He's gone through 15 guitars, five jumpsuits and more beer than he cares to remember, but as End Zone Elvis, John Lang loves to entertain football fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium - as well as those watching on televisions around the country.
"It started in '91 as a bet on the Miami game," said Lang of Lockport. "I bet my friend I would get on TV, and Elvis was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of how I could do it."
With the Buffalo Bills poised for an appearance on Sunday Night Football, there are probably many fans with game tickets trying to determine exactly what it takes to get on camera - whether broadcasted on the stadium scoreboard or on national television.
Field-side seats? Painted face, chest and hair? Maybe a cleverly worded saying printed on a sign - or on yourself.
"We look for energy - not contrived, nonstaged natural gesticulation," said Matt Gould, a cameraman at preseason Bills games and executive producer for Buffalo Sabres broadcasts. "We follow the action of the game and then we turn around to cover the reaction of the crowd."
It takes quite a crew to set up and produce Sunday Night Football. Approximately 200 crew members working the weekend rigging microphones, running cables and fixing the positions of at least 25 cameras. Their goal is to offer the television audience an in-stadium experience - hearing the hits on the field, feeling the emotion of the crowd, focusing on fans who stand out. "They usually put the cute teenagers on," said Floria Pattacciato, a Bills season- ticket holder with fourthrow seats. "There's no such thing as a cute mom. If you have a child with you, it helps."
If you believe it is impossible for anyone to stand out in a crowd of more than 70,000 spectators, grab some friends and read on. Our experts will tell you exactly what it takes to make it on camera - from almost any seat in the stadium.
"Culturally, what gets people noticed are things like attractiveness: physical and social attractiveness, children and fans who have the gear on. Signs stand out," said Dwight A. Hennessy, associate professor of psychology at Buffalo State College. "In Oakland, people come dressed in Gothic black. It's something that stands out. In a field of sameness, you have to stand out."
In this Sunday night's field of red, white and blue (colors worn by both teams), what will it take to stand out? Our brains are attracted to the atypical, after all.
"Creative props look great on the Jumbotron," said Jim Zinkowski, wireless cameraman for the Wilson Stadium's Diamond Vision crew. "A lot of fans use props, like the dolphin on the end of fishing line."
The philosophy of the Diamond Vision crew is simple: Excited fans create more excited fans. That's why the "Pad Thumper" is shown on the Jumbotron when the Bills need some help from the 12th Man.
"He is one of my all-time favorites," Zinkowski said of Pad Thumper. "He would hang over the end zone wall at field level and slam the ring wall repeatedly. You'd think his arm would fall off. We use him a lot when we're trying to pump up the crowd. It usually whips the crowd up to a frenzy."
Fans don't have to sit down low to attract camera attention.
"If you're in the last row and if you have a good sign and you are all dolled up, the camera will find you," Gould said. "If you're in a larger group - say 10 to 15 people - that helps. A lot of times you'll see that shot of the last row. Cameramen are looking for as much passion from the top of the stands as the first three rows."
Remember Pamela Anderson's story? Anderson was discovered in the stands by a cameraman who projected her image on the Jumbotron during a Canadian Football League game in British Columbia. The reaction of the crowd was deafening, and a Labatt's brewery executive took notice. Soon, Anderson was the new spokesmodel for the company's beers.
"At a football game, you may have a better shot of getting on TV if you're an attractive female," said Hennessy. "People actually get tired of the game; between plays, there is not a lot going on. That's why cameramen change the images frequently."
Fans can yell all they want, but on any game day in any stadium, individual voices will not be heard. You must make yourself visually interesting to catch attention.
"If a couple walks in and they are each wearing opposing jerseys, they will show that," cameraman Gould said. "They love to show couples rooting for opposing teams. They love to show women who are into the game."
Pattacciato remembers one game when she and her girlfriends sat in the end zone's first row.
"I wore a pink half T-shirt," she recalled. "We had little pompoms. We were on Bills commercials the entire preseason when they were trying to sell tickets."
Signs are a shoo-in, but shake the letters up a little bit, suggested Gould, by painting them on your T-shirt or - as demonstrated by adventurous and inebriated males - on your chest.
"Spell words through letters painted on your shirts," Gould said. "That goes back to the group thing. If you are into the game emotionally, they'll find you."
So there you and your six friends are, on Sunday afternoon, in your T-shirts that collectively spell D-E-F-E-N-S-E. You wear rainbow Afro wigs, your face is painted, but your seats are in the 23rd row corner end zone. Don't give up - get there early.
"Out-of-town camera guys spend a lot of time pregame scanning the crowd," said Gould. "If you get to the game early and they see you, they will remember where you are so after a great play they'll come back to you."
>Ask the experts
Their names are recognized. Their faces, too. Elvis, Conehead, Earl of Bud. The Buffalo sports hall of fame would be wise to add a category for crowd characters.
"Cameras look for freaky people who are different, said Tom "Conehead" Girot, who vends at 250 events a year. "You always get the guys without the shirts. You need an attention grabber. Elvis has the best one by far, and he has the seat for it. I worked the Dog Pound in Cleveland. Now those guys are interesting."
Fan trends come and go. "John 3:16" was a regular sign at stadiums, but it seems to have fallen from grace. The same with rainbow Afros, although they appear to be making a comeback. Wingheads, cheeseheads, dog bones - all attract attention when worn on game day by the serious fan.
"You have to have the right seats to get on TV," agreed "Elvis" Lang. "When I first started, I was on the scoreboard end, five rows up. In '94, when they redid the scoreboard, I called the Bills asking to move to the other end so I could see the scoreboard better. I told them I was Elvis and they got me down as low as possible. The two chefs are three people over. They're real good-natured guys."
Lang is, too, for that matter. His laugh is infectious. But how can he be Elvis when he doesn't even like the music?
"This is what Buffalo does. This is our Mardi Gras," Lang answered. "It's what we're known for. I've traveled all over the world and to me, this is the greatest place to live. I look forward to Sundays at the stadium. It's nuts. It's so fun. I absolutely love it."