Sam The Minuteman's Excellent ESPN Adventure
Sam The Minuteman's Excellent ESPN Adventure
Hanging out with Scott Van Pelt at ESPN's campus.

Hanging out with Scott Van Pelt at ESPN's campus.

Aug. 19, 2009

BRISTOL, Conn. - Hi UMass fans, Sam The Minuteman here. I was asked by the folks at UMassAthletics.com to share with you about my journey to ESPN to shoot a new "This Is SportsCenter" commercial.

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  • The call came in mid-July, actually an email -- since, as you know, I don't talk. ESPN was looking for me to make a return visit to its campus to tape a brand new "This Is SportsCenter" commercial. Remember back in 2004, I was part of a commercial featuring tennis star Andy Roddick and anchor John Anderson.

    I was pumped that I would have the chance to be back in the national spotlight on the Worldwide Leader In Sports. They sent the script over, which at the time in July, was very appropriate with the focus of the commercial centered on whether a famous star athlete would be returning from retirement or staying retired. You all know who that is ... But in the script, his name was never mentioned.

    ESPN set the date for the shoot as Aug. 18 and told me to keep it under my big Minuteman hat. So I did. Of course that famous quarterback announced he would stay retired in July.

    Little did we know, on the day I was set for my shoot at ESPN, he would take part in his first practice after unretiring, again!

    My day was an exciting one as I prepared for my return to Bristol. All day, I was nervous about my part, I had to bring my lanterns and make sure they stayed lit for my part. Of course all Minutemen in the spirit of Paul Revere have their own lanterns. In the wake of the Boston Tea Party in 1775, information would be relayed by the use of the lanterns. One lantern in the steeple would signal the army's choice of the land route, while two lanterns would signal the route "by water" across the Charles River.

    My role in the SportsCenter commercial was to indicate whether this famous player would stay retired by showing one lantern or to light two lanterns to indicate he was unretired.

    I polished up my two finest lanterns and was driven down to Bristol by Gerald Preston from the marketing staff. You know my feet are a little big for pushing car pedals, so I needed a ride. If I could have ridden a horse, I would have, but that's tough on Interstates of 91 and 84.

    We arrived at ESPN around 7 p.m. It was a busy day at ESPN in terms of shooting commercials. The Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard had already completed a shoot earlier in the day. The production crew had already shot the start of my commercial with the SportsCenter anchors Steve Levy, Josh Elliott and Jay Harris.

    When I got to ESPN's Building 4, I was amazed to see how the campus had grown. It seemed to be double the size I remember from 2004 when I was last there. The satellite dishes were everywhere, the new glass buildings were sparkling as the sun was setting.

    After meeting with the staff of about 30 that was working on the shoot, we took a walk around ESPN. We were taken around Building 2, where the commercial was being shot. The halls of ESPN are filled with memorabilia and photos of famous athletes along with memories from ESPN's past. As we walked around, we bumped into Scott Van Pelt. He was friendly and told us he was preparing for his line in the commercial along with getting set to host the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. We took a picture and I moved on.

    Next it was on to the ESPN football field. Yes they have a field, albeit a half-field, with "ESPN" end zones. I ran around the field pretending to score some touchdowns and even did a Heisman pose.

    Here I am with Brian Kenny.


    As we waited for my shoot to begin, we were offered dinner. We went to the unbelievable ESPN food court. You name it; they had it, when it comes to food. While we were getting our food we saw Brian Kenny, so I took my picture with him. I was very pleased to meet him; he told me how much he enjoyed being a part of the commercial that he shot earlier in the day.

    I grabbed my grub and sat down with my UMass crew that had joined me in Bristol to document the event. As we started to chow down, Scott Van Pelt asked if he could join us for dinner. An ESPN anchor wanting to sit with me, I was so honored. I nodded of course and gave a wave over.

    Scott was very gracious as he spoke to all of us. He struck up a conversation with the Voice of the Minutemen Josh Maurer and media relations man Jason Yellin about their ties to the University of Maryland. Scott and Josh were both Terp alums while Yellin worked in College Park six years. As we spoke, it hit Scott; Maryland had just hired former UMass football head coach Don Brown to run the defense. He wanted to know our take on the defensive guru. I gave him two enthusiastic thumbs up -- Brown did a great job with our defense and he would do the same at Maryland.

    Yeah Red Sox! Boo Yankees!


    We finished our meal and it was Showtime. As I walked around, we saw the SportsCenter set, where I posed for some pictures. I gave a thumbs up to the Boston Red Sox recliner in front of the set and a thumbs down to the New York Yankees seat.

    I returned to Building 2 and was taken to "my office" for the shoot. It was amazing. They took over an office of one of the ESPN staffers and made it into a comfy UMass office. There were shirts, banners and souvenirs all over the office. It was awesome, I wish my room in Amherst looked like that. There were custom UMass-logoed printers and computers. WOW!

    For this portion of the shoot, it was explained to me that I would be lifting the lanterns that would be seen by Scott Van Pelt and Stuart Scott, who were talking about it on the ESPN campus. Again, I was to be showing two lanterns if the famous player was unretiring.

    Outside the window from my new office, I could see the crew of 30 with their cameras and microphones getting ready to shoot. It was nerve racking, would my lanterns be bright enough? Would they stay lit long enough? Time to find out.

    We did 17 takes for this part where Scott and Stu were talking and walking discussing the retirement. My arms got a little tired of hoisting the lanterns up and down. But much to my joy, they stayed lit bright and for the whole time.

    Once the director was satisfied, Scott had to run off and write his scripts for SportsCenter that night. But Stu had some nice words for me when he was complete. He said, if he ever needed someone to light lanterns to show if any athlete was retiring or unretiring, then Sam the Minuteman was his man. Pretty funny!

    I lit my lanterns!


    The crew moved back up stairs to shoot me in my office to show the view of me lifting my lanterns and my reaction to when I got the news about the unretirement. They had me do several versions.

    One had me sitting in my chair and turning to show the lanterns. In another I was checking out UMassAthletics.com on my UMass-emblazoned computer and got the news to raise my lanterns. Finally they had me reading a newspaper and then turning to show the light.

    It was enjoyable knowing I had an important duty, but a little tiring. We did about 20 different takes with these scenes.

    At around 10 p.m., it was a wrap, the director was quite pleased with the performance and the crew gave a standing ovation. It was nice to be so appreciated. They thanked me and told me they were very happy to have me be a part of the commercial. I gave the thumbs up and a big thank you wave to all of them!

    As I departed with Gerald, they told us to look for the finished commercial next week. They are going to rush to get it on TV with all the news about this unretired athlete.

    What a great day and night. I returned to Amherst, got into bed, and went right off to dreamland thinking about my latest 15 seconds of fame.