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One of the true feel-good stories of these times, fraught with the doom and gloom of political divide, feckless shilling for nominations, endless strikes against tyrannical megalomaniacs, climate change and ever-increasing numbers of those truly spooked by screaming headlines of conflated numbers shrieking that “COVID is not over” (congratulations, Rong-Gong And The Hyphenates, I saw some truly doozy mega-masks for the first time at a party yesterday that honestly looked like Darth Vader had designed them) has to be what went down in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday afternoon. College football fans already know about this, but in case you’re not one, here’s how it was recapped on FOX Sports’ website:
Deion Sanders had a pretty good Saturday.
In his first game as Colorado head coach, the Pro Football Hall of Famer led the Buffaloes to a dramatic, massive upset over defending national runner-up TCU, then sparred with some reporters who had previously criticized his team’s roster in his postgame press conference. Sanders’ ability to steer a Colorado team that went just 1-11 last season — albeit with a dramatically different roster that Sanders overhauled via the transfer portal — to such a big win on the road against an opponent favored by three touchdowns captured the attention of plenty of big names, including current and former athletes, on social media.
And while all of the attention and priase has been rightfully focused on the man known in his playing days as PrimeTime, a gifted 90s two-sport megastar who played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series but who had caught the ire of another journalist, CBS’ Tim McCarver, when Sanders responded to criticism with what was at the time perceived as immaturity , all I kept thinking about was the far shorter but equally impassioned spitfire of his manager and producer who was cheering as loudly as any CU player or booster and who, of course, I know and admire.
Constance Schwartz-Morini has been acknowledged as a force of nature for a while, particularly in sports media circles. As her biography on her company website attests, she’s been a strong-willed woman in a mostly men’s landscape for most of her adult life:
(C)o-founder and CEO of SMAC Entertainment, a talent management firm, business incubator, and Emmy-nominated production company she co-founded with Michael Strahan in 2011.
Her career spans more than three decades across sports, entertainment, music, and media. She has developed the modern playbook for how athletes and entertainers navigate their multifaceted careers while developing businesses and strategic partnerships that expand reputation and onboard new audiences.
Schwartz-Morini got her start at the NFL, serving in various roles across television programming, sponsorship, events, marketing, and player engagement. After 10 years at the NFL, Schwartz-Morini joined The Firm, creating their strategic marketing and sponsorship division. For nearly a decade, she managed Snoop Dogg, elevating his prominence as a multi-platinum selling rapper, singer, songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur. At SMAC, Schwartz-Morini and her team manage Erin Andrews, four Pro Football Hall of Famers: Michael Strahan, Troy Aikman, Tony Gonzalez, and Deion Sanders, as well as Curt Menefee, Brian Orakpo, Michael Griffin, Camille Kostek, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, October Gonzalez, Snoop Dogg and Shante Broadus, Bryan Hynson, and Wiz Khalifa.
She is the engineer behind Michael Strahan transitioning his career from a Super Bowl Champion to an Emmy-winner, entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and one of America’s top media personalities today.
Well, that was impressive enough. But it was the last line of her biography that caught my eye and actually gave me a chance to bond with her to a small extent:
(R)eceived her bachelor’s degree from The State University of New York at Oswego.
In your face, suckas. You think we Lakers just rule ESPN? Not bad for a school that hasn’t had a football team since before I went there.
I met her when I had the chance to fulill one of my bucket list dreams by finally getting the chance to play a Winner’s Circle (albeit for fake money) on my personal favorite game show, THE $100,000 PYRAMID, which Strahan will soon begin his seventh season as host of, breaking a record of continuous service as the show’s emcee that even his legendary predecessor Dick Clark did not achieve (while Dick hosted for a total of 15 years, none of his individual runs made it past six years). She has built Strahan into arguably a cross between Clark, Joe Garagiola (former athlete turned morning show fixture) and a Kardashian without the emotional baggage (I personally own two Pyramid jackets from Strahan’s “92” collection, and they are among the best-looking and most durable items in my closet). But the Sanders’ story is arguably her greatest accomplishment to date, and boy, does she have a lot to work with now.
As the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Pat Graham recounted earlier this year, on the eve of the Buffaloes’ spring game, she was already being lauded for being a driving force in even giving Sanders a chance to chart a new course for himself at all in his later life:
By his own admission, Sanders wouldn’t be here without a huge assist from Schwartz-Morini.
He was all set to spend his retirement fishing and relaxing before she convinced him that coaching should be his new calling. It led him to a wildly successful stint at Jackson State.
And then she touched base with a search firm to get the ball rolling on Sanders’ arrival at Colorado, a program coming off a 1-11 season. She coordinated a meeting between Sanders and Colorado athletic director Rick George. Later, she and George had a dinner meeting at a Los Angeles restaurant, where they bonded over a brussels sprouts salad and several kinds of pasta dishes.
She told Sanders afterward she had a good feeling about what he could accomplish at Colorado. She was encouraged by George’s promise that he would let Sanders be his charismatic self — complete with a film crew tagging along to document his every move.
That’s how they worked out the parameters on a five-year, $29.5 million deal that lured and his coaching/social media team — along with a bunch of transfer-portal stars — to Boulder.
And not just mere stars. Included among the transfers were Sanders’ sons, including CU’s starting quarterback. Which led to his latesr altercation with a doubtful local journalist, one that Deion took particular pride in proving wrong, per FOX Sports:
Sanders also clarified a viral postgame exchange he had with a Colorado local sports reporter where he took swipes at those who doubted the ability of his son, Colorado quarterback Shedeur, who threw for a school-record 510 yards and four touchdowns in his own Buffaloes debut.
“I got receipts,” Sanders said then.
After the reporter posted that she had never questioned Shedeur’s potential herself, Deion Sanders responded and reiterated that he was trying to make a general point, not call her out specifically.
Does this all sound like good TV to you? It should. It’s all being documented by tbe second season of the show SMAC is producing for Prime Video (how’s THAT for brand association?) , COACH PRIME. And it actually has a longer and more tenacious history than that, per Wikipedia:
Coach Prime was originally launched by SMAC Entertainment in 2021 as a six-episode documentary series following Deion Sanders in his first year as head coach of the Jackson State Tigers, airing on Barstool Sports‘ YouTube channel starting on August 29, 2021. A second six-episode season was released on Barstool on March 6, 2022.
Amazon has been justifiably ridiculed both internally and externally for their overspending on numerous scripted gambles. But thanks to Schwartz-Morini’s tenacity and ability to read a room, this one is a far more cost-effective endeavor, as the DENVER NEWS-TRIBUNE reported earlier this year:
Colorado will not be compensated by SMAC Productions, which is co-founded along with SMAC Entertainment by Sanders’ business manager, Constance Schwartz-Morini. Instead, the university feels it will benefit from publicity and other advantages for the Boulder campus. “The exposure of hiring Coach Prime (Sanders) has already paid dividends in the form of record-breaking ticket and merchandise sales, and we are confident the documentary will only increase these ‘Prime Effect’ impacts throughout the university,” Colorado spokesman Steve Hurlbert told USA Today.
And it’s a tenacity that Schwartz-Morini has honed since her own pre-Oswego days, as Graham’s AP story highlighted:
Growing up in Yonkers, New York, Schwartz-Morini was a high school softball player with no real interest in seeing the inside of a frog in biology class. So she brokered a deal: She would join the school’s bowling team that was coached by the science teacher if she could get out of having to take a scalpel to a frog.
I dare say that she’s dissected this opportunity with the precision of an expert technician.
Colorado upset the team that made it all the way to last January’s NCAA football championship game, TCU, on their home field. Visiting a conference they will soon be transferring into permanently. Led by a coach who had brought unparalleled success and recognition to a mediocre HSBC school in a state dominated by two far larger SEC schools (Ole Miss and Misssissippi State). His sons and heirs, one of whom is already an all-time great at a school that was a laughing stock for most of its ill-advised Pac 12 run. And judging by the traffic of the clips that Sanders has generated over this weekend, I suspect FOX Sports’ BIG NOON ratings for this game will likely be the largest of the 86 games that were on some form of television somewhere on Saturday (assuming you’re not a Charter subscriber), and sets up their home opener with Nebraska–and yes, that will be on BIG NOON Saturday this week as well–to break that record. And let’s just say FOX can use all the high ratings from positive content as any media entity.
I’ve long since adjusted my views on Deion since his altercation with McCarver. His story of retribution and dedication is compelling (Oh, by the way, did we mention he’s suffered the loss of a couple of toes and nearly lost one of his legs?)
He may not be running quite as fast as he once did as a kick returner, star secondary player and base-stealing threat. But he’s definitely outrunning his detractors and doubters, and it truly warms my heart that it’s a fellow Laker and game show supporter that’s very much propelling that progress.
So yes, cheer the Sanders family, But don’t forget his champion. We all could use a more positive and Constant(ce) presence in our lives.