Most likely you have heard of the term “ringside seat” – that prime boxing ticket where you are as close to the action as a person can get in sports without taking part…right next to everything with nothing between you and the fighters save for a few feet of air and a couple of pieces of rope. And most likely you are aware (and, if not, you should be able to figure out) that these are among the most expensive seats in sports. But, if you are willing to pay, it is worth it; you are right there, seeing things in a way that cannot be conveyed or described satisfactorily in any manner whatsoever.
And there I was. Seat 9…directly behind Regis, and looking straight up into the face of somebody playing for a million dollars just a few feet away. But without the blood associated with a boxing match, thank God. For all of that, though…you are watching the same thing that millions of people across the country are watching…but even more realistically than could have been shown via HDTV, had the show been so broadcast. You were There, with a capital T…and the seat cost you nothing
I had not experienced this while watching Andy; perhaps it was the anticipation that kept me from watching “him”, as opposed to focusing on the question as I did. But now, here was Curtis…one of our guys, up there laying it on the line for everybody to see…and I had this feeling of immersion in the moment…absolutely indescribable. To be sure, I was playing the questions in my mind as I would had I been up there…but, after the brief deliberation in my mind, my attention turned to Curtis, who had to sort out all of the considerations in his head with very real consequences, while sitting on a slightly-rickety-by-design chair. The word “surreal” had been overused throughout our orientation…but I was sensing something different – the ultimate in reality, as it were, for a viewer. It is a sense that I have not been able to put into words to this day. I could not really call it a “connection”, as Curtis obviously was focusing on the high-stakes matters at hand…but I just had this sense of being allowed to look into his mind in a way that, perhaps, I should not have been.
Curtis walked away with $64,000. It was a nice bit of change, to be sure…although I will tell you that he very much earned it, based on what I was seeing.
But now, it was time once again to take on the fast-finger demons. There was no way I was going to let my mind flip B and C again. Left to right, guy…left to right.
Put these U.S. state capitals in geographical order, starting with the northernmost:
A: Olympia B: Austin
C: Salem D: Little Rock.
Sweet. Olympia in Washington, way up in the corner. Salem in Oregon, just below. Little Rock is in Arkansas, off the northeast shoulder of Texas…but wait…there is the panhandle extending northward out of Texas. Is Austin that far north? Dammit, there is a town up there with an A…is it Austin?? And as I deliberate this in my mind, I suddenly realize that the precious seconds are ticking away; if you do not submit an answer in twenty seconds, you go down as a wrong answer. Twenty seconds? Hell, if I don’t put something in right now, these guys are going to eat me up alive. ACBD, OK. And, once the pressure was off, of course, I realized that I was thinking of Amarillo. This was, in fact, the one moment where I doubted myself…where I let panic take a hold of me. And a horrible time for that it was; given the time that Curtis’ run to 64 grand had taken, this would likely be it, unless disaster were to strike. And, as much as I wanted to get up there, there was no way I wanted to see one of the guys go down.
Once again, there were three guys who came up green; this time, the winner was Michael Schwartz, whose 4.64 time would have beaten me even if I had put Austin in its proper location. And so, once again, I was ringside, privileged to see the game play out in a way very few ever would. Michael, although appearing relatively calm, seemed to be struggling a bit with his stack of questions. Still, as we went into a commercial break, he had $8000 on the board, going for sixteen with his 50:50 still in play. During the break, one of the staffers informed us that this was, in fact, going to be the final break and, unless something happened very quickly, there would not be time for another fast-finger round.
Coming back from break, Michael got a look at his $16,000 question, asking what object would be viewed by a loupe. He was not at all sure as to the answer and so used his last lifeline. After deliberation, and still not sure as to which way to go, he decided to walk away rather than risk what he already had.
It was the proverbial phone call from the governor. One more miraculous chance had been given to us…
Put these players in order of their National Football League debut, starting with the earliest:
A: Drew Bledsoe B: Dan Marino
C: Johnny Unitas D: Terry Bradshaw
This time, I did not care about how long I would take. Outracing the other guys had been the proverbial monkey on my back the first two times, and it had gotten me nowhere. Beyond that, there was a matter of pride. To be sure, the odds were against me; if nothing else, I was not going to go home carrying the stigma of an 0-for-3 with me. So…I was going to take my time and get this one right, no matter what.
I had just begun to reach my finger to the board to enter my answer when I heard a WHAM next to me. Fowler was on it like a tick. Given his performance in rehearsal, it did not surprise me at all that he would end up getting one of the questions right at some point in the game…but the lightning speed with which he punched it in (3.64 seconds) caused me to pause just for a moment in stunned hesitation. I recovered in an instant, though, and – like everybody else still in the game – got it right with CDBA. My 5.93 time was pretty much in line with the others; except for Fowler, we were all in the 5-second range. But it was over. Three entry-level questions later, and the horn sounded, making it official.
Time to head back upstairs and pack up the dream.