My life is all “Sliding Doors” right now with ESPN in Sundance Square

ESPN Sundance Square

Back in summer 2001, a bunch of my friends and I lived in DC (we were all between sophomore and junior year at Georgetown). The people from that summer are still pretty much some of my best friends, minus my girlfriend at the time, which is maybe a story for a wholly separate post. We drank pretty much every single day from June 1 (when we moved in) until August 8 (when housing kicked us out to get ready for a new school year). Some nights, we actively tried not to drink and still failed. One of the most memorable? We invited some people over — at the time, one of my friends was trying to get with some girl from Michigan (FYI: he’s now married with two children; unclear what happened to the girl from Michigan) — and watched Sliding Doors. Yes, the Gwyneth Paltrow movie. 

The idea that night was not to drink, but about 30 minutes into the movie, one of my friends stood up from the couch and walked into the kitchen. About 11 seconds later, you heard a blender whirring. Then, a pause — and then: “Who wants margaritas?” If you bring this exact moment up in this group of friends, everyone will laugh and know exactly what the moment is. That’s real friendship right there.

Anyway … if you’ve never seen the movie, it’s basically about the abject randomness of life. If you miss a subway and get on the next subway, maybe you meet your husband on the second subway. So like … what if you had gotten on the first one? Would you never have met your husband? Is fate really that fickle?

Now look at the picture in this post. That’s the ESPN set in Sundance Square (Fort Worth) for the first-ever College Football Playoff Championship, coming next Monday over in Arlington. That picture is taken from a balcony in my office. I’m basically about 50 feet from that set; I walk past it every day to get to work.

As y’all might know, I used to work at ESPN; in fact, if I’ve been working 12 years this May/June, it’s still the longest-tenured place I’ve ever been. I’d have to work at my current job for another six years to tie it.

When I was at ESPN, I never directly worked on college football, although I always wanted to, because it’s my favorite sport. I tried once to get on College Gameday, but that failed miserably. (That’s a great show and a network staple and thus, hard to get on.)

But still, right now they got the whole operation down here, give or take — SportsCenter anchors and producers, etc. I haven’t hung out with anyone, although that’s not totally weird to me. I left Bristol in September 2007, which means I left there over 7 years ago; relationships erode. Life happens, you know? (Deep.)

What is weird to me is this sense of Sliding Doors of my own life. For a little while — it was a very small window — I was pretty well-liked and respected at ESPN on the production side. I had the whole “story idea” record (you can read about that in the “I used to work at ESPN” hyperlink above, although I believe that record has been broken). I used to go meet with some big executives from time to time (for a brief shining moment, I considered Vince Doria an actual friend of mine).

In short, I coulda been a contender. 

I probably blew all that, honestly — I was kind of a dick when I worked there, and I got promoted too fast, and that led me to weird shifts where I didn’t work with people of my experience level and I had to do stuff I probably couldn’t really do (one time, I was asked to cut together a montage of the entire NCAA Tournament and basically shit the bed).

But it’s weird to see all these people with ESPN hats and jackets and producer headsets walking around Sundance Square, because it’s a very big “What could have been” situation in my life. Let’s say I had stayed on that track. Would I be in Fort Worth this week regardless? Next Tuesday, would I be flying home to Connecticut to a different wife and then producing the 6pm SportsCenter on Thursday? Fuck, that’s weird to think about.

There’s a whole school of thought in the world that you shouldn’t consider the “what-ifs” — like, “What if I had taken that job?” or “What if I had gone on that vacation?” — and I agree with that, for the most part. When you focus on “what-ifs,” you’re removing yourself from “the now,” which is obviously much more tangibly important.

But this one week, it’s just really odd to think about. If I had stayed in Bristol lo these seven years, who would I be? What would I have become? What would my life look like? And would I be 50 feet from where I am now by a very different route?

TL:DR? When you sit down and actually think about the steps in your life, shit can be really weird.

Ted Bauer