The Day I Met a Minnesota Viking-Turned-Sportscaster, Ahmad Rashad

Some of you may have read my blog regarding my 1st experience with working behind the scenes in television production at NBC during the strike in the late 1980s. Although that experience was likely one of the most stressful experiences professionally up until that time, somehow I developed that show business bug.

In 1988, NBC successfully negotiated the contract for the 1988 Summer Olympics In Seoul Korea. A prior manager of my named Greg was transferred to the Olympic division and I spoke to him about wanting to work in television production before leaving for California. At that point they were many different roles available and I was offered five different roles two of which were based in Korea and the other three of which were home based. At that time my father was having some medical issues and I thought it was best to remain closer to home. I therefore took one of the Unit Manager positions in New York.

I really didn’t have a clue as to what our Unit Manager did other than address many time-sensitive production-related as well as administrative tasks to facilitate the ultimate production of the Olympics event.

One side arrived on the 26th floor which was where the Olympics division was housed, it became very clear that different unit managers had completely different responsibilities. I was assigned to more of a logistics related role along with three others who shared a very similar role. Our job was to get anyone traveling to Korea the right travel arrangements including ground transportation to and from the airport as well as airfare and housing. Before that however, it was necessary to get each person a Visa and ensure that their travel papers were in order. This included not only the behind the scenes staff but also any on air talent.

As the weeks evolved, needs changed and my responsibilities shifted to doing more unique tasks such as catering to some of the on-air talent such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dick Enberg, Bart Connor, and others. One such request came from Ahmad Rashad. Ahmad was a Minnesota Viking who had become a sportscaster and had been hired to cover some of the Olympic events.

Ahmad called up one day and asked if someone could get him tickets to some of the specific venues for his sons. I didn’t know that he had sons from another marriage. I only knew that he was married to Phylicia Rashad who played the wife on the Cosby show years ago, and that they had a young baby at home.

In addition to getting tickets for Ahmad and his sons, I also research the fact that he needed an international driver’s license and took care of that for him, as well. In the interim I received a call from someone in sports management asking me to take very good care of him since he was apparently being courted by NBC for some other roles after the Olympics. I therefore went out of my way and took care of some extras for Ahmad including making additional arrangements for him on his way back from Korea to stop off at one of the Twin Cities where his relatives were located. Once I made the arrangements, I called his home to give him an update. Phylicia answered the phone, and after informing me that Ahmad wasn’t at home, she took the message that I had gotten the tickets and would have them ready for him, and just needed to know how he wanted me to get them to him..

The next day I got a call from Ahmad who said that he and his driver would be swinging by 30 Rockefeller Plaza at a specific time before he was due at a studio, and he asked whether I could hand the tickets to the driver at that time. I agreed, and I came downstairs about 10 minutes earlier and waited until the limousine came by. Like clockwork, the limo stopped right in front the revolving doors at the entrance of 30 Rock and I walked towards the limousine as the window rolled down. After checking with the driver who had his hand out the window, I handed the tickets over to him and turned to walk back into the building. With that, the limo pulled away. I smiled as I headed back upstairs thinking how suspicious this transaction may have looked to anyone who may have been watching,

Days later I received an amazing note from Ahmad stating how far out of my way I had gone to accommodate and exceed his requests. He added that I had gone well beyond what any other Unit Manager had ever done for him. I was shocked and thrilled that someone with his celebrity would take the time to write such a note or have someone type it, as may have been the case. It made my day and I thought that was the end of that.

Little did I know that a few days later someone called from the front of our office to tell me that Ahmad was coming to meet me. I thought they were kidding, but when I looked up towards the long walkway that stretched clear across the 26th floor, I saw Ahmad approaching and coming my way. He Smiled broadly as he greeted me and said that he wanted to make it a point to thank me in person for everything that I had done. This blew my mind. He was so down-to-earth, joyful, and easy to talk with from the very start.

I remember looking up at him as he spoke, which caused a crimp in my neck. He was so much taller than I was and even taller than I had imagined he would be. After talking to him for a few minutes and rubbing the back of my neck, I declared, “Wait a minute!” Much to my own surprise, I kicked off my high-heeled shoes, pulled the chair out from under my desk, and stood on the it so that I could talk to him on the same level, and then shook his hand.

What was even funnier is that many of my coworkers who are already amazed about Ahmad’s surprise visit, or even more shocked at what I had done. By now, a few of their mouths had dropped open upon seeing me standing on my chair. Ahmad admired my spunk and laughed. It was a short visit but a very memorable one. As I think back, I can’t believe I actually took off my shoes and stood on the chair!

After that and for many days and weeks after I worked super hard as my job transitioned into more of a production related role where I was in the control Room each night with the engineers, director and crew overseeing the Olympic events as they occurred.

One day after the Olympics had ended, much to my surprise I received another call from a mod. He seemed distressed and I asked him what was wrong. It was the day that he was scheduled to leave from the Twin Cities and as I began speaking with him I looked up the fact that his flight was supposed to take off within a few hours. I asked, Ahmad, what’s wrong?” He replied, “ It’s been incredibly humid here and the mosquitoes are out of control and I’m bitten alive! You’ve got to get me outta’ here!” And so, after checking all available airlines, I performed my very last logistical task for Ahmad and got him on an earlier flight.

Marissa E. Marsala is the founder of Employer & Candidate Connection, an executive search and career coaching company.