At the pivotal moment of his career, Steve (Dream) Weaver wasn't sure if his idea was going to work. A college football team was about to have its plays called by fans in the bleachers. It was a cockamamy scheme, to be sure, but it was Weaver's cockamamy scheme, and he was willing to accept the consequences. "I knew it was either going to be phenomenal, or I was about to become the biggest goon in sports marketing," says Weaver, 42, the director of promotions at Portland State University in Oregon.
The plot was set in motion during Portland State's 1989 season opener at home against Cameron University of Lawton, Okla. Fifteen hundred fans were given flashcards that allowed them to vote for either a run or a pass during the Vikings' second series of downs in the third quarter. The drive began following a fumble recovery on the Cameron 26. The PSU offense jogged onto the field and looked at Al Borges, the offensive coordinator, who in turn was looking at Weaver, who was looking up at Sections 5 and 6, which was where the vast majority of fans were voting for a pass. The Viking quarterback, Darren Del'Andrae, completed the pass to the Cameron 12; a roughing-the-passer penalty brought the ball to the six. The crowd then voted for a run, and Curtis Delgardo swept around left end for a touchdown.
To back up a bit: Of the zillion ideas that Weaver has had, none was more inspired than the decision he made to drop in unannounced at Bill Veeck's office in Comiskey Park in 1975. Weaver was your basic 26-year-old P.T. Barnum-Joe Isuzu hybrid searching for direction, when the White Sox owner introduced him to what Veeck called the Franchise, a small box that occupied a prominent place on his desk. Inside the box were 1,000 three-by five-inch index cards with a Veeck brainstorm scrawled on each one. "Whenever I have an idea, I write it down on one of these cards," Veeck told Weaver, "then 10 'years later I'll be leafing through the box and I'll think, You know, that could work."
Weaver returned home to his part-time consulting job with the St. Louis Stars of the North American Soccer League. Two days later he received a package on which was written Veeck's return address. Inside was a box of 500 blank index cards. Over the next decade, Weaver carried index cards everywhere he went, until he had scribbled on them all.
One evening in the summer of 1985, Weaver was sitting on the back porch of the house he rented with his buddy, Pokey Allen. Allen, the defensive coordinator of the USFL's Portland Breakers, and Weaver, the Breakers' marketing director, were having a few beers and wondering about the fate of their newly defunct team. It was during that conversation that Weaver told his friend about what he called his Bill Veeck box and about an idea he had dreamed up that he called Run or Pass. Allen chuckled and promised, "If I ever have a team, I'll let you do that," thinking, Of course I'll never have a team; I'll never have to do that.
Allen accepted the coaching job at Portland State in 1986, and two years later, in his role as interim athletic director, he called Weaver to offer him a fundraising job at the school. A year later Weaver was in promotion, implementing his idea of having the crowd choose certain plays from the bleachers.
Weaver's idea was tried in 1989 and it was an instant smash. (It was tried again during this year's season opener, a game PSU won 30-0.) Buoyed by the success of the Run or Pass, Weaver started a promotion in which the Vikings, during home games, would run a play designed by a fan. The amateur offensive coordinator would earn $10 for every yard gained on the play and double that amount if it resulted in a touchdown. A guy from Vancouver won $1,680 for his version of the playground pump-and-go.
Weaver has since come up with a tailgate party for kids and an annual Mascot Night, when Twinkie the Kid, the Michelin Man, Mr. Peanut and a 6'6" pickle named Sergeant Pucker get together to talk shop with PSU's spokesthing Victor E. Viking (say it fast).
This season Weaver also turned to the Vikings' poor showing in coin tosses. He ran an ad in The Oregonian, the local paper, and received 186 votes for the road opener this year against Sacramento State. Tails won by two votes. Darned if the coin didn't come up heads.
No matter. Weaver's imagination has been praised by everyone, except, perhaps, Allen. For this year's season-ticket promotion, "The Greatest Show on Turf," Allen had to ride an elephant in Civic Stadium, which was a nice idea except that the only things Allen hates more than fans calling his plays are animals and heights. And probably Steve Weaver's next idea.