Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Football Eve

(Orlando) - The coaches who will match wits in the Capitol One Bowl, Les Miles of LSU and Penn State's Joe Paterno, spent some quality time with the assembled media today. As is so typical with these kinds of events, no real news emerged. Nonetheless, for a college football fan it was rewarding to listen to Coach Paterno hold court for a half-hour or so. He loves college football and all it stands for. His memories, wit and philosophies held the attention of the normally cynical media crowd. One broadcast journalist said privately, "When he finished talking, I just wanted to applaud." Maybe the reporters from Pennsylvania didn't feel that way, but it was a rare treat for the Louisiana people to have this much exposure to the Archbishop of the game.
We spent some time in and around Citrus Bowl Stadium. It's an aging facility, but the game's organizers have put a lot of effort into gussying the old girl up. The turf will be an issue. There was another bowl game played there earlier in the week and four high school games have been contested there recently. Some new sod and a whole lot of paint will make for a pleasing initial presentation. There's rain the forecast, though, so that pretty paint job will likely get plowed up rather quickly.
I'm earning my keep by handling the business end of a TV camera. The old skills come back in fits and starts , but I'm not as young or proficient as I used to be. It's fun to be able to parachute in on events like this, but as I watch the people around me work I once again affirm my reasons for not doing it full-time. Resources for local media are dwindling, while at the same time demand for content escalates. Translated, it means they are being asked to do a lot more with significantly less. When you're under that kind of pressure, it just sucks the fun right out of the job. Nobody's complaining, though. They're still getting paid to travel to a vacation destination to watch a football game. Who can poke holes in that?

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

(Orlando) - I must be emotionally scarred by enduring early winter cold over the last couple of weeks, because today I found myself to be disconcertingly overdressed. The fortunes of sports and travel have led me to Orlando, where today it was so sunny and warm that people were relaxing by the pool and many more were playing in the water. I didn't even pack a pair of shorts and it didn't cross my mind to bring a swimsuit.
There are no plans to visit a theme park while I'm here, but you never know. The LSU football team is here to play Penn State in a bowl game, so this is a sports trip all the way. The opportunity to see the game and with that a chance to get close to legendary Nittany Lions' coach Joe Paterno was simply too enticing to pass up. The close encounter happened this morning and Joe Pa was in fine humor. He was telling stories about his days as a young man "chasing rich sorority girls" and holding court with a smattering of fans who had the good fortune to find themselves in his company.
His attitude remarkably changed in 24 hours. Yesterday, he became agitated as his players warmed up for practice and he started yelling at people and then had observers removed from the practice facility. The day of preparation must have gone well, because the coach was gracious and engaging today. In is 80's, he is still very much in charge of his football program and shows no significant signs of slowing down.

As for me, this is another one of those trips where I'm a tag-along guy, not in charge of anything. There's a certain peace of mind that comes with that. I'm taking the events and activites as they come to me. So far, the final week of the decade is working out remarkably well. A concoction involving rum may be in my near future. It might help me relax. After all, today I broke a sweat.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Good at Surviving the Cold

Another late December and once again I hauled the women out to a bowl game. As we sat in Independence Stadium watching the Georgia Bulldogs dismantle Texas A&M, we agreed that last year at the Music City Bowl, we were much more uncomfortable. There were many differences this time around. We were much lower in this stadium than we were in Nashville, which meant we were not subjected to a lot of wind. Also, instead of traveling across several states, we just went across town. That meant we felt no real obligation to hang around any longer than we really wanted to. So, once the Aggies had no prayer of mounting a comeback, we joined the rest of the locals in hitting the highway.
Another difference: my daughter had company. Happy Couple II was preposterously underdressed for the occasion. I know when you're young and involved in a long-term relationship, there is a certain romance in the idea of "keeping each other warm," but proper clothing can't hurt. Let's put it this way: after one possession in the fourth quarter, we suggested leaving and no one objected.
I've attended 33 Independence Bowls now (but who's counting?) and this one appears to have drawn one of the three or four largest crowds ever to the stadium. LSU has played here twice and packed the place. It would be difficult to pinpoint a larger crowd from among any of the other games. This is all the more remarkable because kick-off was at 4:00 on a weekday.
By the time the game finished, the place was almost empty, though. We all had enough sense to come in from the cold.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Check, Please

The art and practice of presenting a big cardboard check to someone is cemented as a tradition around American sports. You see it on the 18th green at the conclusion of a golf tournament and in myriad other contexts not limited to but certainly prevalent around athletic endeavors.
I found myself signing big cardboard checks today. The employer is a significant sponsor of the Independence Bowl, a post-season college football game now in its 34th year in Shreveport. We award college scholarship money each year to two local high school seniors who have demonstrated a commitment to community service. The application process is tedious and the recipients are chosen by committee. The rewards include actual money paid to a college or university, tickets to the game and a live lunch-time presentation of the big cardboard check.
The students get a lot of attention. At the luncheon, both teams involved in the game are in attendance along with sponsors and interested ticket holders from the general public. The check presentation is part of a fake TV show which features actual network TV sportscasters Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman. Because I am comfortable in front of a TV camera, I am given the honor of doing the presentation. This year, the students were interviewed on camera not only by me, but also by an actual TV reporter from a local station. They're great kids. They deserve it.
As for me, sharing a moment of faux TV glory with network guys is fun in a Walter Mitty kind of way. Having long ago surrendered any hope of getting to that level as an on-air contributor, I'll take it.
Oh, by the way: I dish off the same little line every year about the big checks: "Careful. That thing won't fit into an ATM." Somehow, it always draws polite laughter. I know if somebody just handed me that kind of money, I'd chuckle at his little joke, too.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cool Yule, Y'all

It has been a "come and go" Christmas in the family home. The Happy Couples started the day separated by hundreds of miles, respectively. The Other Halves had family obligations in other parts of the state, but our kids seemed content for most of the day to keep things confined to immediate family. Mother-in-law was first to arrive. Our son moseyed in moments later. Our daughter, a young adult now but nontheless showing a childlike impatience to open presents, was relieved and excited when the fireside proceedings finally commenced. Who knows where my father was most of the morning? His late morning arrival worked out well, because he grabbed the same rocking chair for opening his gifts. Since he missed the frenzy of ribbon ripping and box popping that my daughter's pent-up excitement induced, he got the gift-getting spotlight all to himself.
This proved to be an outstanding spot from which to dispense grandfatherly advice.
All the while, aromas from the kitchen were enticing us. Our son couldn't help himself. Accustomed to a steady diet of Subway sandwiches and other food on-the-go, he parked in there and started grazing, vowing to eat well once lunch was served.
My mother-in-law made it back for lunch, which we enjoyed together. My father, often a harsh critic of holiday fare prepared by anyone other than his long-deceased sisters, pronounced it fit for consumption. This was either a Christmas miracle or he was just being polite. Given the astonishing amount of food that disappeared from his plate, it's pretty clear what happened.
History was made this year. Our son, making decent money out there in the world, actually shopped quite successfully for Christmas gifts. He knows how much I love a long-sleeved tee shirt and certainly nailed my brand preference, so that's a blessing in itself. Naturally, his mother and his long-time love interest received gifts in a different genre and price range. The guy's no dummy.
The best news about this Christmas is there's nothing unusual to report. By the time the day was done, husbands, wives, parents, children and grandparents all spent time together and exchanged gifts, as did the boyfriends and girlfriends. As Christmas goes, you can't ask for much better than that.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blood Counts at Christmas

If Christmas is about family, then we've got it covered. Every Christmas Eve, we get together with many of The Cousins, and this year the gathering resulted in this remarkable photograph.
I didn't mean to be in the center of things. It's just a coincidence. There is logic to it because I am the youngest person in my generation of cousins. My children are there as are the children of a couple of my first cousins, which would make them my second cousins I suppose. Peeking around from behind my second cousin the football coach is my father, the oldest person in the photo by a mile.
Remarkable? My father is the last man standing, the youngest of 14 siblings. All thirteen of his brothers and sisters have passed on. For him, every person in this photo is a son, grandchild, niece, nephew or the son of a nephew. Perhaps it's even more remarkable that the image doesn't even come close to representing a majority of the cousins. Fourteen siblings in the generation before me, remember.
But here's the best part about this picture: In order to be eligible to be in it, you had to have "Rebouche blood." This means the wives, several of whom have been in the family for more than a quarter-century, were just irrelevant. High hilarity ensued when my wife and some of the other in-law stalwarts explained this phenomenon to the youngest among them, the football coach's wife. As it became clear to her that she was indeed excluded from the proceedings, she was simultaneously aghast and amused.
The best part about our annual cousin confab is the food. We try to cook "like the old people," which means a lot of salt, grease, butter and fatty meats. That's my kind of Christmas!
It's too bad that there's only one of the "old people" left to enjoy it. Here he is again, peeking around the corner at his blood relatives after they had their fill of fatty food and family ties.
Merry Christmas!

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Mouths to Feed

While I continue to dread the moment when my daughter leaves for college, it wouldn't be completely accurate to say I am facing the prospect of an empty nest. The management of the ever-expanding stable of family pets will be my undoing, I can just feel it. My wife's kitten has become fully assimilated into the family. This scene of domestic tranquility should tell you everything you need to know.
The idea that the dog has befriended the little beast isn't so farfetched. Our Golden Retriever has a gentle demeanor. She's seven years old and I think I recall hearing her growl twice. On the other hand, getting tacit acceptance from the queen of the universe here is quite an accomplishment. Yes, the Old Fat Cat has begrudgingly embraced her younger counterpart. They generally keep their distance, competing for the dog's affection. The distance is gradually getting smaller.
Our son, out on his own in the fabulous bachelor pad, doesn't live alone. He has one of my wife's kitten's littermates, so he's grappling with the responsibilities of caring for a kitten, too. Everybody comes by the affection for pets honestly. My wife grew up in a double-dog house. Her mother carries on the tradition, presently managing two Goldens of her own.
Today, the latest furry family member made his first visit to our house. My father has adopted a stray dog. This is really a positive development, because it means my father is forward-thinking, even at 83 years old. He took the dog to the vet for shots and a necessary surgery (sorry, Big Guy) and the doctor estimated the dog's age at less than a year. So, he's a puppy. It's easy to believe, because he's showing puppy tendencies including a lack of discipline and a certain destructiveness. Of course, that may tell us why he was a stray.
Do the math with respect to the average lifespan of a dog. As awkward as it might be to think it, chances are this guy will wind up living with me someday. So, it's good he's getting to know his furry cousins here during the holidays.

Sphere: Related Content

Zero Children Remaining

A few days ago, my daughter turned 18. This has been a sobering time for me because this means I technically have no children left. Both of the kids are adults. Of course, 18 doesn’t mean as much as it used to. I realize adulthood is a state of mind, but she is now eligible to vote and that tells you something.
Her friends came through for her on her birthday. The weekend before, there was a big group lunch. On the eve of her big day, four friends came over for a sleepover. They wanted to be with her when she woke up as an 18-year old. Early on a Wednesday morning, they gathered in all their loveliness and cooked breakfast for her. Then, there was a Christmas morning style gift-opening experience. The best part of all this: it’s nothing new. This has become a tradition. These same girls have been doing this for one another for years. Since this is their last year of high school, it seems it may be a while before we pass this way again.
Mr. Wonderful made the drive into town from Nearby University to celebrate the occasion with the family at the local Fancy Steakhouse. With him, her brother and her parents gathered to honor her, our daughter nonetheless became distracted by someone sitting at an adjacent table.
There was a guy with an unusual haircut sitting there. While the rest of us didn’t notice him, she became quite animated once she became certain it was a guy named Sean Gunn. While the name meant nothing to the uninitiated at the table, it was quite familiar to her. He was a star on the TV series “Gilmore Girls,” which has been canceled but shows on a local station every weekday afternoon. She makes a habit of watching when she gets home from school. This would be like me running into Julia Louis-Dreyfus or something, so I get it. After dinner, she stopped by to say hello and asked him to pose for a photo. He graciously obliged. Someone at the table said, “Your fans are a lot better looking than mine.” This made her day and I hope affirmed the young actor, as well.
She was excited like a little girl. Her father, who just can’t accept the fact that she actually isn’t one anymore, liked that very much. Happy birthday, Baby.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Witness to a Rivalry That Really Isn't One

The annual showdown between the football teams from the United States Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy is advertised as “America’s Game,” and concurrently “The loudest game in America.” Historically, it was played on Thanksgiving weekend. Then, it was moved to the first weekend in December so that it could stand alone. The emergence of conference championship games across the college football landscape sent Army-Navy into the margins of the football-watching consciousness. As great a tradition as it is, it’s usually not a prominent football game. This year, it was played on the second Saturday in December where it truly had the football spotlight all to itself. Given an opportunity to attend the game with a Naval Academy graduate, I leapt at the chance. This game is so meaningful to its participants, as well as to soldiers and sailors the world over, that it I was honored to be included.
Glancing at the surface of the event, it certainly looked like a football game. It is staged at a neutral site, most often Philadelphia. This is a geographical middle ground between Army’s home base at West Point, NY and Navy’s at Annapolis, MD. Beforehand, there were acres of tailgaters with all the traditional accoutrements. I was fortunate to be in an affluent group which offered an abundance of food, drink and entertainment. As I enjoyed my chicken wings and a Bloody Mary, I began to take note of my environment. These were not necessarily football people. They were military people attending a football game. The distinction is profound. The affable guy handling the grill duties was doing so at the behest of his commander, I discovered. The overwhelming majority of the people who surrounded me were active duty, Army and Navy, or their relatives. Try as they might to be casual, there was no question that everyone there was aware of everyone else’s rank. So the social dynamic was, from my civilian point of view, way out of whack.
As was the manifestation of the rivalry, such as it is. From a “Tiger Bait” background, I observed “Go Navy. Beat Army” with a sort of detached bemusement. As soon as that stinging barb would be thrown, opposing fans would then become respectful and collegial. The overriding truth is this: with the exception of the game itself, they truly do play on the same team. Navy fans, with a winning season and a bowl berth for their team in hand, found themselves torn. An Army win would give the Cadets a bowl berth, too. A loss would mean the game is the last time any of the Army seniors would wear a football uniform. Their military commitments require them to don something decidedly different in the years ahead.
As the game approached, the festivities began. As tradition mandates, the entire student bodies of both academies attended the game, and they marched into the stadium in formation. Parachute teams from both branches of the military jumped into the stadium together. The United States Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, performed the coin toss to determine who would kick off. (This was a far cry from LSU-Mississippi State in so many ways.)From my perch high in the north end zone of Lincoln Financial Field, this had the trappings of a big football event. The stadium was sold out, the pregame ceremonies put a lump in your throat, and certainly the outcome of the game had post season implications.
The experience in the stands wasn’t like anything I had witnessed. The conversations around me were polite, often perfunctory. There were no other games across the country for which scoreboard watching became a necessary diversion. Everybody sort of had the same haircut. I know that sounds strange, but remember this is a military crowd.
The first half was a tightly-contested defensive struggle. Ultimately, Navy won 17-3. The Army players, in an instant, were transformed into soldiers once again. The Navy players celebrated and so did all the students. The entire brigade was given the night off by their Commandant. That meant they had essentially 24 hours of operational freedom before they had to make it back to Annapolis for Monday morning maneuvers and a rigorous class schedule. Unlike players at other schools, sleeping in to start the week isn’t an option.
America may have been watching, at least it should have been. There’s no disputing the profound meaning underlying this game. It wasn’t so loud, though. The players and fans have too much respect for one another to condone all that.

Sphere: Related Content

Suddenly, I Became Part of the Paparazzi

(Annapolis, MD) – As evening fell on my invigorating tour of the U.S. Naval Academy, the traveling companion and I were drawn to Lejeune Hall, the on-campus swimming, diving and wrestling facility.
He wanted to show me the plaques honoring athletic achievements of Midshipmen athletes throughout the years, which was great. When we walked in, there was a swim meet going on. This thrilled me. It was warm and humid in there, plus there was a sporting event happening live! This held no appeal to him, but I pretty much insisted we walk in for a while.
As we entered the natatorium, a couple of women were engaged in an animated conversation along the lines of, “I can’t believe he’s here!” “This is amazing!” This is so exciting!” They turned to me to bring me into the conversation as if I knew what they were talking about. I did not. “Hold on,” I said. "Who’s here?"
“Michael Phelps!”
Michael Phelps, 14-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, was swimming for the Baltimore Aquatic Club in this random meet in December. They pointed to a spot poolside, and there he was: Michael Phelps, walking along preparing to swim his warm-ups.
Wherever he went, all eyes were on him. People could not stop staring. Rarely starstruck, I couldn’t help myself. This brush with celebrity was so unexpected. Cell phones and cameras were strategically aimed at all times. I admit to sending photos to my family back in Louisiana just to get their reactions. Somehow, to have an athlete of this caliber competing in an event that involved college athletes as well as young children was simply difficult to process.
Phelps tried to go about his business, but was interrupted often by swimmers and parents alike who wanted a photo with him or an autograph or both. We didn’t hang around very long. I read that he won all of his races. Count that as the one thing about the evening that didn’t catch me by surprise.

Sphere: Related Content