It was the first time I had ever heard of seat fillers. These people, both men and women, were dressed to the nines in tuxedos and evening gowns. Their job was to fill any empty seat in the lower section when a celebrity or guest vacated their seat for whatever reason. The idea was that there would never be an empty seat shown in the audience while being shown on television. I was attending the tenth ESPY Award show.
The ESPY Awards stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards. A portion of the proceeds of the show goes to the Jimmy V Foundation to help fight cancer. On July 8, 2002, I traveled to Los Angeles, California, for my first and only ESPY Awards show. I had no idea how much fun I was going to have. This years ESPY Awards were being held on Wednesday, July 10, 2002, for the first time, at the brand new Kodak Theater, located at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, California. I was picked up at the airport by a limo and driven to the hotel. There were two pre-ESPY Award parties that I attended. One was at the hotel with all the business folks like me, who had been invited from around the country. The second gathering occurred the night before the awards ceremony at the Kodak Theater. This is where I met several of the ESPN broadcasters like, Chris Berman, Linda Cohn and Bob Ley. My ticket to the ESPY Awards had been obtained through the Pizza Hut system. Pizza Hut has been a big time sponsor of ESPN for many years and they reward many of their business partners and franchises with an invitation. Actor Samuel L. Jackson would be the host.
To my surprise I was picked up from the hotel in a limo and allowed to enter the awards show by way of the “Red Carpet.” I was introduced and entered behind tennis star Serena Williams and in front of Pro Football Hall of Fame halfback, Paul Hornung. I was surrounded by sports greatness and so excited I could hardly breathe. Fans were lined up nine or ten deep behind a fenced off portion of the entrance. Since I was not going to be interviewed I simply walked to the end of the carpet and then up the stairs inside the theater. My seat was in the balcony between sportswriter Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star and Ralph Wiley, a tremendous writer for Sports Illustrated and a frequent guest on the ESPN Sports Reporters weekly television show which aired on ESPN every Sunday. Sadly, Ralph passed away suddenly in 2004.
If you have never been at a show being filmed live, there are many breaks and pauses during the show. Commercials, wardrobe changes, and personal changes occur and time seems to stand still. That’s where host like Jackson come in. They actually entertain the audience while the network is in commercial break. At that time, there were 34 categories for awards to be given out that were either listed as individual or team awards. There are even more awards now. Tiger Woods and Venus Williams won the Best Male and Female ESPY Awards. The Best Team award went to the L.A. Lakers and the Best Game award went to Game Seven of the Yankees-Diamondbacks 2001 World Series. The Best Sports Movie went to “The Rookie.” The Best NBA Player was Shaquille O’Neal. Barry Bonds won the Best MLB Player and Marshall Faulk won the Best NFL Player award. The Best Coach award went to Phil Jackson. The other awards are to numerous to list here.
The night was long as the show lasted several hours. My hands hurt from clapping and I was hoarse by the end of the show. I could not see very well from so far away and did not think to bring binoculars. The pictures I took did not turn out very well. Back to the hotel by way of limo, (I could get used to that) and I left the next day for Texas. I’m glad I had the experience, but prefer to watch it all on TV now. Jackson was funny, but The ESPY Awards paled in comparison to an actual game time event. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind being one of those seat fillers. They get to sit beside the best of the best in the world of sports.
Tuesday night, on ESPN2, you can find out about this years categories and nominees. So, if you tune in this Wednesday night on ESPN you will see this years host, actor Jon Hamm, It will be the 21st edition of this annual event and will be broadcast live from their new home, the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California. Enjoy!
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.