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I conceive and execute sports creative projects, play in bands, and like a lot of other stuff, too.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tastemaker of the NFL

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/04/11/sports-rush-wayne-kostroski-tastemaker/


In 1992, with the Super Bowl coming to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minnesota restauranteur Wayne Kostroski spearheaded a charity event designed to raise funds for hunger-related causes. Taste of the NFL still happens at every Super Bowl, and Kostroski is still involved. The event brings chefs from NFL cities together, and each prepares a signature dish. Ticket buyers get to munch on the fare and soak in the NFL atmosphere.

After Kostroski started the national event, a number of the league’s teams embraced the concept and began to do their own local versions. This past Sunday, Kostroski came to North Texas to observe the Dallas Cowboys’ party, and you’ll find out what he thinks of it in this video interview. 

Taste of the Cowboys features food from area chefs; Cowboys players, coaches, and alumni; and local bands (Big Joe Walker and the Jordan Kahn Orchestra this year). It turns out Kostroski plays bass and once toured as professional musician, so you’ll hear him ask me about the music at the end of the interview (although he had no way of knowing at that point that I also play bass – yeah, we bonded after that).

The night raises money for the North Texas Food Bank’s child programs and the event exceeded its fundraising goal this year. 




Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Fort Worth Vaqueros and Their Jersey Sponsor

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/04/06/sports-rush-a-new-look-for-the-vaqueros/

The Fort Worth Vaqueros will adopt a new look this year. They actually do so every year, as the team uses a lottery system to determine which of its sponsors will adorn the front of its jersey for the entirety of the season.
This spring, Miss Fort Worth randomly chose one of our favorite local businesses to receive the coveted front-of-shirt spot. As in, really one of our favorites. A lot.
Watch this video interview with Vaqueros general manager Tobias Lopez to hear about who got the slot and what those who wear the jersey (both players and fans) have to look forward to this year.
The Vaqueros open their regular season May 5 in Houston, with a home opener at Farrington Field May 12 against Tyler FC. Season tickets are on sale now at fortworthvaqueros.com.
Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.
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The Vaqueros open their regular season May 5 in Houston, with a home opener at Farrington Field May 12 against Tyler FC. Season tickets are on sale now at fortworthvaqueros.com.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Final Four Stories From Sam Perkins, Sidney Moncrief, and Michael Young

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/04/04/sports-rush-stories-make-a-final-four-memorable/


The NCAA Basketball tournaments finished Monday: What will be their memorable Final Four storylines? The men’s side didn’t have closely contested games, but it did feature a compelling underdog in Loyola of Chicago and some outstanding players. The women’s side had no underdogs, as all four number seeds advanced from regional play. They made up for it with three dramatic finishes, included two semifinals decided in overtime and Notre Dame’s championship-winning buzzer beater Sunday night.
There will be a lot to remember from the weekend – stories that will stick in the minds of those who watched them unfold. Thursday, I got the chance to sit down with three men who had participated in six Final Fours between them, ones that have proven to have had lasting impacts. With this weekend’s stories from Columbus and San Antonio fresh in our minds, I thought I’d share some of the stories from the prequel I emceed in Dallas.
The event was billed as “Sidney, Sam & The Final Four,” and benefitted the charity programs of the National Basketball Retired Players Association’s local chapter. In addition to Sidney Moncrief and Sam Perkins, we added a special guest from the Houston chapter: Michael Young of Phi Slama Jama fame.
Perkins played in two Final Fours at the University of North Carolina. They lost to Isiah Thomas and Indiana his first season, but defeated Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in 1982 to win the title his sophomore year.
Moncrief teamed with Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph in the 1970s – they later became known as the Triplets – to get the University of Arkansas into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1958. In Moncrief’s junior year, the Razorbacks went to the Final Four, something the team had not done since 1945, when only eight teams made the tournament.
Young went to three consecutive Final Fours with the University of Houston, teaming with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Larry Micheaux to get to two championship games, including the 1983 game they lost to Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team on a late Lorenzo Charles putback.
It’s always interesting to see what sticks out for participants years later. I led into the subject with Sam Perkins via an idea my father had broached when we were discussing the event. Dr. Olson wanted to know if Perkins remembered where he was standing when his teammate, a freshman named Michael Jordan, hit the jumper that ultimately proved a game-winner. It turns out Perkins wasn’t standing at all.
“I was on the court, so I wasn’t standing,” he said. “The shot goes up, you go to the boards, so I had somehow slipped in and tried to get the offensive rebound, but, of course, it went in.”
Young’s team lost to that UNC title team in the semis, then got back to the Final Four despite losing their leading scorer, Rob Williams, to the NBA. The sharpshooter remembered offseason preparation being key to his squad’s success.
“Once that year was over, we had a great summer together. Moses Malone took the team under his wing and we used to play down at a place called Fonde (Recreation Center). We would scrimmage against the guys from the Rockets every day, so every day was like a game situation . So that really prepared us for the next year coming up.”
At that point, one of the NBRPA members interrupted Young. Major Jones had played for the Rockets at the time and no doubt took part in some of those pickup games. Jones asked with a smile if playing those games was legal (it probably was). Legal or not, it would have been quite a scene to have been in the gym to watch Jones and company school (or sometimes be schooled by) the future NBA players on the Cougars roster at the time.
Moncrief’s group lost to eventual national champion Kentucky in the 1978 semis, but they still had to play another game because the NCAA staged a third-place game between the losing semifinalists until 1981.
“We played Notre Dame, and back then all the teams were very physical, nothing like you see now,” Moncrief recalled. “I just remember every player being so physically imposing. Every time I would go through the lane, they would just pop me and hit me and the game came down to a last-second shot. Ron Brewer, who’s one of the best players in the history of Arkansas basketball, he gets the ball at the top of the circle, five seconds left, he just cooly backed down, jumped up, turned around, and just made a beautiful shot to win the ballgame.”
The three each played for prominent coaches who left a lasting impression on their players.
“When we found ourselves back into the Final Four, we said we want to win this one for Coach Smith,” Perkins remembered. “It meant a great deal.” At the time, Dean Smith had cached the Tar Heels to six Finals Fours but had never won a title until Perkins, Jordan, and company helped the Hall of Famer secure his first.
All three men remembered their mentors’ impacts extending beyond the court. Young played for Guy V. Lewis. “He really got you prepared for the games and all of that stuff carried over into a lifestyle and a lot of his players that left his coaching and in his teaching, in the way that he did things, a lot of us guys went on to be successful.”
Of Lewis’s physical practices, Young remembered them as “unbelievable – no fouls.” It paid off for the team, though. “That got us ready for the games,” including, apparently the one against Perkins’ team in 1982.
“Sam was out there hacking,” Young suggested. “I know you don’t remember that, buddy. He did elbow me.” Perkins claimed a hazier memory of such conduct (the record does show Perkins as having been charged with a single personal foul in the game).
Moncrief also gave his college coach, Eddie Sutton, credit for later success. “It was love and discipline and it was a set of standards, being accountable to your teammates, to the classroom, to winning, that set the tone for my career. When I got to the NBA, I was so prepared to play at the next level simply because not only basketball, but just a discipline that we acquired by playing for Coach Sutton for four years. You had to do everything right, the right way, and he was tremendous coach. Just love him to death and he is the reason why I became a very good NBA player.”
The three players’ schools were in different situations when each played there, and the Final Four runs they made meant different things to each school.
In Moncrief’s case, the Razorbacks needed something to put them on the basketball map. His teams set the stage for the growth of the program.
“The key to having a good college  program is recruiting. You win with players and I think once we started playing well, people wanted to be a part of the universe of Arkansas, so we got the best players in the state of Arkansas and we started getting some good players from outside of Arkansas and they created an environment that people wanted to be a part of.”
Young cited Phi Slama Jama’s style of play as one that not only inspired its nickname, but also helped the Cougars bring in the players they needed.
“We got up and down the court and we would have bets as players who would have the most dunks,” he recalled. “The other kids that the coaches were recruiting, they really liked that.”
Houston’s program had enjoyed success prior to Young’s time, especially the Elvin Hayes-led teams of the 1960s, but not at the level of tradition-rich North Carolina. For Perkins, the Final Four runs embodied the approach of the coach who had built the program around the important things.  “I think the NBA looked at that as you being prepared being fundamentally prepared to to play the game.” One can be sure that if a program does things that influence the NBA to consider players as draftable, that’s a powerful recruiting tool, too. The Tar Heels have played in ten more Final Fours since Perkins’ heyday, and have had 58 players drafted since he was a freshman (including Perkins himself, fourth overall to the Dallas Mavericks in 1984).
We also discussed the impact of the three-pointer on basketball. It was not widespread in the college game when they played, with only Perkins having shot any threes at all during his university days, and that during a one-year experiment by the Atlantic Coast Conference. He said got a lot of those as a trailer on fast breaks, foreshadowing his future success as a pioneering stretch-four. Michael Young speculated he’d have averaged “at least ten more” points a game if his long-range swishes had counted for an extra point. Moncrief thinks it could have made all the difference for his Razorbacks.
“We would have won the NCAA tournament with a three-point shot, not because of me, but we had two of the greatest shooters. Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer could shoot the basketball as well as any players that I’ve seen on a team, so we would have no doubt been a better team with a three.”
We archived a video of the entire session online, if you want to hear Perkins and Jordan’s tales about Michael Jordan or how all three men stayed in school for four years. All the stories were superb, and I look forward to a time when we’ll hear memorable ones from the participants in this year’s tournament.

Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Are the Playoffs Far, Far Away?

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/03/28/stars-fading-or-twinkling/

Before Friday night’s game, the Dallas Stars honored former player Jamie Langenbrunner as part of their celebration of the 25th anniversary of the team’s move from Minnesota to downtown Dallas. The right-winger joined the organization that same year, when the Stars selected him in the second round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. While the 18-year-old Langenbrunner honed his skills with his junior hockey team in Peterborough, Ontario, the big club surprised many by making the playoffs in 1994 after having missed them the previous year in Minnesota.
This year’s group had hoped to repeat its predecessors’ performance of two and a half decades ago by returning to the postseason after missing it in 2016-17. That desired outcome is in grave doubt as the regular season enters its final two weeks. One man who has watched each of this season’s tilts from the Stars’ broadcast booth also played in every game for that first Dallas team: Craig Ludwig.
This past offseason, Ludwig saw the Stars make moves they hoped would position them for success. They added a high-scoring forward in Alexander Radulov, a frontline defenseman in Marc Methot, a big face-off specialist and second-line scorer in Martin Hanzal, and a man Ludwig suggested has “arguably been one of the top five to 10 goaltenders in the league” over the past few years, Ben Bishop. (He did lead the league in goals-against average two years ago.) Those players would supplement a talented core that includes former scoring champion Jamie Benn, speedy and gifted center Tyler Séguin, four-time All-Star center Jason Spezza, and one of the league’s most skilled defensemen, John Klingberg. Though the team has had a pair of five-game winning streaks and stretches where they looked like they could beat anyone, the season has not played out as hoped.
“Earlier in the season, this team was better positioned,” Ludwig said. “Injuries is kind of what happened.”
Methot and Hanzal have participated in only 30 and 38 games, respectively, out of the 75-plus the Stars have played so far. Spezza has missed time recently, and, most devastatingly, Bishop has played only 10 minutes since March 16. Bishop hurt his left knee early in the month, missed five games, and aggravated the injury during his return to the lineup. The rise in doctor visits corresponded with a drop in the team’s position in the standings.
NHL teams compete in two conferences, with eight teams from each earning a chance to play for the Stanley Cup awarded to the league’s champion. The Stars had occupied one of the final two Western Conference playoff spots for much of the season, but when they pulled only two points in the standings from a recent six-game road trip, it dropped them into 10th. They’re in a five-way fight with Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles, and St. Louis for a spot in the postseason tournament. A team receives two points for a win, one if they lose in overtime or the penalty shot shootout that results from a scoreless OT. A regulation loss yields no points. The Stars earned only four points in road games in March, all via losses in extra time. Home losses this past weekend to Boston and Vancouver have put them on the brink of an early summer vacation.
Even if the Stars rally to grab the eighth seed in the West, they would face a first-round matchup with the conference’s top seed, most likely last year’s Cup finalist, the Nashville Predators. Though it’s not unheard of for a low seed to fight its way through two months of playoff hockey, it’s highly unlikely, especially with a depleted roster.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re a team that’s in a position right now to go to the finals,” Ludwig said. “It just wouldn’t be realistic to say.”
If they won’t make noise in the playoffs this year, the question arises: When will they? Ludwig despises terms like “rebuild” or “retool.” He thinks the Stars aren’t that far away from contending, though, and a man Ludwig knows well is one of the reasons. After last year’s disappointing finish, Dallas made changes off the ice in addition to adding players. They brought back a man who had coached Ludwig, Langenbrunner, and other Stars icons through the most successful years in franchise history. They hired Ken Hitchcock. 
The Edmonton native started with the franchise in 1993, too. The general manager at the time, Bob Gainey, hired him to helm the club’s top minor league affiliate, which played in that era in Kalamazoo as a member of the since-folded International Hockey League. Langenbrunner played 11 games there for Hitchcock in 1994-95 before moving on to the NHL. The coach got his own promotion when he took over the Stars’ head coaching duties in 1996. His tenure lasted until 2001 and included the team’s only Stanley Cup win, in 1999. The coach’s return had little to do with 25th anniversary nostalgia and a lot to do with the club’s desire for him to implement his hard-charging yet defensively responsible style of play.
“Ken Hitchcock didn’t come here at 66 years old and 800 and how many ever wins he has [819 as of press time] to be in a rebuilding team,” Ludwig said. “You know he’s here to win.”
Furthermore, Ludwig believes the team’s players have bought into the system Hitchcock used to help earn Ludwig a second Stanley Cup ring. (The defenseman also won one with Montreal in 1986.) He cited young center Radek Faksa as a young player who has improved enough that Hitchcock can match him defensively against the opposition’s best forwards. He credits Rick Wilson, who coached the defensemen for the Cup-winning team and now does so again, for helping the offensively creative Klingberg become more reliable defensively. Perhaps most importantly, Hitchcock has helped the man with the talent to excel at all phases of the game start to do so.
“Tyler Séguin has been fantastic all season long,” Ludwig said. “Hitchcock asked him to be a more rounded player, and he bought right into that, and he’s getting rewarded on the offensive side. He’s been the go-to guy from face-offs, the penalty kill, power play, five on five.”
Ludwig has seen the team give the all-out effort Hitchcock demands. They just haven’t had sufficient depth of talent, especially after the injuries.
“You can’t lean on three guys up front all the time – Benn, Séguin, Radulov – and that’s what we’ve done,” said Ludwig of a team in which those three players plus Klingberg have each exceeded 60 points (goals plus assists) on the year while no other player has approached 40. Of the newly acquired Radulov, Ludwig noted, “I don’t know how this guy can play all 82 games the way that he plays, because he empties his tank every single shift – not just every game, every single shift. He gives you everything.”
As the Stars move into the offseason, they’ll need to determine how to find supplemental talent. During Hitchcock’s first tour in Dallas, they added front-line players like Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour, and Brett Hull, as well as depth contributors with leadership skills like Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, and Brian Skrudland. Facing a salary cap their 1990s predecessors didn’t have to deal with, current GM Jim Nill’s braintrust will have to determine this offseason whether they can sign, draft, or trade for the types of players who will help the Stars quickly take the next steps.
In building the Stars’ championship club, Ludwig recalled, Gainey formulated a veteran team accustomed to playoff tension. If the Stars did eke out a playoff berth this season, that experience could prove invaluable to young players like Faksa, Klingberg, and Stephen Johns, as ’90s playoff runs no doubt did for the likes of Langenbrunner, Richard Matvichuk, and Jere Lehtinen.  Perhaps they’ll decide to acquire postseason-hardened veterans to expedite their journey to contending, in part due to Hitchcock’s age. (He turns 67 in the middle of next season.) The defenseman-turned-broadcaster sees signs the Stars might have the core to make it happen.
“The majority of Stanley Cup contenders, you’re going to have three guys: one guy that’s up for the Vezina [Trophy] for the best goaltender in the league, one guy that’s up for the Norris for the best defenseman in the league, and one guy who’s up for the Selke,” officially for best defensive forward but often awarded to a top all-around center. A healthy Bishop, Klingberg, and Seguin could give the Stars those components. Can Nill, Hitchcock, and company fill in the roster around them? We’ll know they did so successfully if we see those acquisitions dropping ceremonial first pucks 25 years from now.

Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Big3 Decision No Biggie



This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/03/27/sports-rush-big-decision-or-no-big-deal/
A woman got hired to coach in an established men’s league. And she instantly became the most qualified head honcho in the circuit.
This past week, the Big3 basketball league announced Nancy Lieberman would coach the team known as Power. She’s served as a head coach in the G-League and the WNBA and an assistant coach in the NBA. That alone gives her more experience than any of her fellow head coaches (all men) in the eight-team league. But she’s got a leg up in this particular hoops discipline as well.
The Big3 league plays 3-on-3 basketball. Each team fields three players on the court at a time, and they share the same hoop. This version of the game is on the rise and will make its Olympic debut in 2020. The Big3 rules, which feature a 4-point shot, a 14-second shot clock, and a winner declared when one team reaches 50 points with a two-point lead, differ marginally from the Olympic version. Lieberman won two women’s national titles in the Hoop-It-Up (née Hoop-De-Do) competition as a player, back when that was the most high-profile 3×3 show in the country. She had a lot of game herself (she’s in the Naismith Hall of Fame and a bunch of other ones), and she also recruited the likes of fellow Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes to her Hoop-It-Up-winning team.
Nancy Lieberman didn’t have to interview for this job. They identified her as a top candidate pretty quickly. By way of confession, Ms. Lieberman is a friend of mine, and we had been working on a PSA for her charity’s basketball camps, so she had called me with some advance notice of this development. And it seems that when Big3 co-founder Ice Cube promoted former Power head coach Clyde Drexler to league commissioner, he considered it a no-brainer to bring Nancy in as a replacement.
Were they thrilled to have her because it creates publicity to employ a woman coaching a men’s team? I’m sure that wasn’t irrelevant. But as you’ve perhaps surmised by the brief overview of her resume I gave you, that shouldn’t matter. She’s qualified to coach, no matter the gender.
What does matter, though, is the value of trailblazers. Lieberman overcame myriad challenges to play in NBA summer leagues for the Lakers and Jazz. She lost scores of games against the Harlem Globetrotters as a member of the Washington Generals. And along the way, she showed, along with other committed women, that a person of her gender could compete as hard, and love the game as much, as any man.
When Hank Greenberg made All-Star teams, it made it easier for powerful men to embrace hiring the next Jewish baseball player. When Jerry LeVias gained 1200 rushing yards in a season, it made it more justifiable for Texas universities to give scholarships to other African-American football players. When the Oakland Raiders put Amy Trask in the role of CEO, it set the stage for a woman to become, well, chairman of the board of the Big3 league – Trask’s current position.
The world needs people who demonstrate that things can be done differently from the way they always have been. That’s especially true when the previous way of doing things bore no relation to whether or not the job got done properly.
And that’s the case here. Ice Cube said he anticipates Coach Lieberman will win. He’s right to expect that of her, given her resume, but my guess is he demands, and should demand, it of any coach he hires.
That’s what trailblazers do: they change expectations. And gradually, women like Lieberman, Kings assistant Jenny Boucek, and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon will make it normal to hire women into roles for which they’re qualified. Heck, this is the third time Lieberman’s been hired to coach men. It’s not quite routine yet, but progress has been made.
The Big3 season begins June 22 in Houston and the tour comes to North Texas August 17. I look forward to seeing who exceeds expectations.


Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

José Guzmán, the Rangers and Alzheimer's

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/03/21/sports-rush-catching-up-with-jose-guzman/



José Guzmán posted double-digit wins in four different seasons for the Rangers in the 1980s and early ’90s (and was 2 bWAR or better in those seasons for you advanced stats folks). He also pitched for the Cubs and for the Fort Worth Cats in the the latter team’s last incarnation. He has spent a number of seasons broadcasting Rangers games in Spanish on TV and radio, and will join Eleno Ornelas in the booth for home games again this season.
Tom Grieve told me a story last week about how he let Guzmán borrow his car even though the 17-year old had no driver’s license and didn’t speak a ton of English because he thought so much of the player’s maturity. The pitcher has always commanded a great deal of respect among his colleagues, something I saw and experienced firsthand working with him at the Cats and the Rangers. In this video interview, we hear his perspective  on the upcoming Rangers season, and Guzmán also talks about the charity he started to help Alzheimer’s patients and those who care for them. He and his wife run the charity themselves, managing funds and outreach activities. You can find more information about the charity at http://guzman23foundation.com.

Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sam Perkins, Sidney Moncrief, and the Final Four

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there : https://www.fwweekly.com/2018/03/06/sports-rush-sam-perkins-and-a-final-four-function/

 
March Madness has gotten underway because, well, it’s March, duh. The conference tournaments have already started to get us revved up for a month of buzzer beaters and bracket busters culminating in Final Fours as the month concludes. A couple of North Texas residents contributed to legendary runs to the national semi-finals, and later this month, I’ll be interviewing them about the experience at a special event at Campisi’s Restaurant on Mockingbird in Dallas. Sidney Moncrief and Sam Perkins will take the stage to discuss what it felt like as their Arkansas and North Carolina teams made their respective runs, as well as broader topics germane to college basketball and the tournament landscape.

The event, entitled “Sidney, Sam & The Final Four,” benefits the charity programs of the National Basketball Retired Players Association’s local chapter. Besides Perkins and Moncrief, a number of other former NBA, ABA, WNBA, and other players will be on hand to mingle and swap stories. In the video interview with Perkins that is the centerpiece of this post, you’ll find out more about what they do and about why the Final Four still resonates with the former NBA standout.

Tables are still for sale, with details available at the NBRPA’s local Facebook page.


Rush Olson has spent more than two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.


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