By Alan Prendergast
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By Melanie Asmar
Media consumers who complain about the dearth of good news may change their tune after John Elway's enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The buildup to this get-happy ritual, slated to take place on August 8 in Canton, Ohio, is well under way, and if the offerings to date are any indication, even those hungriest for upbeat reportage may find themselves pining for a refreshing splash of murder and mayhem.
Then again, maybe I'm the only one who found Rocky Mountain News scribe Lynn DeBruin's June 29 look at the Utah artist who's making Elway's Hall of Fame bust to be a tad excessive. After all, the piece was only 2,000 words long, and its ten-step guide to making your own heavy-metal tribute included practical tips like, "Breaking off the ceramic shell leaves the bronze in two pieces. The sprews must be ground off and the sculpture welded together, then sandblasted."
Go ahead and try this at home, kids. Elway would undoubtedly be honored.
Perhaps I'm also alone in feeling that the Denver Post may have gone overboard in placing a July 9 Jim Armstrong article about Elway inviting former coach Dan Reeves to the Hall happening on page one, above the fold. I mean, just because the Iraq war, terrorism threats and the run-up to the presidential election are dominating headlines across the country doesn't mean that a semi-thaw in the chilly Elway-Reeves relationship wasn't the biggest story of the day.
Okay, okay -- the ceremony that's inspiring this hoopla is newsworthy. Elway, the first Denver Bronco to earn induction into the Hall, defined Colorado sports during the '80s and '90s, and he remains the only local celebrity famous enough beyond the city limits to impress Madison Avenue. NBC used him and feathered-hair rocker Jon Bon Jovi in spots pimping the Arena Football League, in which Elway's Colorado Crush franchise participates. And the Horse-Toothed One currently serves as the spokesman for Prevacid, a heartburn remedy whose name bears an unfortunate resemblance to Provasic, the lethal "wonder drug" that led to the slaying of Dr. Richard Kimball's wife in The Fugitive. Buy the stuff, or else you'll be stalked by a one-armed man.
On the other hand, the interaction between commercial interests and the news value of the event can't help but leave a queasy aftertaste. The Post sponsored a ticket giveaway for the John Elway Celebration Concert, held July 7 at Coors Amphitheater, and in her column that day, the Rocky's Penny Parker noted that her colleague, Drew Litton, would be signing copies of his latest book, Give My Regards to Elway, at the show. (Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple also hyped Litton's tome in his July 3 column.) In addition, Parker revealed that tickets for the soiree were still available, and boy, was she right. Over 8,000 tickets went unsold, proving that even Elway's presence couldn't lure people to see a date headlined by (yeeesh) Kenny Rogers.
Predictably, Parker failed to mention the middling turnout in her July 9 followup -- and the fact was likewise omitted from coverage by Channel 4. Having recently forked over big bucks to become the "official" Broncos station, the outlet dutifully devoted a sizable chunk of its 10 p.m. newscast that night to footage of folks like ex-jock-turned-broadcaster Mark Schlereth lauding his former teammate from the amphitheatre stage. Broadcasters hardly ignored the July 10 and 11 Sun Microsystems John Elway Celebrity Classic golf tournament, either, and they'll undoubtedly be on hand in droves when Elway and fellow Hall of Famer Joe Montana square off in an August 20 flag-football contest. Sounds hard-hitting.
The puffery doesn't end there. In the July 6 Post, for instance, writer Patrick Saunders paired a misty profile of Elway's cancer-stricken high school coach, who's "determined to be at the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month," with an accompanying piece gushing that Elway is expected to attract "the biggest crowd to witness a Hall of Fame induction."
If a choir of angels doesn't visit as well, it'll be because they can tell the difference between John Elway and Jesus Christ -- unlike a lot of people in the Denver media.
Getting a Woody: Along with loads of other high-profile Denver journalists, the Post's Woody Paige will be in Canton for John Elway's coronation -- but this trip is one of the few he's expected to make for the paper over the next twelve months. Although he'll continue to write a Sunday column, he's taking what's described as a one-year leave of absence from the Post to further explore the wonderful world of television.
For a couple of years, Paige has been a fixture on Around the Horn, an ESPN yell-fest that's turned him into an unexpected cult figure on college campuses. The series' ratings have been growing at such a clip that Mark Shapiro, ESPN's head of programming and production, asked him to expand his presence on the network. To that end, he's relocating to New York City this month, and in early August, he'll join the cast of Cold Pizza, a two-hour morning show on ESPN2. His Around the Horn duties will continue, too, but now he is also expected to fill in on ESPN staples such as Pardon the Interruption and The Sports Reporters, and he has even been chosen to serve as a Simon Cowell-like judge on the next edition of Dream Job, a sports-oriented variation on The Apprentice. "It's all pretty goofy," he admits. "But I've been a goof my whole career."