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Plati-'Tudes Story Time: Awards Shows

Oct 16, 2020

I thought for the fifth and for now, final edition of P-'Tudes "Story Time," I'd reflect upon some of the behind-the-scenes experiences of taking some of our players to award shows.

I hadn't been to any award ceremonies in my first six seasons as S.I.D, as they were really starting to become more of an event starting in the early 1990s. The Heisman weekend in December and the Walter Camp All-America weekend stood by themselves for a long time, eventually joined by a handful of other events. As awards multiplied in number, other trips popped up including the College Football Awards Show on ESPN, which recently absorbed many of those into one huge event at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

(One of the biggest events now is the three-day NFL Draft; Dave Logan once told me how he found out that he was selected in the 1976 NFL Draft – one of the coaches told him after finding him in class.)

Before we left for the 1989 Heisman weekend, Bill McCartney pulled me aside and told me one thing. It wasn't about if Darian won to help him with his speech, or be sure he doesn't gain any weight over the three days. It was simply, "Do not let my undefeated sophomore quarterback out of your sight all weekend!" Now being from right outside New York City, plenty of high school friends still in the area, I was tempted, but stayed true to my challenge (a couple did come and visit me at the Downtown Athletic Club).

On Friday night, '72 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers had a limo and took most of the players out on the town, and I chaperoned Darian. We thought that he was a representative of the Heisman committee, but he wasn't; he wanted to get into the agent business and was wooing the seniors there, particularly Andre Ware's mother (Ware had a game at Rice that Saturday; there were no conference championship games in 1989, and the Heisman was traditionally awarded on the first Saturday of December at the time). Rodgers somehow got access to the Heisman's team store, and told the players to help themselves, and of course they went crazy. Something just seemed fishy to me; the next morning, I asked the award officials about it, and that's when I found out Rodgers was not in any official capacity with them. I told them about the raid on the novelties the night before, and was worried that Darian could be declared ineligible. The Heisman folks decided to allow the players to keep two items; Darian had taken around 10 and returned all but a couple; no other player ever returned what they had taken. Ware went on to win that year's award, while Hagan finished a respectable fifth, fairly high for a sophomore at the time.

My first trip to the ESPN Show, then in Orlando, was in 1994. Rashaan had won the Doak Walker Award two nights earlier, but they acknowledged it there. He was up for the Maxwell Award, which went to Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins, which caused many to be concerned that the Heisman was truly up for grabs (though I knew the award was based out of Philadelphia and a good percentage of the voters were from the northeast). Ted Johnson was also there for the Butkus Award ceremony the next night (he finished as the runner-up). Chris Hudson was up for the Jim Thorpe Award, which he would won. Now a member of the Thorpe Committee had told me he won the day before, but I wasn't going to tell Chris (plus what if there was a last minute change?). The day of the event, "Huddy" kept saying to me that he wasn't going to win; I must have told him 10 times to prepare something to say just in case he did. He finally scribbled a few notes down right before we left for the auditorium, still doubting he was going to win. I finally told him afterward that I had known after all was said and done.

The 1995 ESPY's (think it was the fourth annual) were hosted by John Goodman (who I saw host Saturday Night Live three times, luck of the draw) had an impressive list of presenters. The ones I remember are Meat Loaf (I actually sat next to him, more on that later), Bill Cosby, Conan O'Brien, Mimi Rogers, Denis Leary and Kim Alexis, but there were at least six more I can't place (I have it on VHS tape, so not exactly like I could play it somewhere, especially in a pandemic). Barry Bonds might have been, but I remember him mostly for allowing Rashaan Salaam, Kordell Stewart and Michael Westbrook into his post-post-event private party at the China Club and his bodyguards not letting me join them.

Westbrook occasionally gives me some grief to this day about myself introducing myself to Meat Loaf and asking him to sign my ESPY ticket, which he did; he was a huge college football fan. But I addressed him first as, "Mr. Loaf." Michael, sitting in the row right ahead of us (and sitting next to Paula Abdul), turned around and gave me that classic Westbrook grimace shaking head, physically relaying to me, "What is wrong with you?" The last award of the night was for the play of the year in all of sports; for the life of me, I can't remember what we were up against, but the "Miracle in Michigan" won. Kordell accepted the award, thanking "God, my teammates and Dave Plati." Which came out of nowhere, I think he just panicked, but Meat Loaf elbowed me and said, "Hey, he said your name!" The actual ESPY is not on display at CU; 'Brook came to me after the spring semester and felt he wasn't getting the recognition due to him for making the catch, so I gave it to him. I'd just call ESPN and ask for a replacement. Well, that would have cost $4,500 … so that wasn't going to happen.

I got to escort Matt Russell to the '96 Butkus Award ceremony in Orlando, and there was an event at Planet Hollywood. We walk in, and there by himself, was the late great Deacon Jones. He motioned to us to come over and said,

"You two white boys look like you want to buy me a drink … sit on down." Well of course we did. He regaled us with a few stories, including just how much he hated quarterbacks in general (Matt's eyes were wide open). Of course the geek in me came out and asked him what it was like being on the Odd Couple and the Brady Bunch. He got around to one of his favorite subjects – how he should have had the NFL sack record but they weren't keeping track of those for much of his career. I told him I went back through play-by-plays and films and had ours back to 1967, and why couldn't the NFL do the same. He did not look too pleased about that little kernel of information.

In 1994, I was fortunate enough to land a gig that lasted for four years as the Hula Bowl's game week communications director. I had to research bios, announce the teams to the media, run game day, etc., and in exchange I'd get to stay after the game for two days and play golf, and also name a few extra Buffs to participate in the game after the scouts turned in their selections (until a couple of schools started to complain and were going to turn me into the NCAA. Not sure if that was any kind of violation, not like I could promise a recruit to a trip to Hawai'i four or five years down the road). What was cool was for the '96 game, I was able to have all seven of our seniors make the trip.

Two things I recall vividly from those trips are: I was in the same car driving Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz to a coach's golf event, and Lou was still blaming me for publicizing his 1989 comment that Notre Dame "wasn't Kansas State" (that was Peter Rogot from Channel 4 who put that out there, they had pointed a boom mike at a post-practice speech) and needling me about the clipping call in the 1991 Orange Bowl. And there's a great picture somewhere of Kordell's teammates burying him in the sand on Waikiki Beach, leaving only his head exposed.

As for the Walter Camp weekends, they were a blast, but to paraphrase a certain slogan, "What happens in New Haven stays in New Haven." We did see Muhammad Ali in the New Haven Airport; Parkinson's was taking its toll by then and he was naturally approached by many. What was sad is that he couldn't sign autographs because his hands shook so much, but he did have many presigned on index cards that he would hand out. It was a privilege just to be within 20 or so feet of him.


At the TV meetings a couple of days before the '91 Orange Bowl, we met with Dick Enberg, Bill Walsh, Bob Trumpy and O. J. Simpson, the crew assigned to the game for NBC. Bill McCartney, who was big on conditioning and prided himself on his teams finishing strong, told them that we would win the game and do it by dominating in the second half. The game turned out to be the defensive battle of all the bowl games that season – the teams combined for just 559 yards (Michigan had 713 by itself in a 35-3 win over Mississippi in the Gator Bowl earlier in the day). The Irish had 163 yards at halftime, added 67 in the third quarter, 61 of which came on their opening second half drive when they took a 9-3 lead. McCartney turned out to be a prophet … and then some. From that point on, Notre Dame had six possessions, running 17 plays for 46 yards, while holding on to the ball for just 4:35. Its lone first down came on a 4th-and-10 play on the final drive. When all was said and done, CU won 10-9 and outgained ND by 295-264, limiting the Irish to 101 yards in the second half and just 34 in the fourth quarter.

Eric Bieniemy finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting that year (1,628 rushing yards, 17 TDs); BYU's Ty Detmer won it (5,188 passing yards, 41 TDs). Notre Dame's Raghib "Rocket" Ismail finished second (305 points behind Detmer); CU's Darian Hagan was 17th, Mike Pritchard was 50th. But comparing stats between Rocket and Pritch, and considering CU played the nation's toughest schedule that year, you could make the case that Pritchard should have been in the top five as well (he was also CU's MVP that year): Ismail had 1,236 yards from scrimmage on 99 touches (12.5 per, five touchdowns); Pritchard had 1,178 on 57 touches (20.7 per, with 11 TDs). Including return yards, the Rocket had 1,723 total yards (126 plays, 13.7 per) while Pritch had 1,503 (74 plays, 20.3 per). But for whatever reason, we could not get any traction for Pritchard for the Heisman.