If you’d asked me in 2011 what I liked best about football, baseball, mixed martial arts, soccer or lacrosse, I’d have said, “They all have the potential to get my husband out of the house for a few hours.” Compare that to 2017 where I can now spout off players’ names, positions and stats, and you’ll understand how drastically my life has changed. Is this six-year, 180-degree turnaround the result of suddenly developing a late-in-life appreciation for the intricacies of the pass rush or the mechanics of a perfect punt? No, I’m afraid it comes down to one simple thing – I love big badass guys who turn into total cream puffs when it comes to kittens, puppies, cats and dogs.
And nowhere is that more evident than in the weeks, months and hours leading up to our annual event Pawject Runway. For those who have never attended, Pawject Runway is our biggest fundraiser of the year featuring our Softies “modeling” adoptable cats and dogs from BARCS. I affectionately (and privately) refer to it as the no rehearsal, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fashion show – a night that’s rife with spontaneity, laughs and the crème de la crème of Softies.
Which takes me back to my newfound love affair with sports. We’re talking about guys who usually get paid to appear at events, but when it comes to Pawject Runway, they not only come pro bono, many of them travel on their own dime to get here.
This year, I’ll admit I was a bit worried as we ventured into “free agency” a few months out from the event. Torrey Smith, somehow, always manages to make it (including the year he had to take a red eye from San Francisco to get here in time), but what if we lost some of our Softies to other teams? Would we lose them for this year’s event, as well? I quickly set up Google Alerts on all my favorites, but it didn’t take long for the answers to start coming in.
In spite of Lawrence Guy being snapped up by the New England Patriots a few days after hitting the market, he immediately said, “Count me in.” Things were still up in the air for Ryan Jensen but he replied, “No matter what team I go with, we’ll be there.” And therein lies the reason why I have become a trash-talking, jersey-wearing, scream-at-the-TV sports fan.
While most normal fans follow a specific team, I cheer for any team that has Softies on its roster, and that list keeps growing.
This past year, Baltimore lost its star catcher, Matt Wieters, to the Washington Nationals. Matt and his wife, Maria, have supported us since day one. This year would be no exception – once again, they’d sponsor the event and Maria would join us on the runway.
Soon after, we got word that actress/comedian Rebecca Corry would be joining us from L.A., Singer/Songwriter Dan Tillery from Detroit and wide receiver, Rasheed Bailey from Philly. Suddenly our hard and fast rule of having “no more than 30 models” had jumped to 37 and still climbing.
A good problem to have although the new fear was, would we have enough four-legged models to go around? That might seem like a strange concern considering the number of animals taken in by BARCS on a daily and weekly basis, but unlike a typical adoption event, this one comes complete with huge crowds, a lot of noise, commotion and festivities. We can’t risk putting any animal in that situation without first knowing how they’ll respond. For that reason, the majority of our four-legged models come from foster situations where they’ve been assessed and had some time to chill from the shelter life.
Our Softies, on the other hand, have had no time to chill. They come straight from training camp and/or appearances and go straight to work. In fact, when it comes time to get the models back stage – the easiest way to round them up is to follow the purrs and wagging tails. “Where’s Alex Lewis and Carl Davis?” “I saw them in the cuddle corner with the puppies.” “Anybody seen Ronnie Stanley?” “Yep, he’s taking Pig Pen for a walk.” “How about Bronson Kaufusi?” “He’s back there with the kitties.”
After five years of doing this, if there’s one thing we’ve learned, is that it’s easier to escort the animals backstage first because wherever they are, the Softies are sure to follow. And this year was no exception, although we did put an additional draw in place. Virgil Ocampo, animal photographer extraordinaire, set up the Pawject Runway version of the “Vanity Fair Academy Award” photo op. While our models were meeting their partners and waiting for their stage call, many sat for their portraits, as did the volunteers and foster families who had accompanied them.
With so much going on backstage, it’s easy to forget – oh yeah, we’ve got a show to put on. And this would be a good time to repeat, an unrehearsed show where anything goes.
In years past, we’ve had Softies who sashayed on stage holding kittens while wearing angel wings and a speedo. We’ve had our littlest Softie, TJ Smith, whip it nay nay down the runway and a Jaguars’ player pull off the running man while holding a 30-pound pup.
This year, I knew in advance about one surprise of the night. Torrey and Chanel Smith had decided to cover all the adoption fees in order to encourage more people to open their hearts and their homes. We’d had a running text conversation over whether they should announce it that night or just do it quietly. I was firmly in the “announce” camp because I truly believed people needed to know, but Torrey was hesitant. Anybody who’s worked with Torrey and Chanel can tell you, they’re not grandstanders and when they give they want it to be about the cause, not them.
So would he or wouldn’t he?
I was still lobbying as Torrey, TJ and Torrey’s young nephew lined up to go on stage. Ms. OCD here thought everything was planned and sorted. The DJ would play Bruno Mars 24k Magic and TJ would launch into dance. Instead he put one three-year old foot on stage, broke out in tears and ran back down the steps. While this year’s audience missed out on our dancing machine finale, I hit Lotto since our littlest Softie wrapped his arms around my neck and buried his face in my chest.
To be perfectly honest it wasn’t until a few days later that I even heard Torrey’s speech, compliments of a cell phone video. In the end, he did announce their gift, but then couldn’t understand why it garnered so much press attention. He was actually embarrassed when it made national news. Which brings me back full circle to my newfound love of football, baseball, soccer, MMA, wrestling and lacrosse. For me, it isn’t about any one team winning or losing, it’s about an incredible group of bad ass guys who turn into cream puffs for animals.
Truly, can you think of anything better to jump up and down and cheer for?