SportsTown: A Log of Our Travels

With the release of our SportsTown trailer and ongoing campaign to continue producing the show, we thought we’d travel back in time a little bit to 2013 when we began forming the idea and then actually executing production of the show. So, here’s a detailed timeline of everything we went through to complete this show from start to finish, from my (Rudy's) point of view.

Tuscaloosa Sign.jpg

January 2013

Sometime in January, Rob and Patrick were on their way back from shooting a Temple University Men’s Basketball road game, stuck on a bus for a few hours. I was living in Grand Island, Nebraska working as a sports anchor/reporter. Rob texted me and we started talking about a show that would be kind of a travel plan for sports fans. We could go to different towns and show people how they can turn a trip to see a game into a weekend vacation. The plan was for all of us to produce the show, with Patrick and Rob doing most of the shooting, and I would host and do interviews.

BD Trophy.png

So later in the week, we Skyped. We decided the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa would be the best town to start with since they had just won their second football national championship. Their A-Day Spring Game was a couple months away in April, so that was our target. I booked a flight to Philadelphia for a couple days before the Spring Game with the intent to drive down to start shooting on April 16. The game is scheduled for April 20.

February – March 2013

About a month later, we started choosing our destinations in Tuscaloosa. We had to get clearance to shoot on campus as well as press passes to shoot the Spring Game. We also reached out to a contact at the Tuscaloosa Visitor’s Center, the Bryant Museum on campus, a breakfast spot called The Waysider, a Mercedes-Benz factory near Tuscaloosa, and two barbecue restaurants: Dreamland and Archibald’s. After making all of those contacts, we began to create a rundown of a 22-minute show to see how much time we would spend and what exactly we would be doing at each place. We finally had a good idea of our plan, but, as it tends to be the case in television, things change.

April 16, 2013

The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, I boarded my flight from Grand Island with a layover in Dallas and destination in Philadelphia. I landed safely in Dallas with a couple hours for a layover to take a flight to Philly and land around 4pm. Unfortunately, American Airlines had an issue where all of their computers just shut down. So, my flight was delayed. Two hours later, my flight was canceled. So, I was stranded in Dallas with the intent to be in Tuscaloosa. I started thinking if I should just re-book a flight, but to Tuscaloosa, but ultimately I was trying to see my family for a little bit (for the first time in about six months), so I booked a flight to Philly that was supposed to land around 9:30pm. It was the best I could do, and the plan to see my family was off. Instead, Patrick and Rob were set to pick me up around 10pm so we could drive down to Tuscaloosa.

I remember talking to an American Airlines representative in Dallas trying to understand how I couldn’t fly to Philadelphia, but my bags could. When I landed in Philly, I was in a mad rush to find a room where they had stowed the checked luggage of the thousands of people flying into Philadelphia who were inconvenienced by American Airlines that day. I found the room, asked for my luggage, and the woman supervising the room had a terrible luggage identifier question for me: “Ok sir. What color is it?”. It was black. Like all of them. After my insisting on searching the room myself, I found my bags in a few minutes, then found Patrick and Rob waiting in the rental car and after a quick Wawa stop, we were on our way.

April 17, 2013

 

On our way to Tuscaloosa, we found out shooting at the Mercedes-Benz factory was no longer an option. See, I told you things change. So, we had already ruled Archibald’s out and now with the factory gone, we had to come up with a new way to fill that time. Fortunately, we were supposed to shoot that upon arrival to Tuscaloosa, so we had time to learn about Tuscaloosa and figure out how to adjust.

When we arrived in Tuscaloosa, we checked into our hotel and immediately headed over to the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau. We met with a communications manager who told us some of the most scenic areas of Tuscaloosa as well as the best restaurants and most populated areas at certain times of the day. She also told us we should head to a steak place for dinner that night called Nick’s In The Sticks. We did. Our waiter’s name was Spoon, and the steak was very good.

Since we’re all news junkies, we spent that night in our hotel watching the news and staying updated with the Boston Marathon Bombing coverage online. We didn’t get a ton of sleep.

April 18, 2013

 Literally rolling tide to clean a makeup stain.

Literally rolling tide to clean a makeup stain.

8:33 AM We got to University of Alabama’s campus prepared to shoot an interview and tour of the Bryant Museum. I got makeup on my shirt though, so I had to go back to the hotel to get a Tide stick and literally Roll Tide on the shirt. Can’t make this stuff up. We met the museum curator, Ken Gaddy, who sat down with us for an interview before we mic’d him up for a walking tour of the museum. This museum was crazy. It’s all about Alabama football, and they’ve been good since before anyone I’ve ever met was born. From leather helmets to a Julio Jones Pro Bowl jersey, you can go in there without any knowledge of the team and basically walk out an expert. We got a special treat because Gaddy showed us how they digitize all their old football video from filmstrips into files. He also showed us a room full of archived video, which was just really cool for us video nerds.

 Rooms and shelves full of AL football archives.

Rooms and shelves full of AL football archives.

After that, we hung out on campus for a little bit and got some shots of buildings on campus and some time lapses. It was beautiful every day we were there, which was incredible and very helpful for shooting.

12:11 PM We left campus and drove over to Dreamland BBQ. We got to do a kitchen demonstration with one of the cooks there. He showed us exactly how they make their ribs, which are a must if you venture to Dreamland. He also showed us how they make their famous sausage, also amazing. After the kitchen demonstration, we sat down with Dreamland BBQ manager Matt Lowery, who told us everything about the place from how it got started to how they have to prepare when the offensive line comes in ready to clean the place out of ribs!

 "Ain't nothin' like it nowhere"

"Ain't nothin' like it nowhere"

We also got to test out the ribs ourselves and I’ll tell you what, I still think about their ribs and sauce at least once a week.     Dreamland also gives you a cup of that sauce with a stack of white bread as soon as you get to your table. It’s unconventional, but it gives you a delicious preview of the sauce.

3:13 PM We left Dreamland and circled around town for a little bit to get some shots of the words “Roll Tide” on any cars, signs, or anything we could find before getting back to our room to dump all our footage from the day.

6:42 PM Since we’re super sophisticated snobs and foodies; we dined at the finest Buffalo Wild Wings Tuscaloosa had to offer that night. After dinner, we booked it back to the room and glued ourselves to the TV and Internet to catch up on the latest with the Boston Marathon Bombing story. That kept us up until about 4 am.

 

April 19, 2013

5:15 AM We woke up an hour later to go to meet the fine folks at Waysider for our introduction. Tired and weary eyed, we sampled the food at Waysider, and while the food was fantastic (especially the biscuits), the coolest thing about Waysider was all the Alabama memorabilia they had decorating the inside without really disturbing the restaurant atmosphere. We got a great grasp of how we wanted to shoot Waysider and exactly what we wanted to do.

9:38 AM Admittedly, we were a little sleep deprived, so we decided to get back to the room to catch up on some overdue z’s.

 Sunset on campus by Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Sunset on campus by Bryant-Denny Stadium.

3:33 PM We were back at it a little later exploring the town and looking for more scenic shots as well as Roll Tide signage. We eventually made our way back to campus while the sun was setting to get some sunset shots around the stadium and the coach statues in front of the stadium.

7:12 PM While shooting outside in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium, we check our phones and see they found the suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing incident in a boat in Massachusetts. Which was good. For one, it was a good day for America, and we could finally go to sleep on time now.

 I took a picture with this stranger. Hey, Southern Hospitality, right?

I took a picture with this stranger. Hey, Southern Hospitality, right?

8:29 PM We found this burger place called Mugshots in a cool little part of Tuscaloosa. I ate a hamburger with peanut butter and jelly on it (don’t knock it ‘til you try it), and took a picture with a stranger. And don’t get too ahead of yourself. It wasn’t because we were filming a TV show and he thought I was famous. It was because I am a weird person who asked a stranger to take a photo together.

 

 

 

 

April 20, 2013 – Game Day

Through Tunnel Shot.png

8:18 AM On game day we got to campus and the plan was to survey the scene and get some cool tailgating shots. So, while we were doing that, we did a bunch of interviews with people asking them about “Roll Tide”. We met a girl whose middle name was Crimson and a man named Puppy.

10:49 AM After interviews, we intended to get video of a ceremony called The Walk of Champions where the whole Alabama football team walks into the stadium together in uniform from the front of the stadium almost like a red carpet with fans on either side of them. But because things change, we found out they don’t do that for the Spring Game. But we had a backup plan.

12:58 PM Our backup plan was the Walk of Fame ceremony at Denny Chimes. Denny Chimes is this huge bell tower in the middle of the quad on campus. Every year, the Alabama captains who graduated the year before take their cleats and their hands and imprint cement in front of Denny Chimes. Then, all those captains and Coach Saban speak to the fans. It was really cool and extremely unique to feel a part of that culture these lifelong fans look forward to every day.

2:20 PM Game time was 4pm, so we got our press passes, stowed away our equipment and hit the field.

Wow.

I had never seen an atmosphere like this before. Not in Philly, not at Penn State, not in Nebraska. The place was filled. It was overflowing. For a game that didn’t even count. For a game against the team you root for. This was serious passion. We got a chance to interview a bunch of people hanging out on railings surrounding the perimeter of the field about Roll Tide and their love for Alabama. We got some crowd shots as well as shooting a little bit of the game. But then it was time to follow the crowd back to their favorite dinner spot in Tuscaloosa.

6:41 PM You know we had to go back to Dreamland, and not just to eat ribs and sausage again. This time, we wanted to interview some diners and catch the place when it’s at its busiest. We got some great interviews with all kinds of people. And I got to do a demonstration where basically all I did was eat and talk. Something I had been preparing for for 24 years.

10:19 PM I wiped the sauce off my face (not in time for the cameras as I’m sure you noticed in the show), and we headed out. While Patrick stayed inside to get a time-lapse of the busy dining room, Rob and I began to pack the car for the night. While we’re waiting for Patrick to finish up inside, we met a friend. This little beagles looking dog with a distended stomach comes waddling up to us looking super sad. Like he just lost his puppy or something. You know what I mean.

 Rob + Lyle.

Rob + Lyle.

So, we start to feel really bad. We get all worried, sitting there saying, “Does he have a collar? Does he have a home? Should we call the SPCA?” Rob even gave the dog, who we named Lyle, part of his sausage.

So, I’m looking up the number for the SPCA on my phone when a local Dreamland diner comes up to us, sees we’re concerned about Lyle and goes, “Oh don’t worry about him, he’s a part of a pack of dogs that comes up here to steal food from customers.”

We’d been had. Lyle: 1, 20/20 Visual Media: 0

11:27 PM After Lyle had stolen our hearts, sausage, and pride, we went back over to campus to get some shots of the nightlife after game day. We went to this area called The Strip which is full of bars and restaurants. We didn’t end up using it in the show, but we did use some of the Roll Tide signage from there. Then, we headed back to our hotel before our final day in Tuscaloosa.

April 21, 2013

4:49 AM Sunrises don’t wait for anyone. We had to get up early to catch this sunrise at Waysider. And it came out great. Especially because we got to eat breakfast afterwards.

6:36 AM We set up in Waysider and interviewed owner Linda Smelley. We sat her down at the table legendary Alabama head football coach Bear Bryant sat at every day he came in. There’s even a bust of his head on the table.

Linda gave us a demonstration in the kitchen of how she makes country ham, biscuits (with a tomato paste can), red-eye gravy, and, of course, the Big Al Pancake. The Big Al Pancake is a pancake shaped like an elephant Linda sends out to fans she sees in the dining room supporting the Crimson Tide’s opponents.

 The "Big Al Pancake". 

The "Big Al Pancake". 

Luckily, there was no bad blood in the dining room that morning. The southern hospitality continued as we got some more interviews where folks raved about everything on the walls of Waysider to any meal coming out of the kitchen.

11:43 AM After Waysider, we shot over to a scenic river area the visitor’s bureau told us about called Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is just a really peaceful, relaxing area with benches and chairs set up for people to hangout by the river. It looked like an ideal place to fish off of a dock too.

2:08 PM We headed back to campus to shoot the opening standup for the show. While we were doing that around the stadium, a woman came up to us on her cell phone and told us she was talking to her brother on the phone and said she was with an Alabama football player. She then insisted one of us pretend to be an Alabama football player and talk to her brother. I guess since I was the performer I drew the short straw, so I had to pretend to be Barrett Jones, the Tide’s center who’d graduated that year. So, sorry if you read this, sir, but I’m not a Division I athlete. (Oddly enough, Barrett Jones signed with the Eagles this year).

 I helped a local woman lie to her brother. For fun.

I helped a local woman lie to her brother. For fun.

5:51 PM We said our final goodbyes to Tuscaloosa and thanked everyone who we dealt with for their southern hospitality, which I learned is definitely a real thing. We stopped in Knoxville, Tennessee for dinner on the way home at a place called Calhoun’s On The River. The only reason I remember that is because I had these unbelievable pulled pork potato skins.

May 2013

We had to go back to the day-to-day work when we got back from Tuscaloosa, but in our free time we’d work on putting together SportsTown. This included transcoding and labeling four days worth of clips, transcribing and syncing four days worth of interviews, and then finally putting the show together. So, with everything else we had going on with clients, we were patient in our completion of SportsTown.

June 2013 - November 2014

A year and a half. See? I told you. We made sure this show was perfect. We made sure everything was exactly how we wanted it to be. We combed through audio, video, coloring, music, transitions, lower thirds, graphics, the open, and the sizzle reel. We had put so much into the production of the show; we wanted to make sure it was up to our standards when we completed it.

November 21, 2014

We’d finally completed the final versions of the pilot and the sizzle reel. It was such a great feeling to see the final product!

January 2016

Now, we’re finally ready to release the show.

Obviously, reading this entire recap of our adventures during shooting the pilot, you understand why we’d like to continue the show. But it’s not just about us. All of us at 20/20 Visual Media have a common passion of telling stories. We feel like in these SportsTowns, the “Towns” part is overlooked and this country mostly only knows places like Tuscaloosa, Lincoln, South Bend, Lexington, etc. for the “Sports”. But people live here. And when there’s a game, these places can become the biggest city in a 500-mile radius. That’s no ordinary thing.

We’d love to share the stories of these towns, the people who live there, and what people do there other than watch games. We need your help to continue doing this. Please check out the trailer to this show and spread the word!

igg.me/at/SportsTown

Thanks so much for reading through our journey. We hope to have another one to write about for you soon!