It’s not everyday you get a chance to meet your hero, and I was lucky enough to do just that while I was working for Comcast in the Bay Area. I was asked to serve as Producer for Comcast Local Edition (now called NewsMakers in all markets) and a big part of my job was booking and coordinating guests. With 6 studios in the region and the goal of filming at least 8-10 segments per day, this meant roughly 50-70 guests per month.
Most of the guests early were local government officials – which made sense because Comcast wanted to use the segment as a relationship building tool (very smart move when it came to negotiating new franchise rights). The problem though was that there was not a lot of variety (or interesting guests) when I took over the the producer role.
I immediately began an outreach program to local PR folks and let them know that our segment was open to interesting guests. These segments are 5 minutes long and run on CNN Headline News at :25 and :55 past the hour – so it was a desirable spot. I also began taking note of interesting local authors and personalities and invited them to be guests on the show. Pretty soon it became quite a large production and we were booking even more guests and taping nearly twice as many segments as we had been earlier.
So how did I end up on the set with Joe Montana? Pure luck and coincidence. My wife Renee was Office Manager for Fox Sports Bay Area at the time and happened to answer the phone (the receptionist was out). It was a publicist asking if Fox Sports had any talk shows that might be interested in having Joe Montana as a guest. He was on a media tour helping promote a new drug that lowered cholesterol so they were looking for outlets to place him and a nationally renowned physician. Fox Sports Bay Area didn’t have this type of show, but as soon as Renee heard “Joe Montana” she immediately thought of me and told the publicist about Comcast Local Edition and how she “knew” the producer and would be happy to “check” to see if a spot was available.
Naturally I nearly fell out of my chair when Renee called me and told me about Joe Montana’s availability. Longtime friends and family members are very familiar with my passion for the 49ers growing up in the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed “The Catch” in person as a high school junior (that’s another story for another post).
We had created a set schedule in all area studios for taping of segments (cable studios are used far more frequently than you would imagine) and the day that Joe Montana was available was not a scheduled taping date for us in San Francisco. Being the creative and resourceful kind of guy I am though, I was able to create a temporary fix by scheduling the interview during a production break.
Now the question was, do I call in our show host to conduct the interview? I had to weigh the costs and benefits and quickly decided it wasn’t worth paying the extra money it would cost to bring Jack in for only one interview and that I could handle it myself – after all, I had now produced dozens of segments and knew what was required for a successful and interesting segment. So how hard and different would it really be in front of the camera?
As the day of the interview approached, I have to admit I was nervous about interviewing Joe Montana. Actually really nervous. I’ve been lucky in my life in that I’ve met quite a few celebrities and top business leaders and really have not been star struck by any – but Joe Montana, well, that’s different. He is truly a sports hero – up there with Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan in terms of legendary status. I really didn’t want to make an ass of myself in front of him – and the thousands of viewers who would view the segments.
What I was most nervous about was whether Joe would live up to the expectations I had of him. His accomplishment spoke for themselves, but what if he was a jerk?
Even longtime studio employees were excited about the prospect of Joe Montana arriving. He appeared with the expected mini entourage of publicists from the drug company and PR agency as well as the physician who was to appear with him.
I’m happy to report that he was far from a jerk – he was actually a very nice guy. He introduced himself as “Joe” and we sat at the table and chatted while the studio crew set up our microphones and checked technical details. Of course we talked about football (I had to tell him I personally witnessed “The Catch”) and the 49ers draft choice of that year, fellow QB Alex Smith (Joe said he wouldn’t have much chance to succeed until the Niners built an offensive line – otherwise he’ll be running for his life. Spot on with that analysis). He also shared that he had been nervous because his daughter was in the process of choosing college and had narrowed the choice to Notre Dame (his Alma Mater) and USC (bitter rival). He said the weekend they visited South Bend, Indiana there was a tremendous snowstorm and being the California kid that she was, he was convinced this would sway her to USC…but she surprised him by selecting Notre Dame anyway. He was clearly proud and told the story with ease.
All the while I was sitting there thinking to myself, “I’m frickin’ talking to Joe Montana!!”
Finally it was showtime and I had to get down to business and tape the segments. I messed up the first intro and we had to start over but that was my only gaffe in three separate segments. Even though I wanted to ask Joe a million questions related to football, I tried to stay on topic (at least part of the time) and spoke about his surprising high cholesterol diagnosis and the subsequent treatment he was receiving.
When we finished the last segment, I asked Joe if he would pose for a few pictures with me as well as other crew members and he graciously complied (even though the PR crew was clearly nervous about making it to their next stop). And just like that, the group swept away and we were left with a great experience and memory.