Marissa Explains It All #7 – Has It Already Been Nine Years?

At this past weekend’s Royal Rumble, the annual event presented by the WWE, retired wrestler Edge made his triumphant return to the ring after having to retire in 2011 due to an injury requiring an extremely dangerous surgery.

Stick with me here, this is not about that.

I spent time in independent pro wrestling in my 20s. While the business itself has its issues, that I’m not going to get into here, the memories that remain are of the people I knew, friends I made, and stories I still tell.

Of the hundreds of wrestlers I met, one of them went out of his way to be friendly with us. He spent extra time hanging out with us, getting to know us, and always went out of his way to make us feel like friends. He had this undeniable charisma; the kind where he could flip on a switch and take over a room, but not in a way that made you feel uncomfortable or stepped on.

He was deadset against me ever getting involved in the business, and wasn’t shy about telling me why. He was one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met. Beneath the show, though, was both a person who genuinely cared about those around him, and a person who was suffering. At times, the latter was written on his face in a way that a performance was unable to hide. I remember the last time I saw him. It was late at night at a rest stop in 2008, and his face looked vacant and pale. Something was off, and it gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It may have been independent wrestling. I may have been young and starstruck. He may have been like he was to me and my friends with everyone. But it never felt forced or faked. After winning a tournament one time, the camera crew brought a few of us specifically over to celebrate with him. We were associated with him enough to be given a moment like that to share with him.

Now, you may be asking what the first moment of this story has to do with the rest?

Well, in 2011 I was still a full-fledged wrestling fan, though my disillusion with participating in the business matched the scorn he held for it. That was one of the many times in my life that people gave me advice that I had to learn the hard way was correct, but that’s not the point of the story. I started seeing rumors online that he had passed away, and I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. The small community, some of whom I still associated with, was in shock. I recognize that many people knew him way better than I did and likely hit them way harder than it did me, but it still had a profound impact on me. He was only 29.

That night, Edge made his retirement speech. Someone I greatly admired but had no personal knowledge or relationship of, was stepping away from the same business unexpectedly. Instead of being emotional over it, I felt numb. It broke my heart that someone’s career was ending, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about it at all. I’d lost a friend, and so had thousands of other people.

Several of us have tattoos of his catch phrase. One person in his life that I got to know a bit posthumously got a bracelet with the soundwave of his infectious and unmistakable laugh. He had a presence in so many lives, and as a sweatshirt with his name and signature still hangs in my library, as well as his words written across my left forearm, I’ve never forgotten him.

I don’t watch wrestling anymore, but I occasionally still get an update from people who either knew me through wrestling in person or years later when I wrote about it for a major site. Yesterday I heard that Edge returned after nine long years, but after a brief moment of happiness for him, it hit me that it’s been nine long years since a friend to so many was lost. I felt compelled to write about him regardless of how the audience may or may not respond to the topic, because as long as I have any capability to speak or write, I want people to know that there was a man named Alex Whybrow who was a kind, gentle, charismatic person, and he was known to many as “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney, and I will never forget him.

12 Large, Brother.

Marissa Explains It All #6 – Things I Learned While Working in College Football

For my junior and senior years at the University of Pennsylvania, I was a video coordinator and unofficial special teams assistant for the football team. UPenn, one of the Ancient Eights, another moniker for the Ivy League, plays a ten-game season, has no athletic scholarships, and does not participate in the postseason.

However, working with a D1 college football team taught me a lot about what most people don’t see in the game of football at this level. With the FBS National Championship tonight and the Super Bowl rapidly approaching, allow me to sort of sportsball you in a bit of a behind the scenes look at what it was like to work for a college football team.

The fans hate each other more than the players do.

While it’s true nearly every single play, someone’s getting smashed by another person in a helmet, it’s not nearly as personal or destruction-based as you might think. Typically, fans believe their favorite players are aligned with their ways of thinking, which essentially means: we hate this other team, therefore they should want to smash them into oblivion.

Not really.

There’s a lot more camaraderie than is ever shown on television. Sometimes players on opposing teams even have small signals for arrangements with each other. Andrew Hawkins on the Thomahawk podcast talked about a “tap” arrangement where as a wide receiver being matched up against a defensive back, if it was a running play in the other direction, they would go through the motions of looking like they’re blocking each other without going full or even half tilt. This unspoken understanding was created by a tap from one of the players early in the game.

Not quite the war machine that the most intense of fans would have you believe.

This isn’t to say that both teams want to win. Far from it. But sort of how the NBA seems to be made up of players who are all friends and want to hang out, football is a lot more like that than many think. Granted, with so many more players on each team, it’s certainly not universal, but this sport isn’t the hardnosed, every-coach-is-Burgess-Meredith-in-Rocky that your parents think they remember.

There is a lot more communication than you think.

Sometimes one or two players are mic’d up during a big game, or the coach’s words are caught on camera. But when we’re watching from the stands or the couch, we don’t hear just how many things are being said on every single play. This goes beyond the playcall, the “down, set, hut” if you will.

On gamedays, I was on the sideline amongst the team. I had a firsthand glimpse of what the game process is like, and one of the first things I noticed immediately was the bench participation. Players aren’t only focused on the game when they’re on the field.

The bench is fully engaged and yelling at the players on the field. Not just for encouragement, but in a helpful way. When the quarterback of the other team drops back for a pass, the entire bench yells “PASS!” Obviously not every player on the field can see what’s going on, because they’re focused on who they’re covering. When watching from afar, we don’t get the experience of seeing how the entire team participates on a play-by-play basis, and that includes giving cues to those who are on the field at any given moment.

Every moment of their day is rigidly scheduled.

Playing football is just practice and the games, right? Go to practice for a few hours, and the rest of the day is yours?


These players are on a schedule for their meals, their breaks, their classes, their practices, their workouts, their film studies, everything. And they do it all together. Part of the reason players fight so hard for their teammates is that they spend more time with them than anyone else over the course of their season. They eat breakfast together in the same place. They all work out at the same time. They watch the film together. They spend very little time apart.

So once the game does actually start, and they comprise so little, percentage-wise, of the time that goes into a football season, it’s not that difficult to get them to play together as a team. Because, for the most part, they’ve spent all their non-class waking hours functioning as a single unit.

I do keep in mind that this is an FCS school without athletic scholarships, so knowing that the kids on this team were held to the same academic standards as everyone else is definitely an exception to the rule. Many of the major college football programs, like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc, the kids are essentially hired mercenaries with the promise of a better shot at making the pros in exchange for their 3-4 years of making the institution money, so their schedules and team function are likely exponentially higher and more rigid than what I saw. But I have to imagine it’s at least a similar playing field.

Hundreds of people are employed for this game.

This may be a little more obvious than some of the other things I’ve shared, but I think when the discussions of hiring/firing, releasing/free agency, cutting/making the roster come up, only the players and head coach are considered.

The coaching staff alone is a lot bigger than most people realize. There is a coach for every position, below the offensive and defensive coordinator, beneath the head coach. The head coach has assistants. The coordinators have assistants. The position coaches have assistants. And they have graduate assistants.

Some of the people I got to know were the time clock operators and the person responsible for playing music during practices and game warm-ups. In one tiny scissor jack, one person was responsible for the audio, playing music that helps motivate the players and get them into their zone. A blend of genres, usually heavy metal, classic rock, rap, pop, country, and EDM were on shuffle, although it was a lot more specific for the one-hour-before-game warmup session. That list was 13 songs long and was always the same, much like the players’ daily schedules. Routine and habit are huge in college football.

There are people who hold the down markers. There are a not-insignificant number of referees for every game. There are vendors for team merchandise, food, beer, and walking in the actual stands as well. There are those responsible for the multiple cameras for television, the reporters in the booth and on the sidelines, and numerous media people taking photographs and video from the sideline as well. For a nationally-televised game, add in all of those for that particular channel as well as the ones for the conference and each individual school. Jockeying for a spot on the sideline to get the best shot is a sport in and of itself. As a video coordinator for the team, I would often try to anticipate where the play was going, so if I was right, I could get a better camera shot.

The point is, personnel decisions that are made for football, especially on the pro level, have effects that extend beyond who gets to play and who doesn’t. When a coach changes teams, the entire coaching staff is at risk for their jobs. They also have to likely move their families, change schools, and quickly find a place to live near the team facility. Making the roster is only one of many aspects that are taken into employment consideration on the pro level, and this exists for the college coaches as well as the management and front office. Think of the ticket takers, those who call alum to sell them tickets, the recruiters, the scouts, the ADs, and everyone who works for and under those people. These are colossal endeavors.

Why is there a time clock operator at practice, you may be asking? Well…

Practices don’t work like you think.

This obviously doesn’t apply if you played football, but seeing a college football practice (not a public one, those are different) isn’t at all what I imagined. Like the games themselves, they are rigidly enforced by the person in charge of the time clock. The practices are broken into segments of 7-10 minutes each, and practices could be anywhere from 15-25 segments, though usually the last ones before the game, the “walk-throughs” were less, as they don’t want to get anyone injured right before a game.

The practices would start with the whole team doing warmups, consisting of stretches, exercises, and practical movements, all together as the coaches kept them on pace and motivated. The first plays afterward usually involved special teams, so the lineups for field goals and punts would often go through several runs of different kinds. Then, everyone would split into several groups. O-Line/D-Line, who always practice together, special teams, Defensive Backs/Wide Receivers, Quarterbacks, and so on. They’d run through very specific drills and movements. For instance, during these drills, one wide receiver and one defensive back would line up and go out for a pass play. One of the quarterbacks would throw the pass play called, and it would be a one-on-one drill, essentially. Then, the next two step up, repeat.

Around the middle of practice as well would be drills called “Skelly.” Skelly, short for skeleton crew, were imitations of gameplay, except there would be a skeleton crew on the field. Instead of 11 vs 11, it would be 7 vs 7. The lineman, save for the center, were the ones not included, as they were off drilling with each other. But other than that, normal playcalling was run.

After that, there was usually a split. On one side of the field, the starting offense and the scout defense, made up of those who wouldn’t be playing on gameday most likely, but were to emulate the style of the team they’d be facing that week. So if Penn was playing Harvard, the scout team’s defense would act in whatever scheme the Harvard defense ran. And on the other side of the field, same thing in reverse. The starting defense against the scout team offense. Usually the second or third string quarterback would be standing in for the Harvard quarterback, depending on the skill set and style. If you’re scouting for a quarterback who is smaller and runs, you’re not going to put in the backup pocket passer. Utilizing the talent of the freshmen and backups specifically helps them prepare for the games. These sections of practice were usually the longest.

At the end of those drills, a specific run-through would then be done. Sometimes it was the two-minute drill, where the team plays as it would with two minutes or less left in the game, and the time clock operator would utilize the clock by gameday rules to simulate as such. When you hear the announcers on TV talk about the “two-minute offense” this is what they mean, because this is what and how they practice. Also, the rare but spectacular plays were also practiced. The kickoff return with multiple laterals, the last-minute Hail Mary, the trick plays. These were usually the most fun, as the team would joke and go over-the-top in their antics.

Finally, the coach would call everyone to the middle, give a motivational speech or a breakdown of their previous or upcoming game, then they’d all hit the showers.

I learned so much watching and filming these practices for two years. It really gave me an appreciation for college athletes and how much they have to do. Again, at Penn, they had no athletic scholarships, so the student-athletes with these rigid schedules, daily workouts, and several-hour practices, also had to keep up with their schoolwork to the same standard as everyone else. It’s really a commendable feat.

As for the major college programs, those kids are lucky if they get a chance to eat while running from practice to class or vice versa. Whenever the argument over college athletes getting paid comes up, it’s important to take this life they lead into consideration. For most, it’s gameday and nothing else, and that can be really dehumanizing for kids who have to put their bodies on the line to do something they love. It’s worthy of hearing them out. I again recommend the Thomahawk podcast for learning a lot more about the college and pro levels of football, as they have more perspective than I could ever hope to add, but this was more about experiencing it from an outsider’s point-of-view.


So yeah, this may not be the most “free-thought”y topic, and I can already hear the “LOLSPORTSBALL” comments, so if you have one of those, let’s just pretend I’ve never heard the joke you’re going to make and assume it’s hilarious. But when I took this blog, it was with the understanding that I could write about whatever I wanted, within reason. And I use this to try to either convey my personal experience, or write about something that maybe people don’t know about as much. The whole world is a context for everything that goes on, and I like to examine it from as many places as possible.


Marissa Explains It All #5 – Traveling Entitlement

One of the most well-known cliches of Americans traveling abroad is that they feel entitled to everything and treat everyone like trash.

However, from someone in the hospitality industry, I can tell you that they don’t have to be abroad to act that way.

There’s some leniency we have to consider here, for certain. American workers get less vacation and time off than most people do, unless you make enough or have a privileged enough position that you’re not guilt-tripped or threatened with termination for taking it. But there is a point of understanding that most people don’t get to go on vacation at least once a year, let alone the six weeks that countries that aren’t constructing a modern-day remake of Metropolis receive.

But does that entitle you to be an absolute shitwaffle in the process?

Through luck of the draw this year, I worked Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Most of them were fine, and abnormally slow… except New Year’s Eve. For context, my hotel does not have a bar, a restaurant, or anything like that, and isn’t really a “Destination” hotel, as it’s not near anything and it’s in the suburbs of Minneapolis. It’s an extended stay residence, which essentially means people who come into town on business or who have to be out of their homes for an extended period of time are more likely to find a place like this, as our rooms have full kitchens and other amenities that ones that are more likely to expect nightly checkouts do not have.

I arrived at 11pm on New Year’s Eve to find my normally quiet lobby overflowing with people. My afternoon person explained to me that there was a hockey team staying with us. But these were not the hockey players, which is the behavior I’d expect from teenage hockey players in Minnesota, and by that I mean it’s expensive as shit to play hockey, so it’s a privilege to say the least. These were the parents, so we’re not talking children or even young teens or early 20s people here. These were 35-55-year-olds acting in a manner that would make the boys from Animal House tell them to tone it down a bit.

I know, it’s New Year’s Eve, and for reasons I’ll never understand, it’s a date where people feel almost obligated to go out, drink, and party late. I can be somewhat forgiving of that. But these people had enough alcohol with them to celebrate a national championship. I mean it, throughout the night I took out three giant trash bags of nothing but liquor bottles and beer cans, and I didn’t get them all.

Complaints were coming in from all over the hotel from the noise level of this group. Apparently some people do like to sleep rather than get obscenely drunk. The entitlement behavior this shows is that it’s okay to act completely inappropriately because they’re not in a place that’s theirs, so therefore they don’t have to clean up or deal with any of the consequences. They’re at a hotel, so it’s okay to trash and break property and expect the person working there to clean it up.

Three fights broke out. Physical confrontations because, surprise, drunken hockey parents have some disagreements. The men started harassing female guests, either to have a drink with them or to give them their room number. They got louder as they got drunker. They jumped in the pool in their clothes at midnight, bringing a ton of their beer in there and of course leaving that trash can overflowing as well. One guy was double-fisting a beer and a bottle of champagne. Another wet himself in the lobby.

They had a game at 8am the next morning. Well, the kids did anyway.

Someone came down with a bluetooth speaker and started blaring music well after midnight, and seemed surprised that I told them to cut it off. Telling these people to keep the volume down was fruitless, as was thinking of calling the police when the fights and harassment started breaking out, because they were already out there everywhere anyway. It finally ended at 3am, with the last few of them falling over themselves to get to bed, after some of them who got in fights had to book additional rooms to split up.

I don’t understand what makes people act like that, or feel that it’s okay to act like that. I understand needing to let loose, or have a party, or have a good time, or enjoy a day traveling. I do not understand what makes people feel entitled to behave obscenely, to destroy property, to harass people, and to drink so excessively that you get into fights and can’t stand up in a hotel lobby. It was embarrassing. Or it should’ve been, anyway.

Certain industries see the worst sides of people, and most of the time, I’m not at a place where I have to see it myself. But holy shit was New Year’s Eve some embarrassing behavior on behalf of people who supposedly were there to support their kids playing a sport, but rather decided to party themselves sick and wasted while their kids slept upstairs.