Promotions whiz Michael Grazzo was fired by the Indiana Pacers on this week when he couldn't come up with another cheesy gimmick to fill the final 30 seconds of down-time during the Pacers-Boston Celtics game at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"I'm fresh out of stupid ideas," Grazzo said as he cleaned his office of bobbleheads, foam fingers and assorted made-in-China trinkets, all plastered with the Pacers logo. "Actually, I thought the game itself was pretty exciting. There was a time when that was enough."
Grazzo has used crowd-pleasing gymnasts, tumblers and freaks of every ilk during timeouts, and dreams up contests involving kid dribblers, free-throw shooting and half-court shots. He's hired a guy in gorilla suit to dunk a basketball. He hauls out the Pacers' dance team and cheerleaders at every opportunity to keep fans' eyes bulging, and conducts look-alike contests, such as Dress Like Your Favorite Overpaid Underachieving Gangsta Pacer.
The overhead message board dazzles with Disney-like animation while a light show, pyrotechnics and loud, thumping music keeps kids jazzed and senior citizens on a edge of a heart attack for four quarters.
Grazzo made his bones in the business when he invented the Food Shooter, a gun that launches hot dogs, hamburgers and candy into the arena's upper deck.
"People love to have food flyng at them 120 miles per hour," Grazzo said. "You should see the kids fight over a hot dog lying on the floor with peanut shells and spilled beer. That's entertainment."
Grazzo also pioneered pumping pure oxygen into the arena and distributing sugar-packed energy drinks to keep the high going.
But on Wednesday, during the final 30-second timeout in a tied game and just four ticks left on the clock, Grazzo had nothing planned and the fans sat quietly, gazing blankly into space without any programmed sensory overstimulation bombarding them.
"What a gyp," said 10-year-old Ricky Hepburn of Greenwood, Ind. "Don't they have clown jugglers, dogs on skates or midgets to humiliate?
Paul Hepburn, Ricky's father, said he was disappointed that the Pacers' organization didn't follow through and entertain them until the fans were out the door and back to confronting their miserable lives.
"Next time, I'm taking my kid to Chuck E. Cheese," the elder Hepburn said. "They've got a dancing bear."
The Pacers made a last-gasp 35-footer at the horn to win, 99-96.
"Whatever," Ricky Hepburn shrugged.