Editor Evan Smith talks about watching the Rose Bowl, text-messaging University of Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds, and putting Vince Young on the cover.
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texasmonthly.com: Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns won the Rose Bowl on January 4, a week before the February issue had to go to press. Surely you already had another cover image in the works. What was it and when did you decide to make the change?
Evan Smith: We had planned on putting Tommy Lee Jones on the cover—he was photographed twice, by the amazing Kurt Markus in his first TEXAS MONTHLY assignment ever. And we had mocked up a cover with one particular shot of TLJ. We were all set to go with it. And then the Rose Bowl happened. The idea of the Longhorns winning the national championship didn’t seem plausible until they went up 16–7. At that point, I text-messaged our creative director, Scott Dadich, to see if he agreed that we’d have to at least consider making a change if UT pulled the upset (at which my wife smacked me for jinxing a win). He was as enthusiastic about it as I was, even though, as late as we were in the production cycle, we knew it would be a major hassle. When the game ended, we spent a long time on the phone brainstorming—about what to do, and when, and how. It was all very heady, and, in retrospect, now that I’ve recovered some lost sleep and have my sense of humor back, really a lot of fun.
texasmonthly.com: Once you made your decision, then what was your next move? Can you walk us through from the idea to the execution?
ES: Initially, the issue boiled down to: Can we shoot Vince Young for the cover? I did everything I could to reach the UT folks after the game, realizing that it was an exercise in futility but knowing that I had to make the effort nonetheless. I e-mailed Bill Little, who handles all media requests for the football coach; John Bianco, the assistant athletics director for media relations; and DeLoss Dodds, the athletics director. I also e-mailed Mark Yudof, the chancellor of the UT System, to see if he knew where the athletic department folks were staying—I thought a phone message at their hotel room might reach them (eventually) more quickly than an e-mail would. And I text-messaged James Huffines, the chair of the UT Board of Regents, for the same reason. If all this smacks of desperation, well, I agree. The point was to get a request in the pipeline—whatever it took.
At about two in the morning, I got an e-mail back from Bianco saying, in effect, don’t send a photographer to California—which we were prepared to do—because the team was coming back to Austin the next day. What he didn’t say was: You can shoot him back in Austin. And, in fact, Vince didn’t come back that day, because he agreed to be a guest on Jay Leno’s show. Yet another person from the athletic department, Nick Voinis, the senior associate athletics director for communications—an old pal of mine from when he worked in politics—called me from the team bus on the way to the airport to talk about our request, but it was clear that it was going to be hard to pull off. At that point, the clock was ticking, and we had to make a decision.
Fortunately, we discovered we had a bird in the hand. We had shot Vince last year, at the same time we shot Mack Brown for what would become our September cover. It took us a while to get the film from Platon, the photographer who did the shoot, but when we saw it, we were thrilled by several of the frames, including one that ultimately became our cover. It’s a great, great photo of Vince—one that no other publication will have, not even remotely. And it absolutely, positively looks like a TEXAS MONTHLY cover.
texasmonthly.com: Has Texas Monthly ever changed its cover image in the middle of the production cycle? When and why?
ES: Not in the fourteen years since I started working here. And I hope it’s another fourteen years before we do it again. Too much stress, you know? If I wanted to work for a daily or a weekly, I would. I much prefer the sort of leisurely, feed-me-bonbons-and-fan-me-with-palm-leaves schedule of a monthly.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of making the cover change?
ES: Getting the photo. Once we had it in hand, it was relatively easy. The cover lines suggested themselves pretty quickly.
texasmonthly.com: How long did it take you to think of the cover lines?
ES: Maybe a minute. John Spong, one of our associate editors, may have been the first of many people to propose a variation on “the best.” The decision not to have Vince’s name in big type on the cover was Scott Dadich’s. Creative directors hate words. They love clean designs. But he was right in this case—who doesn’t recognize Vince Young at this point?
texasmonthly.com: Do you think this will be a collector’s item?
ES: Your lips to God’s ear.
texasmonthly.com: Any chance Vince Young will not be going to the NFL next year?
ES: By the time anyone reads this, we’ll know. But from this vantage point—I’m writing this on January 8—I’d be shocked if he returned to Austin. Would you? His value is as high as it’s ever going to be, whereas if he comes back and busts his knee during the Oklahoma State game, he’s damaged goods. In the words of the great sports analyst Steve Miller: Go on, take the money and run.
texasmonthly.com: Are sports covers big sellers for the magazine?
ES: Historically, no, even though Texas is such a big sports state. The main reason—it’s what we assume, anyway—is that half of our readers are female, and many more women don’t care about sports than do. If you figure that some men don’t care about sports either, you’re essentially eliminating half of your potential newsstand audience by putting sports on the cover. I think it really depends. Football is much more likely to sell than any other sport, and the sports covers that have sold well on my watch—Aikman, Staubach, and Chris Simms; and Mack Brown, to name two—were football. Whereas over the years basketball (Hakeem Olajuwon), baseball (Nolan Ryan), and boxing (George Foreman) have sold very poorly. I suppose the right cover from a sport other than football would work, but I can’t think of one I’d like to do—I’m fairly certain, for instance, that Bob Knight wouldn’t sell, and neither would Roger Clemens. Even if the Astros hadn’t been defenestrated in the World Series, I bet they wouldn’t have sold either.
texasmonthly.com: Did you make the right decision?
ES: We’ll see. But I can’t believe it was the wrong decision. Worst case, we sell as many Vince covers as we would have sold Tommy Lee covers. Best case, we sell many, many, many more Vince covers, and the additional circulation revenue is so great that we gold-plate the fixtures in the men’s room. Honestly, if we don’t sell more Vince covers, I’ll eat the photo of Tommy Lee with a nice Chianti.