First, before you make any assumptions about where this story is going, please note that I did not attend Auburn or Alabama and don’t watch college football. (I know, sacrilege.) I’m an NFL guy. That said, pretty much everyone I know is a fan of one school or the other.
The biggest Auburn fan I ever knew was my dear friend Steve Baker, who now has the best seat in the house in a heavenly sky box overlooking the fifty-yard line. Steve was an incredibly talented television news photographer I had the pleasure of working with in the eighties and nineties. Like all photogs, he had an “eye” that saw stuff reporters like me could not and could turn what would seem to be an average story into something special. A decorated Air Force Vietnam Veteran, Steve wasn’t afraid of anything and would shoot video in the most dangerous situations.
Anyway, when Auburn was set to face Syracuse on New Year’s Day in the 1988 Sugar Bowl, Steve and I were sent to New Orleans to do a bunch of features leading up to the game. He was really connected with Auburn, having shot a bunch of their games.
At one point, we showed up at a hotel ballroom to do a feature on an Auburn rally, but a hotel clerk would not allow us in. Steve said, “We’ll see about that.” He found a back door, made his way to Coach Pat Dye, and whispered something in his ear.
Five minutes later, the clerk returned. “I’m sorry, I was mistaken. You may certainly go in. Let me know if I can help.”
Steve pointed at the gear. “Well, you can carry that stuff in for me.” So he loaded the clerk up like a sherpa with camera, recording deck, tripod, battery belt, and light. At that time, a set of gear weighed 86 pounds. I couldn’t help but laugh as Steve ordered the guy around for the rest of the story.
That night we were to do a live shot from Bourbon Street. Now, if there’s one live shot reporters hate more than anything else, it’s doing one surrounded by drunks. Thankfully our station had secured a balcony that overlooked the world’s largest outdoor bar, so we figured it shouldn’t be a problem.
We were wrong.
I began my live shot, introducing my story about the rally, and noticed Steve glaring at something behind me. Once I tossed it back to the studio, I asked him what was wrong.
He pointed to the balcony behind me. “Those people from the New York station are being jerks.”
I turned and saw a crew from New York, laughing and making faces at us, which they had apparently done during my live shot — breaking an unwritten rule that you don’t intentionally screw up someone else’s story.
Meanwhile, my story was about to end, so I had to go live to wrap it up. Again, I saw Steve glaring at the crew behind me. They’d done it again.
Now generally, my Sicilian revenge chromosome would have kicked in, but I was relatively new at the station and didn’t want my boss to think I’d started a war in New Orleans. So I simply put the Italian evil eye curse on the crew and helped Steve pack up.
One would think that’s the end of this story. One would be wrong.
Because payback can be a beautiful thing.
That summer Steve and I were sent on a media junket to Disney World as they were promoting some new attraction. Affiliates from around the country sent crews for a couple of days, with Mickey Mouse picking up the tab. On the first morning, we were each handed a bag with coffee, jelly donuts and orange juice as we headed out to the location in the rental car we’d been given.
Steve drove to the location and flashed a big smile as we arrived. “Well, well, well. Look who’s here.” He pointed across the parking lot.
The crew that had harassed us at the Sugar Bowl.
He had a gleam in his eye. “We gotta do something to their car.”
I agreed. “I’ve got shaving cream back at the hotel.”
“We don’t need shaving cream. We’ve got jelly donuts.”
Steve explained his plan, and I had to admit it was better than anything we could do with shaving cream. Once the New York crew left their car, we sprang into action. Steve took the donuts, and squeezing the jelly out, proceeded to write on their car. “War Eagle!” on the windshield and “War DAMN Eagle!” on the back window. “Go Tigers!” filled the driver’s side window, but sadly he ran out of jelly before he could do anything else. Meanwhile, I poured a little orange juice on each door handle to make them nice and sticky. Then found a couple of traffic cones and put one on each side view mirror. Which made the car look like it had big orange ears.
Now just imagine what the hot Florida sun does to strawberry jelly when it bakes on a car windshield all day. You’d probably need an ice scraper to get it off, but good luck finding one in Orlando. We could not stop laughing as the car was still there when we headed back to our hotel. Steve was on cloud nine for the rest of the trip.
In that case, revenge was a dish best served with jelly.
By the way, that Sugar Bowl game ended in a tie. But even though Steve had to wait several months, an Auburn fan won in overtime.
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