Monday, December 26, 2011

Shivering in the Stadium

The day after Christmas in Shreveport was grey and rainy, with occasional thunder. It was cold, too, with temperatures in the low 40’s. In other words, it was cold enough to be miserable but not cold enough for the rain to become snow…not even close. It was under those conditions that my sweet mother-in-law boldly strode into Independence Stadium to watch the Missouri Tigers play the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Independence Bowl.

Unfortunately, there were too few intrepid souls to make the stadium look presentable on TV. There were 30,000 or so people who had tickets to the game, but decided the weather was just too ridiculous to suffer it willingly.
The truth is, she knew she would have a roof over her head, so the rain wasn’t a factor. So, she bundled up and sat in the cold with her daughter for as long as she could take it.

That was, by the way, slightly more than three quarters of football. She said this was her first time to ever set foot in the stadium. As much time as I’ve spent there, that little piece of news shocks me just a little. I’ve seen rain, snow, ice, mud, slop and summer swelter there. The key is to dress appropriately.

It was a disappointing day for the Independence Bowl, there’s no getting around it. But I think it was a good day for my wife and her mother. Christmas is behind us. Ours was terrific. The kids came home and we all got together, along with my father, for a low-key but happy day. But everybody’s gone now, so the game was a welcome distraction. It got us out of the house. I just wish the weather had been a little better.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Taking Sides in a Frog-Dog Brawl

The TCU students in our lives have scattered to many compass points for the holidays. Our daughter and a few of her friends, for instance, seem to have successfully avoided a blizzard that has been hammering the eastern half of Colorado. From their perch at Winter Park, it’s all sunshine and powder as they shush down the slopes.

The fate of their school’s football team seems to be of no consequence. A little less than a year ago, they spent New Year’s Eve in Hollywood and January 1st at The Rose Bowl, so it’s understandable that a pre-Christmas trip to the Poinsettia Bowl for a game against Louisiana Tech would not supersede their trip to the mountains.

So, when the local media started poking around for TCU fans, somehow our name came up. Next thing you know, a TV reporter showed up at our door wanting to talk to Horned Frog fans who are anticipating the game. We were happy to oblige and dutifully donned our purple gear and surrounded ourselves with Frog Stuff.

We showed up on two stations about an hour apart, looking like a couple from When Harry Met Sally. We played off one another in the tandem interview and talked about our conflicts of allegiance.

After all, as lifelong residents of northwest Louisiana, we’ve developed a great affection for Louisiana Tech. (You can watch the story here)
My wife borrowed her wisdom from a bumper sticker and correctly pointed out to the reporter that “our daughter and our money go to TCU,” so we had to make a conscious choice about which team to root for in the game.
The wife has vowed to wear purple all day. I’ll probably stay neutral.

I think a bowl victory would mean more to Louisiana Tech’s program, but a loss might hurt the Frogs in the 2012 preseason rankings. So, I could go either way. We’ll watch on TV and when our daughter gets back from her ski trip, we’ll let her know how it went.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

She Forgot It Was Her Birthday?

Twenty years ago today, we brought our beautiful baby girl home for the first time. Two decades later, she controls her own movements and has a travel trajectory that is leading her in exactly the opposite direction of our house. We can’t blame her, really. Let’s see…first free week after final exams: Shreveport or Winter Park, Colorado? How long do you figure she weighed that decision? She’ll be home for Christmas; at least that’s the working plan. It just won’t be for as long as we had hoped.

The emotional issue we faced was being separated from her on the day she turned 20. It was all lost on her because she was covered up with everything that goes into preparing for finals. She’s also working part time at a fancy clothing store and this is the holiday shopping season, so the boss needed her. Let’s just say she was kind of overwhelmed with duties and obligations.

So, we surprised her and, with cooperation from her roommates, sneaked into her apartment at TCU shortly after noon on her birthday. She had taken her last test earlier in the morning, and when we found her she was lost to the world, immersed in slumber while relieved of stress and responsibility for the first time in weeks. It was almost a shame to wake her. Her mother said, “Happy Birthday!” in her sweet Mommy way. Our daughter said “Mom?” and became obviously disoriented. She started looking around, assessing her location. She had no idea we were coming, so in those in-between moments as she was awakening, she thought she was in her room at home but naturally that made no sense. He mother said “its okay, honey. You’re still at school.” Finally, she figured it out and smiled.

She woke up and eagerly agreed to let us take her to lunch for her birthday. We had brought along a carload of presents from us and her grandparents. So, we spent part of the afternoon unwrapping, trying on and doing other gift-related activities. Happily, one of her closest hometown friends was also in town and we got to spend time with her, too. The roommates had thrown her a surprise party at midnight. By all accounts, it was a brief but memorable affair. It was designed by necessity as a study break. There were balloons, party favors, gifts and even a piñata.

I was just happy to get her out of the bed and spend a couple of hours with her.
We said so long and turned around for home because she had to pack her skiing gear and hit the westbound highway. It’s amazing how much life changes in twenty years. Two decades ago, she was crying. Today, despite being exhausted, I’m pretty sure she’s laughing all the way to the slopes. I’m confident she had a happy birthday and that’s really all you can ask for.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Close Call With Carolina

There were some anxious moments for event organizers at the Independence Bowl’s team Announcement party. Sponsors and honored guests gathered to hear from the athletic directors and coaches from the participating schools, Missouri and North Carolina.

As well-wishers and bowl supporters merrily gathered in the Independence Stadium Club, the fine folks from Missouri mingled amongst them. It’s not clear how many people noticed the alarming absence of Carolina Blue. Tar Heel representatives were flying to Shreveport from Chapel Hill having spent the day hiring a new football coach. This caused them to be significantly behind schedule. So, as the designated master of ceremonies for the event urged people to continue enjoying themselves (hopefully, they did), the bowl’s chairman was nervously checking his iPhone as he tracked online the progress of the plane carrying the A.D. and an assistant coach. The formal program was scheduled to begin at 6:45; was indicating the Carolina plane would land about 6:51. Eek.

An executive decision was made to start at 7:00, no matter what. So, the chairman and other high ranking bowl brass began to regale the assembled football fans with stories and expressions of gratitude for the sponsors and volunteers.

Then, there was a 2:00 video of Missouri game highlights, followed by remarks from the Coach and Athletic Director. In the background, there was an emergency huddle about what to do if the Carolina people were stuck in traffic or something. Before we started, the chairman asked “Are you sure about this? Once we start, we can’t really go back.” The answer was, “Sometimes you just have to have faith”: Faith in the proximity of the airport to the stadium, faith in flight tracking technology and faith in the famously light Shreveport evening interstate traffic.

Somewhere in the midst of Missouri remarks, the Carolina people strolled in as if on cue. Attendees, presumably concentrating on their drinks and dinner during the prelude to all this presentation drama, didn’t seem to notice much of a disruption; especially since it turned out to be only a fifteen minute delay. The Tar Heel highlight video ran on the monitors; then the affable, if tardy, A.D. Bubba Cunningham made his way to the mic and charmed everyone.

The Independence bowl caught a break with this year’s matchup, which seems to be reasonably attractive. With everybody breathing a little easier now, maybe folks can exhale, smile and just get ready for the football game. Maybe the chairman can keep his phone in his pocket for a couple of days.

(Thanks to Douglas Collier of the Shreveport Times for the party photos.)

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Everybody Showed Up For Turkey

The house has been full on Thanksgiving, and that’s a great thing. The children arrived or arose a little later than we would have liked, but hungry and happy. While the finishing touches were being put on a traditional meal, the kids caught their grandparents up on their lives.

It’s interesting how the room with the most well-worn furniture in the house is the place where everyone tends to congregate.
It’s also fascinating to observe the way stories are swapped. There are times, for instance, when it seems like my 85-year-old father isn’t tuned in at all. He has the demeanor of someone lost in his own thoughts, grateful to have the kids communicating with him but not really processing what they’re saying. As he sits there in the octogenarian zone, the storytellers press dutifully on, hoping something sticks. Just when all seems lost, he’ll respond with a question on point which demonstrates that he’s been paying attention all along. We’ve seen it a lot, but somehow it’s still disconcerting.
By contrast, my sweet mother-in-law has a tendency to ask a lot of questions, practicing active listening skills while pressing for details.
I’m convinced that somewhere along the way during her well-heeled upbringing, she was taught in some kind of charm school how to appear interested in whatever you have to say. She makes me laugh sometimes because she has an endearing tendency toward exclamations. During the course of an hour-long dinner, it’s not uncommon to hear her say “my word!” at least three times. Another one you can count on like the sunrise is “how wonderful!” This, of course, makes her extremely easy to like. Like I said, charm school.

There was also a rare appearance by my well-caffeinated older brother, who at times could be a case study for a sophomore level communications class.

You know how conversations, particularly those fueled by small talk, will kind of meander with stream of consciousness? He tends not to recognize that the subject has changed. He’ll contribute something, then two or three other people will speak and lead things down a completely different path, and then out of nowhere he’ll drop a comment related to something so five minutes ago. It can be a little intellectually jarring, as if for him time just froze. You can’t nail him down on a topic, either. For instance, he recently returned from a vacation in Hawaii. We were eager to hear all about it, but he wrapped it up in about three sentences, essentially saying, “The weather and the water were beautiful. I watched the tide roll in and roll out. The people were friendly.” And then he would go back to something he was talking about fifteen minutes ago.
He’s our kids’ only uncle, so they’re grateful for him and both said how good it was to see him.
He and my father have mastered the art of the exit. At almost any holiday, once they’re fed they seem to lose interest in the pleasantries. They’ll announce their departure, and no foolin’ around…they hit the pavement.

That’s okay, though; it gives the immediate family a chance to settle down back on the beat-up furniture and talk about friends and future plans. That quiet, sit-around-and-talk time is one of the things we do best as a family.

It’s been a great holiday so far. Several of our daughter’s hometown friends, also home from college, came over and spent a lot of time with us on Wednesday. It’s the kind of happy holiday reunion I have been hoping for since they took off for different schools. We had seen the girls recently during a football trip to Baton Rouge, but having them in the house takes things to a different level. I hope everybody comes back for leftovers.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Microphone in Hand and Turf Under My Feet

Who’s the guy in the cap on the sidelines of a football game with his head down all the time? What’s he doing? Praying? No. he’s updating Twitter!
Lately, fleeting glimpses of this mysterious figure have been seen on local TV stations as they run highlights of these games. Of course, almost no one else would notice; but if you happen to see yourself on a TV screen consistently looking crestfallen, it can be a little disconcerting.
There’s a reason to be on the sidelines, usually tied to a media outlet, so there’s an urgency to stay up to date on social media. Facebook friends and twitter followers demand it!
Having spent some time in the domain of fans this season, it’s become clear that as a guy who has a hard time sitting still anyway, I feel most comfortable on the sidelines. When you’re on the field, you must move around to have a good view of what’s going on and/ or to avoid being run over by football players. So, the freedom to roam around makes my heart glad.

For ten weeks during this football season, a radio show locked me into a studio and it became obvious that in that setting I felt constrained. It’s better to be at the games, not to be talking about them from a distance.
I was caught a little off guard at my own glee at returning to the sidelines for high school football broadcasts. After doing spot duty during the season when my studio responsibilities didn’t conflict, now I’m all in for the playoff run. The on-field post-game interview with the coach is just at a different level from one done on the phone. There’s something about looking a guy in the eye, even on an empty football field.

They team we’re covering is undefeated so far this season, so maybe there will be a few more Friday nights left to enjoy before we pack up the pigskin for the long, cold winter.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

It's Never too Late to Be a Tiger

Those of us who have spent decades of autumns prowling in and around Tiger Stadium might occasionally be guilty of taking the experience for granted. Over the weekend, I took in the LSU football experience with a fresh perspective. My sweet mother-in-law attended her first LSU game.

Her daughter was with her every step of the way, which means something because we walked all over the campus, soaking up game-day ambience.

We even took a detour to a popular restaurant/ sports bar where we had a little gumbo and watched day games.

The timing of this experience was critical. LSU is having such a great season that all of their conference home games this season have been played during the day at the behest of the TV networks. A homecoming date against a lesser opponent allowed for a “real” Tiger Stadium experience: Death Valley at night.

Moreover, it meant a reasonable hour for related activities like watching the team walk to the stadium down Victory Hill, and later Mike the Tiger, The Golden Band from Tigerland, the LSU cheerleaders and the Golden Girls.

Regardless of her septuagenarian status, mother-in-law was excited like a little girl, wide-eyed and smiling while declaring “it’s so neat to see all these things I’ve seen on TV so many times.”

I was fun for us, too. As we waited for the band, my wife and I talked about how long it had been since we had done all of this. Typically, we concentrate almost exclusively on the games themselves and don't take the time to soak in all the sideshows.

You can tell people about the crowds, the spirit and everything that goes along with it; but until you see it, feel it, touch it and smell it, you don’t really grasp it. Finally, she knows what Baton Rouge is like on a football Saturday. It’s something any true-blue Louisianan should know and it’s never too late to discover it.

During the course of the day and evening, it came up several times that mother-in-law hadn’t been to a game before.
Consistently upon hearing this, people would take a little pause, consider that for a moment, and get a little wide-eyed.
They were always gracious, though, and said something like “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

I think that’s the way it turned out, especially for my wife and me. College football has been such a significant part of our relationship, it’s nice that now maybe her mom is a little closer to understanding why.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Echoes of Delight in the Alabama Night

Late Saturday night, while the echoes of more than 100,000 screaming voices were still ascending into the chilly Alabama night, an acquaintance from a Louisiana television station greeted me by saying, "Look, it’s big-game Darrell.” If a new nickname has been pinned upon me, I’ll wear it gratefully. Yes, it seems I have developed a knack for showing up for significant sporting events.
The most recent was a game between LSU and Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tigers were ranked #1 in the nation. The Crimson Tide was #2. It has been called the most important regular season game in Southeastern Conference history. LSU won in overtime and I got to see every play: the first three quarters and half of the fourth while essentially straddling the 50 yard line about half-way up the stadium; the final 7 minutes or so, I watched from the sidelines.
During the game, I received a text message from another long-time broadcasting buddy, who was back home in Louisiana. It said “Take a moment and thank God for allowing you the privilege of tonight.” That’s how significant this event was. I was there by the grace of God.

It helps to have great friends with fantastic connections.

It’s also good that I have a legitimate role to play and I can rely on what has become some kind of sportscaster emeritus status. I work for my access, trying to earn my keep as a per diem videographer/ journalist/ producer/ photographer…whatever it takes.

What a day it was! It was estimated that at its peak, the crowd in and around the stadium exceeded 160 thousand.
Fans wearing purple and gold were treading a little trepidatiously as they navigated their way through a crimson sea on University Boulevard.

That means there were half again as many people outside as there were in, as people just wanted to be a part of something special.

A South Louisiana chef fed thousands as he set up on campus and made the world’s biggest pot of gumbo. He sold it for five bucks a bowl, and all the money went to a relief fund to help the city of Tuscaloosa, which was devastated by a monster tornado early in the year.

We had a great time hanging out together, as we always do; but when night fell, it was all business. We were there to cover an event. It did not disappoint.

Neither team led by more than three points and no matter who you were pulling for, the outcome was in doubt until the final play, a game-winning overtime field goal. Or, as another friend watching on TV put it in yet another text message, referring to the tension he was experiencing: “It’s all I can do not to vomit continuously.”
I never felt like throwing up, but I am glad LSU won. It made the long overnight drive home a little easier to endure.
I don’t know where the next big game will be for me, but I thank God and my friends in advance for letting me tag along.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The High Notes From the Weekend

I didn’t have a football trip planned for the most recent weekend, so I mentioned to my daughter that we might come visit her. She didn’t exactly hop up and down, clap her hands and say “goody!” It was a big weekend for her and her friends, especially with Halloween festivities mixed in. As has become their custom, they operated as a unit, dressing up as “minions,” characters from the 2010 movie “Despicable Me.” If you get the joke, it was pretty funny.

Their school’s football team had a nationally-televised game from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Not being there, naturally I watched part of it on TV. During ESPN’s opening sequence, there was a group of familiar faces cheering and doing Horned Frog hand signs. Five Seconds of cable glory from a tailgate party!

With a rare free October Saturday night, somehow I was compelled to attend an opera. The production was “The Merry Widow,” which to my untrained ear seemed more like straight-up musical theater; but there were high notes sung by an ingénue.

As operas go, this one was light and entertaining and several people in the audience thought it was funny. It was performed in English, so it surprises me a little that I apparently missed some of the humor. There were times when people around me were laughing and I was thinking, “Wait. What? Why are we laughing?” Another part of me thinks “somebody told these people this was supposed to be funny, so they’re chuckling dutifully.” Or, maybe I just didn’t get it.

I want to emphasize that I found the performances to be first-rate and the production to be enjoyable. And, yes, there were a couple of times when I DID laugh, just not necessarily at the times when others did.

At some point, the curtain went down and the lights came up and I sad, “oh, halftime!” An opera patron to my left rolled her eyes and said “I believe it’s called intermission.” Really? Thanks for the opera primer. I guess you can’t make a sports joke at the opera.

Later (and I mean later. We had been strapped in for a couple of hours), the curtain went down and the lights came up again. The show clearly wasn’t over. My God, it was a second intermission! So, I said, “Oh, this is more like hockey, I guess.” The lady to my left was not amused.

When the bows were taken and the bravos were shouted, we were walking to a post-opera social as I checked my phone for scores. I had been out of touch with my football for three hours. There were several huge upsets while the widow was making merry, and I said to my wife “Wow, we missed a pretty eventful night of football while we were at the opera.” The men around me laughed. The ladies seemed to raise their noses skyward ever so slightly.

Oh, well, it was a growth experience for me, I guess. Although I would have been perfectly content to be in this company instead:

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