There was a 6'5" Sasquatch in the hallway. He was friendlier than we had seen in the commercials, but we hadn't tested his patience. He wandered from person to person in his Jacks Link's beef jerky t-shirt. He posed for photos and didn't kick anyone in the head. It was as if the giant man-beast knew it was his last chance to be the most intriguing person outside the Penn and Teller Theater.
On a Las Vegas morning, most people look like Sasquatch. This morning was no different. Everyone in the hall seemed to be wearing t-shirts promoting one poker player or another. The fans, like Sasquatch, were hairy, yellow-eyed, and, in many cases, drinking before 11am (we were led to understand, it was afternoon on the east coast, and thus the Bud Light tallboys were fair game). NAPT champion Tom Marchese was briefly half-naked outside Starbucks as he changed into a promo t-shirt of his own.
It was in this queue that ESPN cameras roamed, poker fans lined up, and Sasquatch's minions handed out beef jerky to the masses. It was here, too, that the November Nine mingled with the crowd, ready to forget that a hairy myth was stealing the spotlight, and ready to remember that destiny in the form of fame and millions was just down the hall.
This is the third time we have sat in this theater, the third time we've prepared to watch the world crown its newest poker champion. Each year the pomp takes on more circumstance and vice versa. The media fills the orchestra pit and a press box four floors above the stage. Two giant screens seem to hang from nothing in the middle of the air. If you want to watch it, you need a badge, a wristband, a ticket, or the patience to stand in a line that stretches to a place called Far Away.
With a few minutes to go before high noon, the faceless public address announcer called, "All the friends and family with orange wrists bands, we need you on the stage please. Please come directly to the stage."
In the moments leading up to noon, fan chants caromed off the walls, the November Nine posed for photos, and everything that happens behind the scenes took the final moments of privacy. Everything else that would happen after that would be moments recorded for televised poker history.
"This is the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event!"
That was Jack Effel's voice, the one we've come to know so well over the years, the one that bounces off your ribcage and lets everybody know how big this event has become. "We are down to the final nine. So, let me introduce you to them now!"
These introductions were different than ever before. There were half-naked women like you might see at a boxing match. They held seat number signs over their head and led each man to his chair one at a time. Each player had picked his own entry song. First in the door, PokerStars-sponsored player Jason Senti throwing kisses to the crowd as his own band's song "This is the End" blared from the speakers.
Moments later, chip leader and PokerStars' man Jonathan Duhamel walked in to the Dropkick Murphys. He wore the same clothes he wore all summer.
Some 25 minutes later, the yelling, cheering, dancing had reached its peak. The players were in their seats. There was only one thing left to and it was left to none other than Bruce Buffer, ringmaster of the octagon.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are live from Las Vegas for the final table of the WSOP! It's time! Let's shuffle up and deal!"
And then a man took off everything but his underwear. Seriously. Three rows back from the biggest final table in poker sat a man in nothing but tight, white jockey shorts. This, apparently, is how it begins.
As the dealer shuffled the cards, we couldn't help but note our personal favorite luminary in the crowd. Barry Greenstein was not sitting as close to the stage as he might like. He was moved to an area for VIPs. He punched a few buttons on his phone and sent this message to the Twitter-following world:
"Despite my disappointment at being put in the VIP area, I am here with the Jack Links Sasquatch."
Here we go, folks.