then I heard myself saying I'll give you until sundown to leave Bristol
he picked up my fountain pen and threw it across the room so that the nib embedded in the wall then he set a football on the desk
what will you do if I don't leave
I'll kill you don't think that just because I never played football
my mouth said it I didn't say it at all
listen no good taking it so hard it's not your fault Fowler it would have been some other ex-jock from the Ohio State University
did you ever have a teleprompter did you
no but I never used a script
I slapped him with my open palm his hand moved faster than mine and grabbed my wrist before I could bring the arm down I swung with the other hand he caught it too he held both my wrists in the same hand his other hand flicked to the football I could hear the blood rushing in my ears he grasped the football and turned my hands loose
he took the football from the desk and heaved it at the wall it formed a perfect spiral the tip struck the fountain pen embedded in the wall and broke it leaving the nib still in the sheetrock as pen and pigskin tumbled together to the floor
the pen Bob Ley said may be mightier than the sword but Bob Ley said the pigskin is mightier than the pen Beano and Boomer told me so
Big & Rich began. The first note sounded, forced and commercial, flagrantly corporate, unburdening the building tension for the next one and that's it if anchors could only change analysts forever that way flow even and steady like an exquisitely scripted journalism school sentence bursting with pithy crispness and exacting syntax moving cleanly along in scrolling luminescent precision instead of thudding heavily and clumsily in shameful reverberations across the airwaves trying not to think of the inadvertent malapropisms and casual clichés until the segment concludes and I can breathe again.
you cannot bear to think that some Saturday it will no longer hurt you like this now we're getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will preview the afternoon's forthcoming college football action so to speak without altering the contests themselves you won't do it under these conditions it will be a hack job shilling shamelessly for a multinational conglomerate openly and indifferently mocking your subordinate insignificant modularity and the strange thing is that the anchor who was conceived in journalism and whose every utterance is a predictable remake of a cinematic cult classic for which every observer knows the script by rote will not face that unblinking teleprompter which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without undertaking efforts ranging from inside jokes to glib ad-libs that would not mislead a youth until some Saturday in self-loathing revulsion he risks everything on a single sharp turn of phrase followed by a single sharp turn of heel and departure from the spotlight like Jack Paar or Howard Cosell no anchor ever does that in the initial heated flush of fiery enraged despair regret or ennui he does it only when he has realized that even the despair or regret or ennui is not particularly important to the Worldwide Leader and the anchor temporary and the conglomerate perpetual steadfast unyielding immobile implacable unconcerned and by its lights infallible
The last note of "Comin' to Your City" sounded. At last it stopped playing and the silence was still again. I looked at the camera and the director turned on the red light. I put my smile on. The crowd sounds were faint now, barely noticeable, and in the teleprompter the script began to flow. I began to speak. The letters moved smoothly along the screen in a slow steady roll and the words came tripping off my tongue with the same easy mechanical foreordained grace.
Then I remembered I hadn't thought to read, so I blinked and kept my gaze trained upon the teleprompter, seeing it as though for the first time that morning. I found my place again and picked up where I left off without the slightest cessation of my monologue or the faintest divergence from my rhythm. I turned to my left. Before the red light on the camera snapped off, I cut a glance at the teleprompter to see if there was anything else, then I saw that I had forgotten to call my analysts by name.
I'd have to address them, and they'd think I was being condescending by making like I didn't deign to call them by their names. I had forgotten to whom I was to pitch it out, but Kirk remembered from the pre-show meeting that I was to kick it over to him, so I didn't have to look back at the teleprompter any more.