15 Stories for 15 Years of the Victory Sports Network by Jason Dannelly.

vsn_logoEarly last summer I was approached by Rob Brandt of the Victory Sports Network. You see, Rob is the guy I sold VSN to (the second time) and he is the guy responsible for the site’s contents. He and Barry Fouts asked me to write something for the 15 year aniversary of VSN.

I said, “Sure.”

Admittedly I forgot about writing that piece until one night last month when I posted a few photos for nostalgia sake and said, “Crap, forgot to write that.”

But as nostalgia goes. . .it got me thinking. Why not write 15 brief stories that no one knows about the behind the scenes stuff that happened at VSN? There has probably been enough time and distance from these stories to not incriminate anyone, so why not.

So without a big long drawn out explanation, here are the 15 stories from the VSN years you never knew about, sorry mom and dad (again).

15. If a former employer hadn’t lied to me, I would’ve never started the website. In 2001 after I graduated college, I moved to Grand Island, Neb. to sell radio advertising and broadcast sports. I was told my job was 50/50 sports and sales (mistake #1, if you are in sales you are 100% sales) and the following fall the rock station was going to start broadcasting high school sporting events. That was going to be my baby. In June of 2002 my boss handed out our advertising packages to sell. The rock station wasn’t listed as broadcasting any games. I was then informed that I wouldn’t be broadcasting any sporting events and I needed to “get my ass selling.”

I was pissed. The only reason I took the job was because of the promise of sports. The year before I broadcast something like 150 events for the radio station in Blair, Neb. There were no other places for me to do sports at the time. So I remembered when I was at Dana College there was no one really covering NAIA sports. . .so I started the message board and that was how it got going.

14. I stole the original idea and format for the magazine from Bob Jensen of the Huskerland Prep Report. I needed to make money and putting together a newspaper style booklet was fairly cheap. Jensen had done the idea for years in the state of Nebraska at the HS level so I literally grabbed one of his old preseason magazines and copied the format into QuarkExpress. Bob’s a good egg and he knew I did that because I sent him copies every year and asked for his ideas along the way.

13. I have a strange bond with the first National Title Team from Carroll College. My first trip to Carroll I was invited to Coach Van Diest’s house after the game. At his house were several players off of the first title team from the year before who had all graduated. After we ate, all the guys said, “you’re going downtown with us tonight!”

I was like 23-24 years old and these guys were all basically my age. So. . .we went out. A couple too many Irish Car Bombs later and I was dancing like Kevin Bacon at Bullwackers in Helena, Mont. At the end of the night I had no idea where I was and one of the guys asked me where I was staying. I kinda freaked out and said, “Oh man, I have no idea where it is from here? How are we going to get there? We can’t drive! I think. . .I think its the Holiday Inn?”

All of their faces dropped and one of the guys says, “Yeah. . .it’s right through that door dumbass. We’re in the lobby bar.”

12. The NAIA DI Basketball Tournament Broadcasting Incident.  Someone at the NAIA thought it would be a great idea one year to hire one. . .ONE announcer to broadcast all of the games on the live video stream. That’s eight games a day for three days, then four games before a day off of two games. That’s 30 games in 5 days.

At the start of the first game the announcer, let’s call him Donnie Bald, opens the mic and starts SCREAMING, “FROM THE HISTORIC MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM IN BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN KANSAS CITY. . .” and proceeds at this volume for the entire first game.

Game 3. . .his voice is fading. Then five minutes before game four I get pulled aside and asked if I can help find announcers because Donnie Bald has lost his voice. So I jump on to broadcast the fourth game with zero prep and start texting every NAIA announcer in the venue to see if they can help out.

At one point I was broadcasting a late game with Terry Waldrop who at the time was the head coach of Texas Wesleyan and Ray Harper from Oklahoma City came on for a bit. Their teams were PLAYING in the tournament but they were cool about it. I proceeded to book the announcers for the next two days until Donnie was able to finish out Saturday and Monday on his own.

I still credit myself for giving Terry his start in broadcasting. . .mostly kidding.

11. AFCA Coaches Convention: Louisville. Whenever I write about the AFCA coaches convention, every coach I used to hang out with puckers up a bit. I could write 15 stories about the convention itself, but I’d lose a lot of friends.

Anyway, there was a certain coach in the NAIA who wouldn’t talk or do an interview with me because my message boards had swearing on them. He was the head coach at a super Christian school and he told me once that my web site was “filth” and I should be ashamed. Let’s call him Coach Bible.

Fast forward, I’m drinking with some coaches in Louisville after the meetings and we decide to go to one of those dance clubs where they don’t allow the guys to dance but the ladies dance and you congratulate them on how well they dance by given them legal currency. You follow? God, I hope so. . .

We walk in, slam an Irish Car Bomb (trend starting here) and grab a seat. We are there no more than a minute and guess who comes walking out of one of those exclusive rooms?

COACH BIBLE!

Needless to say he saw me and turned white and tried to hide. But he knew he was caught so he came out and had a drink with me to try to explain. I didn’t listen. . .but two hours later he bought my White Castle at 3:30am so I guess we’re good?

10. Whiskey on the Rocks. I went to cover a football game for a really prominent school who was one of the top teams in the NAIA year over year. I got in late but the head coach gave me an address to meet him at to talk the night before the game. I thought I was driving to his house. Turns out, it was a bar. He and I proceeded to drink whiskey until the bar closed the night before the game and both had to cab it home. I said at one point, “Coach, we should call it a night. We’ve both got to work tomorrow.”

To which he replied, “Those guys are so dog shit awful I don’t even need to show up tomorrow.”

His team proceeded to win by 50 plus and I never saw him set down the water bottle in his hand.

9. Bedtime anywhere. When I started VSN I literally had no money to put into it and tried to spend no money at all. So commonly I would ask the coaches if they could find me a place to stay. Here’s a list of some of my favorite places:

  • A dorm/apartment in Mayville, ND with the starting QB in the top bunk.
  • On an air mattress in a house that I’m pretty sure was vacant or foreclosed in Alva, Okla.
  • In the nuns’ house/guest room at the University of St. Francis (Ind.).
  • In a dorm room with no bedding at Saint Francis (Ill.).
  • In the College Fanz Van (multiple).
  • In a hotel in Kentucky that was connected to a Waffle House.
  • In a coaches office on a couch.
  • In the dorms at Baker University which I think was also a Fraternity?
  • At a hotel in Tyler, TX where I was woke up by a shooting.
  • On two couch cushions on the floor of a coach’s hotel room at the AFCA convention.

8. Freddy T’s. Anyone who remembers the NAIA National Championship in Savannah, Tenn. remembers Freddy T’s. For the title game you stayed at the Pickwick Inn and then you could get bused to Freddy T’s to drink because the hotel was in a dry county. But the story you didn’t hear on VSN was what happened at Freddy T’s.

My favorite story is when an ex-NAIA football player, turned strength coach and later turned UFC fighter got mad at something that was posted on my message board. This was common. Usually the message was posted by a user but since it was my message board I took the brunt of it. I actually had a coach at my Alma Mater screen at me in a voicemail over something he read on the board and told me to never return to campus with a few more F-bombs than that. But I digress.

As the story goes, I basically get told this guy is going to kick my ass when he sees me. Luckily, his former head coach caught wind of this threat. The guy who was going to kick my ass I was later told was basically reduced to a whimpering puppy after the ass chewing he received.

I walk into Freddy T’s that year and this massive, beastly creature meets me by the bar. I recognize him and am unaware of the ass chewing he received. Basically, I think he’s ready to throw down so I start thinking of all the things I can say to calm the situation.

Instead, he shakes my hand and apologizes. We closed the bar together that night.

7. The College Fanz Van Accident. Amazingly enough not a lot of people knew the “Fanz Van” got totaled. On a winter night in Wyoming the van hit black ice and skidded into the ditch. Then a passing semi wiped out the front end of the van killing it. The reason no one knew is because we were told not to post any pictures or say anything about it. Why? We have no idea. Bill and Lynn in my opinion were more freaked out that we posted pictures on our personal Facebook accounts than the fact several members of the team nearly died. It was all about the look. . .we couldn’t let anyone know something bad happened. I’m just glad everyone was okay and to this day it makes me shake my head.

6. The Cigar Bar in Rome, Ga. If you needed to find me at night in Rome, I was at a high top table putting down a Romeo Y Juliet No. 2 and drinking local brews served up by the greatest bartender known to man, Mr. JT. JT was one of the guys that blended into the background. You didn’t notice him. But as time went on. . .you started to figure out this guy was pretty well connected. By the second year we went to Rome we knew all of the inner workings of the city and all of the dirty little secrets. It was like we were at a Speakeasy in the 1920’s. JT was our gateway to finding the real after hours parties. I miss a lot of things about covering the NAIA football championships but none more than that little cigar bar and the characters inside.

5. The Sales of VSN. Yes, SALES. I sold VSN twice. The first time was to the College Fanz Sports Network. This was the idea that the founder of ESPN Bill Rassmussen came up with and found an investment group to put money into in order to get it going. His assistant was Lynn Daniels. These were the two people that I then worked daily with during the life of the College Fanz Sports Network.

The way the first sale went down was pretty interesting. I found their website and thought it was absolute garbage. It had no content and it was clear they had no idea what they were trying to build. Essentially they thought they could put FANZ in the title and sports fans would flock to it. Not so much. So I reached out to them and said I thought I could help them out. We then started talking about them acquiring my company since I had more traffic than their website. This was in October of 2008. By November we had several conversations and they flew into Grand Island, Neb. I rented a conference room in a Hampton Inn because my office was my house. Bill, Lynn, the President of the College Fanz and the lead investor came in to meet with me. We spent most of the day talking numbers, vision and the future. By the end of the day they made an offer.

What they didn’t know that if I hadn’t sold VSN that fall and earned some real money, I was probably going to shut the site down. I had several offers from schools to come work for them and I was tired of not having a real paycheck or health insurance. I had also gone through my first divorce and was looking for any reason whatsoever to get out of Grand Island.

Luckily, they made an offer and I was able to continue covering small college athletics. I spent four days in New York City working with the web site developers and making changes to their web site. It was a whirlwind. While it ended up not working out, I don’t regret it at all. I still chat with the old President from time to time, he’s a great guy. It was the sort of life experience everyone needs to have. Oh, the other sale was to Rob Brandt for like a dollar because I couldn’t do it anymore.

4. The Infamous NAIA Championship Series Announcement. I had gone to the NAIA several times asking them for support. Whether it be to announce me as an official media partner or even funnel some advertising dollars to my web site so I could actually eat. It never happened. Countless meetings and proposals went to them to try to make it work. All were turned down. The No. 2 reason was because of the message boards. Too much bickering, out of control comments and opinions that were anti-NAIA. Whatever. It’s ironic that you can now comment on their web site.

The No. 1 reason they said they couldn’t partner with me was because I was media. They said they couldn’t extend special benefits to me because I was media and that would show favoritism. It went so far that one year at the NAIA championship someone threw an absolute fit because I was staying in the official team hotel. Turns out the HOST CITY wanted me there and the NAIA couldn’t do anything about it.

So turn back the clocks to 2006ish. I’d been knocked down several times by people at the NAIA office for requests to work together because I was media. So the day comes that the NAIA announces the qualifiers for the NAIA postseason. Their announcement was suppose to come at 1:30pm. So as a member of the media I used my “sources” to find out all of the pairings by 11:45am. I was really tight with several ADs and coaches so it was easy to get the information. You know, what “media” does. They call people, get the facts and then report.

I announced the pairings live on my audio stream and then posted them on the web site at noon. A full 90 minutes before they were ready to announce them. Needless to say a little bit after posting them I had the a member of the NAIA national office calling me to bark at me for posting them and wanting to know how I got that information. We screamed at each other for 10 minutes on the phone to which my response was repeatedly “BUT I’M MEDIA, I DID THE JOB THAT I’M SUPPOSE TO DO. REMEMBER, I’M MEEDDDIIIIAAA.” (Chilidish, yes. But I was right.)

By the next year, I was unofficially the first person who could release and post the Championship Series Pairings. They knew there was a whole bunch of headaches that I could’ve caused them. So they kind of started working with me. Now don’t read this wrong, I definitely had a love hate relationship with the national office but over time I developed a great relationship with some members of the staff. However, when I was no longer “the guy” that all went bye bye.

3. The College Fanz Documentary. Yes, that is a thing that exists. Approximately 13 people have seen it. It’s about an hour and twenty minutes long. I made it a little over a year ago for the Crew. It’s kinda a scrapbook to the year we spent together on the road. There’s a link out there that I will share to people who want to see it. But given some of the jobs a few former member of the crew currently have I won’t ever release it publicly. The last thing I want is one of them in their bosses office having to defend something they said during those trips. I’m glad I have that video. . .I can’t speak for the rest of the crew though.

2. The End of College Fanz. The crew remembers it well.

“We’re out of money and you all are out of a job.”

There was really no indication prior to it happening. It was July of 2010. I joined the executive team in California for a meeting with a prominent company in the sports and news business. I don’t think I can name them without breaking some confidentiality agreement that I signed. But if they had bought us it would have been (Trump voice) HUGE.

Subsequently they didn’t and the coffers were dry and the patience of the investors to get their money back was gone. So about one week after that meeting we were told to get on a conference call where the bomb got dropped. The disappointing part of the whole thing was the President of our company was on the line telling us what was happening and not Bill or Lynn who we worked with everyday and reported to. I respect the President of the company tremendously for that and he did what he could to help us out.

1. The Missouri Valley Incident. This was is by far the most famous story among the College Fanz Crew which is still told and exaggerated until this day.

Missouri Valley was hosting MidAmerica Nazarene in Marshal, Mo. and the night before the game we get invited to some banquet the President of MoVal is hosting along with our fearless leaders, Bill and Lynn. This was at the end of the regular season and every nightmare you could think of had happened to the crew. We were worn out and at our wits end. Our leaders are at the head table with the President of the College while we are relegated to what is essentially the kids table in the back of the room. Thank god. . .it was an open bar.

Bill gets asked to speak about College Fanz. He takes the mic and starts telling ESPN stories and after 10 minutes he finally mentions College Fanz. He proceeds to talk about how hard he and Lynn have worked to get things going and all the great things he’s going to do. He never once acknowledges that we’ve done all the work while he takes naps in his own personal van. When he wraps up everyone’s eyes at the table meet. If it were possible to create spontaneous combustion through vision at the moment that entire place would’ve went up in flames.

One by one we all make trips to the bar until the event wraps up and we’ve consumed all the free alcohol they allow. We then ask the SID where we can go to keep drinking. Turns out we get in the van and drive to “Hustlers” in Marshall.

We all thought he was sending us to a strip club. However, it was a sports bar named after Charlie Hustle. Before we go into the bar we reach into the cooler we had in the van that was mostly reserved for water and grab the mason jar of Apple Pie moonshine.

Now, this isn’t the moonshine you buy at a liquor store. We got this from a fan in Kentucky the week before. It was the real stuff. . .from a still in the mountains. If we had ran out of fuel this stuff would’ve gotten us another 100 miles.

We proceed to pass the jar around with everyone taking pulls from it until it is gone. Total time elapsed, about 30 seconds. Collectively we all said, “Wow, that stuff was actually really good.”

We walk into a bar and someone recognized that we were the broadcast crew. Somehow we started getting trays of keg beer sent our way. About 15 minutes into arriving at the bar. . .the shine hits.

Once again, everyone’s eyes meet and we knew we were about to be in for a roller coaster ride of a night. Half of us leave with our sober van driver. The other half sticks it out until close and decides they are going to walk home. After being redirected by local law enforcement for walking the wrong way from the hotel they make it to the back at like 3:30 in the morning.

I know it was 3:30 because that’s when my hotel room door swung open and I was jumped on. I proceeded to get a smack across the face followed by a “wake up bitch” from one of my employees.

The next morning goes about how you can imagine. Sweats, dry heaving, actual heaving and then repeating it during the broadcast. At one point we were find tuning where the tent was going to be set up for Lynn and Bill by inches one way or another when patience was running out and there was nearly a murder.

We grabbed a very hungover breakfast at the local McDonald’s and we’re greeted by people saying, “Look ya’ll it’s that ESPN crew!” They proceeded to take pictures with us.

Some people want famous artwork on their walls or authentic memorabilia. I want someone to locate that picture so I can blow it up and make a Fat Head wall decal out of it.

After the game we come to find out that everyone on the crew at some point vomited somewhere. You hear all these broadcasters talk about the crazy conditions they broadcast in. . .they should try broadcasting an entire game with a trashcan of vomit three feet from them.

Wrapping Up: Yes, a lot of these stories involve drinking. We’re adults. If you are astonished by that then I don’t know what sort of dark hole you live in. Over the last 15 years I’ve had a lot of fun with VSN and everyone associated. I miss the people and the relationships that I created over the years. Fortunately when you change careers, then proceed to screw up that career and get an entirely new career you can look back and laugh at all the dumb things. I still have a lot of friends in the NAIA and stay pretty well connected from a distance; I’m thankful for those days with those people.

Will I ever go back to covering the NAIA as a job? Absolutely not. Nothing against the NAIA or the schools that participate at that level. I’m just comfortable doing what I do now in the agricultural world and helping to further the mission of the Rimington Trophy. That keeps my plate plenty full.

Thanks for reading the memories everyone.

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