When I awoke Wednesday morning, the sun was cresting over the horizon, the birds were singing and everything was . . .
Oh, wait. Sorry. This column was supposed to focus on just the fax, ma’am.
For much of the year — let’s say 364 days — the fax machine sits idle, quietly minding its business collecting dust. In an age of instant everything, its function of transmitting a paper document over a phone line feels so quaint.
Then, the first Wednesday in February arrives, and the fax machine whirs to life, its moment of glory restored.
On that national holiday known as National Signing Day, there is no more important piece of office equipment around than the fax machine. When high school football players slide their ballpoints across a national letter of intent, the process isn’t really complete. Those letters are subsequently faxed to college football programs all over the country to seal the deal. Until that point, the two parties — kid and college — were merely engaged. Signing Day is the wedding day, and the fax machine is the ring.
Think about how crazy that sounds. A plethora of faster, more advanced technology exists nowadays. Why not sign the letter, scan it, then email it as an attachment? Why not take a photo of it with your tablet? Surely someday in the future recruits will be making their pledges official via text message:
“J.J. Bluechip + Bama = Smiley Face Emoticon.”
There is no cultural equivalent to the fax machine’s significance to Signing Day. It’d be like NASCAR drivers climbing into chariots to race in the Daytona 500, or Americans gathering on their front porches to watch the Super Bowl . . . by smoke signal.
“It’s fun to see those faxes come across,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Is it a little outdated? Probably. I think that’s the only time our fax machine is used the entire year.”
Obviously, with technology that isn’t used as much anymore, things can sometimes get a little dicey. A paper jam on National Signing Day is the desktop equivalent of the starting running back tearing his ACL on the field. Much less the dreaded busy signal.
“We did have some issues this morning because it’s a phone line,” Briles said. “If it’s busy, it’s busy. So they have to try again and again and again. So there was a little bit of a logjam for a few minutes.”
Even technology breaks
It’s not like outdated devices own the monopoly on breaking down, anyway. Everyone’s smartphone does something extremely dumb from time to time. And get this — Rivals.com, a well-respected website that devotes most of its time and energy to college football recruiting, actually crashed for a while Wednesday morning, its servers apparently unable to handle the strain. Yes, that’s right. Rivals, down, on National Signing Day. That’d be like the IRS computers crashing on April 15th.
Believe it or not, the fax machine is still light-years ahead of what college football coaches endured in decades gone by. I chatted with former Baylor coach Grant Teaff on Wednesday, and he remembered a time when his assistant coaches promised recruits that the head coach would be in attendance for their signings. (Back when NCAA rules allowed for such a thing).
So on Signing Day, Teaff would arise before dawn and hop on a plane, then flit around to various mapped-out stops all over the state, all day long.
“We’d fly into San Antonio, to that private hangar there, and there’d be five other jets from various other Southwest Conference schools,” Teaff said. “We’d all be coming out the same terminal. I’d say, ‘Hey, Emory (Bellard), how are you?’ as we left and spread out around the city to sign our kids.”
Wow. Almost makes the fax machine seem state-of-the-art, doesn’t it?
Yeah, you’re right. Almost. Trust me, your IT guy doesn’t even know how to fix a broken fax machine. I mean, you wouldn’t take a Model-T down to your local mechanic at the Make-or-Brake, would you?
Nevertheless, for one winter’s day each year, the fax machine gets its moment in the spotlight.
Quite literally at Baylor. For its Signing Day coverage Wednesday, BaylorBears.com had John Morris interview Briles about the latest recruits as their letters rolled in. But during breaks in the action, the camera cut away to a live video feed of — yes, you guessed it — the fax machine.
And people watched. Intently. With baited breath, even.
“I was right there with them,” Briles said. “I think that’s what you want. If there’s an interest, you fulfill it.”
Only one burning question remains. Who knows, maybe some Norwegian electronic dance troupe will come along and answer it.
What does the fax say?