A few weeks ago I ran an entry about Pitt’s blackout hoops uniforms, which included some observations from Rich Friedman, who’s one of the guys who mops the court at Miami Hurricanes games (that’s him on the left in both of the accompanying photos; for the close-up photo, you can click to enlarge). At the end of the entry, I wrote, “I bet Rich has a lot of good stories to tell. I’ve asked him if he’d like to share some of them — “Tales of the Mop Guy,” or something like that. He said he’d be happy to talk, so I’ll be following up with him when both of our schedules allow. Stay tuned.”
I ended up doing an email interview with Rich, and it turned out spectacularly well. Trust me, you’re gonna like this one. Here we go:
Uni Watch: How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living when you’re not on mop duty at Miami games?
Rich Friedman: I’m 58 and live in Fort Lauderdale. It’s about a 50-minute drive to the campus in Coral Gables from my office. I am the Director of Account Management for a marketing company.
UW: How and when did you get the mop gig?
RF: The short answer: We asked.
I’ve been a ’Canes fan since I moved to Florida in 1989. My friend Jeff Sorkin [who’s the other guy in the two top photos — PL] and I have had season tickets for football for about 10 years now, and our game-day group is up to nine seats. We added basketball tickets about five or six years ago, both as something to do to help bridge the gap until football starts again and to support the school. That’s a lot of games to go to, so you take in more than just the game after a while, and we noticed the mop guys and thought, number one, what a great thing to do — you’re right on top of the action. And number two, we could do that. We kind of mentally filed it away.
This season, around Thanksgiving, the Hurricanes were playing in one of those Holiday Invitational Classics at the American Airlines Arena. It was the fourth game of a fourpleheader, not very many people were at the game, and they allowed everyone to move down. We were in the second row behind the basket, and the only other people in our row were Blake James (Miami’s Athletic Director) and what looked like his family. I had nothing to lose, and it’s kind of his job to talk to middle-aged men, so I went over and introduced myself. From there it went something like this:
Blake James: What can I do for you, Rich?
Me: Well, my friend Jeff and I… we have had a fistful of football tickets for years and the two of us go to all the basketball games… and we would like to be the mop guys for a game.
Him: The mop guys?
Me: Yeah, the mop guys (I pointed to the one on the court in front of us). We think we could do it, it would be a lot of fun, and we would have the best seats.
Him (still trying to wrap his head around it): You want to be the mop guys?
I figured anything I could say after that would not help, so I waited. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head. Finally, he said, “Send me an email. I will see what I can do.”
I sent the email the next day, and about two weeks later I received a message from Michael Turner, Assistant AD, Events and Operations. He explained that he was the Manager of Basketball Game Day Operations, and that we could help them out with this.
We spoke on the phone a few days later. He gave me a rundown of the job and the uniform requirements, and we set up our first game for Dec. 29. He then added the words that still make me tingle: “Meet me at the loading dock an hour before the game. I will have your credentials.”
UW: My impression, which I realize may be mistaken, is that mop guys are usually pretty young — like, student managers or something like that. Is it unusual for a mop guy to be, for lack of a better term, a grown-up?
RF: I think you’re right. It seems like it’s usually college kids at the games I’ve seen on TV. When I visited my niece in New Mexico this winter, we went to a Lobos game, and they had actual kids doing the mopping. The one game I missed this season, one of the student managers did the mopping. According to Mike Turner, they have a list of student volunteers to do some of the game day jobs like mopping and being the grip for the camera guys and such. They do it to be close to the game. The student section seats are pretty good, but it’s nothing like being right on the court.
UW: How many mop guys work at each game? Like, is it one person at each end of the court, or two people at each end, or what? Do you switch ends after halftime? Do you work every home game, or just some games?
RF: Two mop guys per game; one under each basket. Jeff works the basket at the visitors’ end of the court and I work the Hurricanes’ side. I asked if he wanted to switch after the first game, but he liked getting to see all the visiting teams up close, so we kept our own end for the rest of the season.
After our first game, we thanked Mike and asked if we could do it again. After game two, we told him, “We want to do this for the rest of our lives.” He was kind of incredulous that anyone would want to do it, but he said sure, it was one less thing for him to worry about. So instead of him having to use student volunteers, we did the rest of the season, which included the entire ACC home schedule.
UW: Are there any mop women?
RF: I don’t know. Some of the grips are female, so I don’t see why there couldn’t be mop gals.
UW: Are you paid by the game? By the hour? How much?
RF: Ha! We would pay for the privilege. I assume NBA mop guys get paid, but I can’t imagine any school having a mop guy line item in their budget.
UW: What sort of uniform do you have to wear? Do you have to pay for it? Do you clean/launder it, or does the team do that? What about footwear — is it provided for you or do you have to purchase it?
RF: Mike explained that we have to wear Adidas-branded shirts for all on-court activities. Most of the things in my closet have “U” on them, but very few had the three stripes. He offered to set us up with a couple of T-shirts, but we were so excited before our first game we went out and bought these nice, black, button-down shirts. Our caps and footwear are not made by Adidas, and we heard nothing about it. I don’t wear any hats that have a different maker’s mark, just to be safe. The male cheerleaders had some really nice Adidas sneakers that I haven’t seen for sale anywhere; I think I will ask for a pair next season. We wash our shirts at home. For pants, we can wear either long or short khakis.
UW: Describe a typical game day for me. Like, how early do you have to show up? Do you put your uniform on at home, or do you do it at the arena? How late do you have to stay after the game? What do you do during halftime? What duties do you have, if any, other than mopping?
RF: Jeff meets me at my office for weeknight games. We change there and get to the arena one hour before the game. We enter through the employee entrance, greet all the ushers at courtside (they have the same sections every game), we get a towel from the ’Canes bench, we make sure we each have a seat by the basket set up and that the mop is there (we have no idea who puts them out), and we get to watch warmups.
During halftime, we do a quick bathroom break, grab a bottle of water, and talk about the game. Specifically, we usually talk about the really cool things we got to see up close — dunks, slick moves, whatever. One game, we went up to our regular seats and visited with the guys in our section. After the game, our work is done. We stay to watch the ’Canes sing the Alma Mater and just take in the whole thing.
UW: Who’s your boss, and how closely does he supervise you?
RF: Mike Turner. He mostly leaves us alone unless something specific comes to his attention. Virginia Tech, for example, brings portable seats out to the floor during the TV timeouts. The players were sitting and drinking from cups, spilling some on the court. They don’t get up until the buzzer sounds, and that’s our cue to get off the court. It turned out that water got spilled and play started with a wet court. Mike got Jeff out onto the floor to clean it up and got the Hokies to use the covered squeeze bottles. Jeff likened it to “cleaning up after a tailgate party.”
Mike pretty much has bigger fish to fry during the game, so it’s our goal to be as invisible to him as possible.
UW: This is going to sound dumb, but how do you know when you have to mop? Like, do you look for sweat on the floor, or what? Is it totally your decision when to mop, or do the officials tell you to do it?
RF: Yes to all of the above. During TV timeouts (every four minutes), we do routine maintenance of the key area and inside the three-point circle. One timeout per half, I try to make it to center court to wipe that area down.
Every time a player falls, I am up and giving the floor some attention. It’s a little stressful when the game is going on over on the other end of the court, but so far no incidents. If someone goes down and there is either an inbound or free throws coming, I just get on the court and mop. The players and refs are good about holding up the game for a minute; nobody wants to get hurt.
A couple of times during the season, the refs would wave us out to a spot, or we would see the players kicking at spot. I take it as a professional affront when that happens and try to keep it to a minimum. Also, sometimes you can hear more shoe squeaking than usual. If I can figure out where that is coming from, I will hit that area during a time out.
UW: Is there an art or special technique to mopping, or is it pretty basic? Is every swipe the same, or do you use different swipes/strokes/etc. for different situations?
RF: It’s pretty basic. If there’s actual drops of sweat, I will mop a little more vigorously. And if it is real wet, I will get a towel and get on my knees and go old-school.
UW: Is it possible for you to estimate how many mopping incidents you participate in during a typical game, or how many individual swipes/strokes?
RF: Guessing swipes and/or strokes would be difficult. The timeout maintenance is more of one steady brush — think of a Zamboni on wood. There are ten TV timeouts per game, plus I would estimate another 10-15 incidents where the floor will need attention.
UW: Do you ever get sore?
RF: Not shockingly, the mopping muscles are different that the ones you use for sitting at a desk and reading emails. The morning after my first two games, I woke up a little sore. Now, I just take ibuprofen before I go to sleep and I’m fine the next day
UW: I assume the mop head gets swapped out from time to time. How long will a typical mop head last? Will a dirty one get cleaned, or are they just discarded?
RF: The “mop” is a microfiber cover on a long mop head. When we show up, the mop is already there, so I’m not sure of the mop maintenance schedule.
One night, the women played a game before the men. By the middle of the second half, it wasn’t nearly as absorbent, so I went to a towel. I am guessing that the mop head is well-equipped to handle a full game. We were told that there are spare mops (probably just spare microfiber covers) available if the situation requires it.
UW: When you’re not mopping, are you sitting, standing, or what?
RF: When we’re not mopping, we have the best seat in the house. I am right alongside the basket stanchion, about five feet from the baseline. I am on the side with the in-house cameraman and the grip. On the other side of the basket is the TV guy and his grip. A couple of feet behind us are the black, VIP seats; behind them, the cheerleading squad.
So my view of the game is something like this:
It’s a perfect spot for watching under-the-basket activity. And when the action’s at the other end of the court, watching the plays develop is totally different than the view from the stands.
UW: Do you ever talk to the players? To the refs? To the fans?
RF: We were specifically told not to interact with the players, and I haven’t had much to do with the fans.
I usually talk to the refs who are hanging out at my end of the court during the first TV timeout, just to say hello. During the game, if I see them looking at a spot on the court not in front of me, I will get up holding the mop where they can see it, catch their eye, and we have a quick head-nod discussion to see if they think that spot needs attention.
During one timeout, I asked the ref how many games did he do a year. He said he officiated around 50. I asked him if the 46th game was as much fun as the sixth, and he replied, “I hate the travel, but the two hours on the court make the whole thing worth it.”
UW: Do you hear things that the average fan doesn’t get to hear? Any good examples?
RF: Oh my god, yes. There’s non-stop discussion going on while the players are lining up and taking foul shots. There’s a ton of trash talk, but there’s also a lot of discussion between the players and refs as to why the just-called foul was indeed a foul. This isn’t the regular grumbling about a bad call — the refs are giving the players both verbal and physical feedback. That’s great to watch.
Of course, there is also grumbling. One time, as the players were lining up for foul shots, the ref who was running the shots said to one of the players, “I don’t know what you are complaining about… you were all over him. Two shots!” I may have been the only non-competitor who heard him say that.
Also, it’s fun to watch the players set up defenses after a basket. Dejan Vasiljevic was extremely involved in that: “You get number 10; I’ve got this guy.” Just like in the park when we were kids.
Last, watching Jim Larranaga work is a real treat. The guy never stops coaching. One time, the ’Canes were on offense on the far end of the court (I mop on the home team side of the arena), and something went wrong, ending in a turnover. Coach Larranaga turns to the players on the bench, and says, “See… That’s what happens when you do that!” I’m sure all of the coaches do that to some extent, but watching him all season turned into a happy bonus of the mopping gig.
UW: Any particularly good stories/anecdotes about things that happened while you were on the job?
RF: One game, Chris Lykes took a charge and wound up flat on his back. He’s running around directing the offense virtually the entire game (the Hurricanes only had eight scholarship players this year), so he works up quite a sweat by the end of the second half. I came out to wipe down whatever was there, and there was a perfect imprint of his NOB and uniform number on the green paint of the key. Absolutely perfect. I wanted soooo much to take a picture of it and send it in to you for the blog; it killed me to wipe it into oblivion lol.
UW: Anything to add? Anything I haven’t asked about that you want to tell me?
The response I get to the mopping gig from people is either “You get to mop? How cool!” or “You have to mop? Why?” There’s no middle ground. I think Mike Turner and Blake James still believe we’re crazy for wanting to do this, but they have been supportive and super-nice the entire season. Mr. James sent me an email and stopped by at halftime one game to thank us. My mother is sure that I’m nuts, but she understands that it makes me happy, so she watches the games on TV and looks for me. What I would give to be a fly on the wall when she explains this to the other women at her assisted-living facility!
For a lifelong sports fan, this is the best thing ever. We get to be part of the game, we get to see and hear stuff we would never be exposed to otherwise, we have arguably the best seats in the house, I was on SportsCenter one time that I know of, and we’re kind of the envy of all of our friends who like sports. I get the impression that the people who are in the “sports industry” often take the access they have for granted; that’s not the case for us, and I don’t think it ever will be.
Paul here. Please join me in thanking Rich for answering all my questions so thoroughly and entertainingly. That was a really good interview!
As an aside: For years I’ve insisted on doing phone or in-person interviews and mostly avoided doing email interviews, because with email you don’t have the same conversational flow, you can’t go off on tangents, and so on. The down side of phone or in-person interviews, of course, is that you have to transcribe them — a tedious and time-consuming process. (Yes, I know there’s transcription software out there, but I’ve haven’t found it to be very good, and good luck finding software that knows how to transcribe words like “squatchee” or even “uni.”)
So lately I’ve given in and done a few email interviews — first with armband collector Harrison Hall and now with the Mop Guy. I tried to sequence my questions in a way that would create some sense of narrative flow, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well these interviews have turned out. Hope you agree!
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MLB Preview reminder: In case you missed it on Tuesday, my 21st annual Uni Watch MLB Season Preview is now available on SI.com. Thanks to everyone who had kind words to say about it yesterday.
For those who are asking/wondering: No, this does not mean that SI has replaced ESPN as my new very-tall-building-media home. It’s just a one-off, at least for now.
NFL-o-rama: Lots of NFL uni news, or at least news about impending news, came out yesterday. One at a time:
• The Titans announced that they plan to enlarge the numerals on their light-blue jerseys next season, because owner Amy Adams Strunk thinks they were too hard to read.
• Dolphins beat reporter Joe Schad says the team will have an alternate jersey in 2019.
• Bears chairman George McCaskey says the team will have some sort of uni-related announcement relating to the team’s 100th anniversary — so probably a new throwback — next week.
• Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the one-shell rule in 2017, is apparently going to make another run at it, although his timetable is to get the rule changed for 2020, not 2019.
• The Browns re-confirmed that they’ll have new uniforms in 2020. This prompted a bunch of idiots on social media to say, “It’s because they got OBJ,” even though the reality is that we’ve already known for a long time that the Browns would have new unis in 2020, but why let reality get in the way of a good narrative, right?
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Raffle reminder: We’re once again partnering with Vintage Brand for a raffle. The winner will get to choose any single item from the Vintage Brand website (like the nifty coasters shown above, which are based on a ticket stub from the first game in Mariners history).
To enter, send an email to the raffle address by tomorrow, March 28, 7pm Eastern. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.
ALMOST GONE — sock update: Honestly, I never would have guessed that these Uni Watch socks would be so popular. We started a week ago with a carton of 100 pairs, and now we have fewer than 10 left. So if you want a pair for yourself, move fast! Full details on how to order can be found here. Thanks.
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Tequila sunrise reminder: In case you missed it on Monday, we have a new version of the sublimated Uni Watch Tequila Sunrise T-Shirt — a big improvement over the version we originally offered as part of the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club in 2015. Here’s the rear view, along with a look at how the front and back stripes align:
I’m really happy with this one, and I’m excited to have it in the Uni Watch shop. Sublimation is a pricey process, so the shirt ain’t cheap — $35.99 — but I think it’s pretty special. You can order it here.
By Lloyd Alaban
Baseball News: Check out the stirrups on these New York Giants and Cubs players from 1936. The caption on the photo reads, “Rookie Limbs — Many of the owners of these feet may never trod a major league basepath. They belong to rookies of the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs watching a spring training game between the teams at Dothan, Alabama” (from @BSmile). … Also from @BSmile: Here’s a photo of Dodgers C Steve Yeager and former skipper Walter Alston wearing “Old Timers” jerseys at spring training in 1976. … Twins LF Eddie Rosario had these custom cleats made for him (from Ted Schwerz). … Looks like the developers of video game MLB The Show 19 can’t spell “Cincinnati” (from @Coach_KT). … In a related item, it looks the Mets can’t spell “occasion” (from multiple readers). … Throwbacks for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Double-A affiliate of the Twins (from Brian Donahue). … Astros OF George Springer wore a throwback NFL Houston Oilers hoodie when he spoke to the media yesterday (from Clark Haptonstall). … Fashion brand DKNY and MLB are partnering up for a women’s clothing line (from Jason Hillyer). … In the 1920s, the Government Publishing Office fielded two baseball teams due to segregation. Here’s what they looked like (from @VictoryCB). … Here’s what Rangers fans will be eating at the ballpark this season (from Jim Vilk). … The Rays have installed blue LED lighting on the roof of Tropicana Field to help fielders avoid losing the ball in the lights (from Jeremy Fallis). … There’s a new (and loud) multi-colored cap at the Pirates team store (from Jared Grubbs). … Here are some MLB helmet banks (from Joe, who didn’t give his last name). … Brandiose, not content to redesign every minor league team, has now partnered with the Charleston RiverDogs to create Bellyitcher Ale (from multiple readers). … UCA and Mississippi State softball both wore teal to honor Mississippi State P Alex Wilcox, who died last year of ovarian cancer (from Brad Teague). … Very nice throwbacks yesterday for Oklahoma State (from Glenn Brockenbush).
Football News: Cross-listed from the baseball section: Houston Astros OF George Springer wore a throwback Houston Oilers hoodie when he spoke to the media yesterday (from Clark Haptonstall). … Here’s what Florida players are wearing for Pro Day today (from Moe Khan). … Check out this “glorious” program from a Nebraska-Notre Dame game in 1923 (from James Burke). … Here are two guys assessing the uniforms of the AFC South (from Jerry Wolper).
Hockey News: Here’s a full view of the superhero jersey for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack (from Mike Lucia). … An Aussie football team has poached the Coyotes’ logo (from Brian Barrish). … The Minot Minotauros of the NAHL will be taking the ice this weekend in jerseys inspired by the race cars of the Nodak Speedway. Each player’s jersey will be different and reflect the livery of one of the participating race cars (from Ken Oda). … New unis next season for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL.
Basketball News: Not even the Spurs’ announcement of Manu Ginobili’s number retirement is safe from “Presented by” advertising” … Lots of uni and logo action on this 1987-88 NBA official merchandise catalog (from @GameplanChicago). … Rapper Travis Scott has a Rockets-throwback-inspired jersey made by Mitchell & Ness (from Ignacio Salazar). … This sportswriter ranked all of the SEC men’s jerseys (from Brian Mauro). … A funny play on the Jumpman brand in this week’s New Yorker. … In a related item, Jacobus Rentmeester, who is credited to have taken the picture which inspired the Air Jordan logo, lost his copyright infringement case against Nike (from Tom Turner).
Soccer News: New crest for Bristol City. It will be used at the start of next season (from Josh Hinton).
Grab Bag: Denver men’s lacrosse went BFBS last night against Princeton to honor the black uniforms that the 1992 Princeton team wore when head coach Bill Tierney won the first of six NCAA championships (from Griffin T. Smith). … A West Virginia man protested getting his state’s new biometric driver’s license by wearing Native American head garb (from Max Weintraub). … Here’s a 58-team uniform bracket for the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (from Taylor, who didn’t give his last name). … The first all-female space walk was canceled because NASA didn’t have two suits that fit (NYT link) (from Mark Johnson). … New logo for the State of Colorado (from Ryan Hess). … Cross-listed from the hockey section: An Aussie football team has poached the logo of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
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What Paul did last night: On Tuesday nights I often go to see a lecture series about comics and illustration at the Parsons School of Design. Last night the featured speaker was the great Bill Griffith, author of the long-running absurdist comic strip Zippy the Pinhead.
Griffith has a new book out, so he was signing copies of it after his presentation. But I had brought along a different book for him to sign: Taking Things Seriously, a really nice little 2007 book featuring 75 short essays about 75 deceptively simple objects of personal significance, each by a different writer. One of those writers was Griffith; another was me. Back when I wrote my part of the book, I didn’t know who the other contributors were going to be, and when I got my copy of the book after it had been published and saw who the other writers were, I actually said — out loud — “Holy fuck, I can’t believe I get to be in a book with Bill Griffith!” (The other contributors include lots of other very talented people who I admire, including Tony Millionaire, Rex Doane, Megan Cash, Thomas Frank, and lots of others. But Griffith was the one I was star-struck over.)
Anyway: I brought my copy of Taking Things Seriously to last night’s event, brought it up to Griffith at the end of the evening, explained that I was a fellow contributor, and asked if he’d sign his page. He happily obliged (click to enlarge):
That was swell. But frankly, what I did yesterday afternoon was even better than what I did last night. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow or Friday.