Behind the Curtain: Inside the Press Box

Photo: Kevin Cline Photography

With FishDuck adding coverage to more sports each season, I frequently get asked the question, “What’s it like to be in the press box?”  I could say, “Look on the internet”, except for one problem: there isn’t much of an answer.

Photo: Nathan Roholt

The question is, why isn’t much written on the topic?  More than likely, anyone in a position to write about the experience of being in the press box lost their fascination with it long ago.  It’s no different than traveling for business: the first few times it’s the coolest thing ever, after that it becomes just part of the job.  Falling into that mindset is nearly unavoidable for anyone, and for many reporters, who have spent their entire careers as journalists; the idea of writing about the press box would be akin to asking the average person to write a description of their cubicle in the company newsletter.  They have forgotten that any time someone works in an industry that people are interested in, whether or not the details of the job itself are interesting or enjoyable; that access to something the average person does not have will always pique a curiosity.

While the process of covering a game has since become familiar for me, the fascination with being allowed behind the curtain – to attend a game (for free, as with most people, you wouldn’t pay to go to work), get to interview players, and get fed all while residing in the portions of the stadium with the best climate – hasn’t been forgotten.  I covered three games, two on the road (Fresno State, Washington State, and Oregon State) for FishDuck in 2012, and wanted to take everyone inside those experiences…and the press box.

In most stadiums, there is little to indicate the location of the press box beyond a small sign and some courteous staff to point someone in the right direction.  I assume this is intentional – both for keeping outsiders away, while maintaining intrigue for those who discover each stadium’s Willy Wonka Elevator and wonder where it goes.

Photo: Nathan Roholt

Once in the box, you become aware of whom you’re sharing the floor with: all media types – the journalists, the broadcasters, both TV and radio; and seemingly everyone on the staffs of both school.  Those shots of coaches in the booth that we see the networks cut to frequently?  Same floor.  I joked with another writer that our shared company was a bunch of Twitter avatars – media people whose faces I recognized from numerous Oregon-related tweets, but many of those names I failed to immediately recall upon seeing them in person.

Theoretically, there’s no better place to watch a game than in the press box.  The field is in front of you, TVs are overhead to catch replays, or sneak glances at other games.  The press box has Wi-Fi, meeting internet needs.  If hunger strikes, anyone can hit up the complimentary buffet in the main area.  It has all the best parts of being in the stadium and at home.

Photo: Nathan Roholt

Except for the “no cheering” thing.  Oh, and the “no wearing of team colors” thing.  Plus, the only beverages allowed are those in the average work environment, not the type that might be more prevalent in the parking lot.  However, it clearly explains the popularity of suites, all of the press box amenities and the enjoyment of celebrating and being a fan.  No wonder they are the most expensive seats in the stadium.

About five minutes before the game’s end, the majority of reporters head towards the field, in order to interview players and quickly access the post-game interview rooms.  The interview rooms are much smaller than I imagined, closer to the size of the living rooms of most homes, and are half-filled with TV cameras.  Players like Marcus Mariota may dazzle on the field, but until you are in a room with them, it doesn’t fully sink in that he is, in fact, just another 19 year old.

© 2012 Carl Blackwell

Afterwards, most writers return to the press box following interviews to finish their stories, only to trickle out long after everyone else has gone home.  It is in that moment, walking out of a dark, quiet stadium long after everyone else has gone home that the experience reaches its most job-like feeling.

Environment

Autzen Stadium: The only one of the three stadiums that actually had an open-faced press box.  I imagine for some writers this might be a hassle – that noise advantage that Autzen enjoys where sound travels up to the roof, and then bounces back onto the field?  Well, the press box in Autzen is as close to the roof as any seat in the stadium, and every decibel of it is felt in the box.

CenturyLink Field: Aesthetically pleasing, but charmless.  The press box was windowed in, which made me feel like I was watching a game through prison glass.  Very professionally run venue, though (which makes sense, since it’s an NFL stadium.)

Photo: Nathan Roholt

Reser Stadium:  The Beavers forgot to assign an area for the FishDuck team before eventually placing us at a table outside on the photo deck where, coincidentally, many of the other internet writers were placed as well.  It’s one thing to have an open-faced box, it’s another thing to be outside entirely in late November.

Stadium Staff

All three stadium staffs will filled with friendly, helpful people.

Food

Autzen Stadium: Catered by Wild Duck; on the day of the Fresno State game, the meat with rice and macaroni salad was likely a nod to the cuisine of emerging QB Marcus Mariota’s home state.  Nice to have a style of food instead of the usual pub grub.

CenturyLink Press Box
Photo: Nathan Roholt

CenturyLink Field: Terrific selection; had both pub food (chicken strips and burgers) and healthy food (salads, grilled chicken).  Had an entire fridge full of Diet Coke that ran out by the third quarter.  Clearly the catering staff underestimated this cavalcade of reporters.

Reser Stadium: Burgers and Hot Dogs.  I have no idea how every reporter doesn’t weigh 300 pounds.

Press Box Accessibility

Autzen Stadium: Parked near campus, paid $10, then had to walk over the footbridge.  Elevators shared with Club and Suite levels made wait times long enough to justify taking six flights of stairs down at game’s end.

CenturyLink Field: Parked in the stadium garage, which had doors immediately adjacent to the suite level (where the Press Box was).  There was an elevator adjacent to the press box that ran directly down to field level with no stops in between that had everyone from box to field in under a minute.  That’s the type of architectural planning that we only see in 21st century stadiums.

Reser Stadium: Parked on campus.  Press Box was on the far side of stadium away from campus; the side of the stadium that isn’t remodeled, and might as well still be referred to as Parker Stadium.

Wi-Fi

Autzen Stadium: Solid, consistent Wi-Fi connection.  Once Oregon built a 35-6 lead, I saw some writers watching other games on their laptops.  It would be understandable to assume a quality connection would be the norm at every stadium, which unfortunately, isn’t the case.

(If you’re thinking, “How do I get a password?”, you don’t.  Each Wi-Fi password is unique and “signed out” with the writer’s name attached to it.  It couldn’t be harder to casually jump on Autzen Stadium’s network.)

Always cool to see a roster with your name on it.
Photo: Nathan Roholt

CenturyLink Field: Inconsistent through the majority of the game, especially the later stages.  This is always a solid testimony, having poor internet in a building named after an internet service provider.

Reser Stadium: Terrible throughout, stopped trying to re-connect by the third quarter, uploaded article off-site.

Most Memorable Experience

Autzen Stadium: While in the restroom at halftime, I overheard two defensive coaches from Fresno State talking about what they could’ve done different here…and other coachspeak, and then there was this exchange, not long after this run happened:

Coach 1: I mean, De’Anthony Thomas, how do we stop that guy?
Coach 2: I have no idea, because that guy’s the best f***ing player in the country.

CenturyLink Field: Hearing the collective laughter of the entire press box as they piped in the audio of Mike Leach’s press conference after the game.

Reser Stadium: Being there for Chip Kelly’s final regular season press conference.

Photo: Kevin Cline Photography

Following his post-Civil War interview session, Chip Kelly retired from the room.  I stuck around to interview more players, and when I left the room, I found myself right behind Coach Kelly, now dressed in a suit, following him down one of the long hallways in the cramped caverns below Gill Coliseum.  The hallway had been made even tighter, split in two, by a table sporting Qdoba, set out as a postgame buffet for the Oregon players.  Kelly went to the left of the table, I went the right, all while I watched his players joking around with him.  His demeanor wasn’t one of those authoritarian coaches we have made into folk heroes – think Nick Saban – the joyless automatons who rule over their players.  Instead it was more like the counselor who drives the van at summer camp, an authority in a big brother way.  It was a rare moment of candor for the coach with a closely guarded personality; one that gave true insight into his coaching style.  It was a moment that I was lucky enough to experience, simply by being allowed behind the curtain.

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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to nroholtfd@gmail.com.