Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday's Lighter Note: College Football's Mardi Gras

Other than family, work and running, I have few passions ... except college football. I live in the South, and perhaps you may not get it, maybe you do. IF you do then read on ... .

While I toil away at the office, I start seeing about this time of the year the slightest uptick of emails from lawyers sending along not some PI form for this blog or news about an unsafe drug, but helpful items like ... an SEC football composite football helmet schedule, the two deep QB lists for all D1 squads, and the early "Top 100" high school football players for the 2007 Recruiting Class. And those are just the ones I read.

So here, with many thanks to the boys over at ESPN is how excited we college football nuts are - this week, with a month to go before game one:

Your calendar says the 2006 college football season starts Aug. 31. Mine says it officially began in Birmingham, Alabama on Wednesday July 26th at 12:47 p.m., when grown women clutching footballs and Sharpies climbed over tables, chairs -- even sports-talk radio personnel -- in a crazed attempt to nearly gang tackle Alabama coach Mike Shula as he tried to make his way to the second floor of the Wynfrey Hotel.

Gawd, I love the living, breathing freak show that is the SEC Football Media Days. You don't attend the SEC's 52-hour football overdose as much as you try to survive it. No place in the world has more Urkels per square foot than the lobby of the Wynfrey during the league's annual kickoff sessions. The place is more crowded than a Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving.

One of the women got his autograph, thanks to a bull rush around the corner and then over a radio guy sitting at a table. Too bad Bama doesn't need help on the D-line. Also in the crowd was a guy holding a stack of houndstooth hats (can't they let the Bear rest in peace?), a codger wearing shin-high Crimson socks and shorts (pause for fashion scream), and assorted people wearing T-shirts that generally made fun of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.

Shula took an elevator to the room, and missed the media greeting party waiting for him at the nearby escalator: 18 TV cameramen, three photographers and a few goobers like myself who wanted to see if the fourth-year Bama coach would be overwhelmed by the attention and ask for his blanky and a glass of warm buttermilk.

I'll admit it: I usually build my summer around the SEC Media Days. It's the preseason football equivalent of Mardi Gras. It's Tommy Lee kooky. It's off-the-charts excessive.

I'm not alone. There are more than 600 credentialed media members here, which is more credentials than the league issues for its championship game. If you add the credentials given to the conference's corporate and bowl partners, the number reaches 740. Now you know why Shula stammered his way through his SEC Media Days debut in 2003. Or why conference commissioner Mike Slive, also a rookie in 2002, took one look at the massive media crowd and almost required medical assistance.

"I walked in here and I'll tell you, I could hardly breathe," says Slive, who came to the SEC from Conference USA. "I have very little recollection."

Every major conference has football media days. And it usually works like this: Each coach launches into a painful monologue detailing his three-deep depth chart, and then answers such detailed questions as, "When your tight end blocks down on the strongside backer, who seals the cornerback when he forces on run support?"

Only the SEC Media Days has featured Nick Saban's massive dog darting around the Wynfrey's second floor after the pooch somehow escaped from the then-LSU coach's hotel room.

This is the event where some players (two from each of the SEC's 12 teams are invited) actually design and coordinate their own outfits, as if it were the NFL draft. This is where a taxi driver once pulled a gun on a visiting SEC writer.
"It's 24-7-365," Slive says.

And Slive's staff already has prepared the interview schedule for 2007. Is it too early to request a credential?

Go here for the story with pics.

I hear you Geno, I hear you. I just spent my lunch time going over my beloved Gators' O-Line experience/height/weight compared to the team's first four opponents. When we got to the comparison of the Univ. of Georgia's Line, a total stranger sitting next to us not only "harumphed" loud enough to hear, but made a few helpful comments that we had not considered. Why four teams you may be asking? Because the next eight get covered this weekend.