I Don’t Know What Can Possibly Top This, But An SEC Championship Would Be A Nice Place To Start

I was 11 or 12 years old, I think, when I discovered that the Sunday sports section was a gold mine of information during the college football season. My little hometown paper didn’t necessarily have loads of coverage, but the Jackson paper, the Clarion-Ledger, always devoted at least two full pages to each Mississippi team. So on Sunday mornings in the fall, I’d gather up four quarters (or ask Daddy for some) and carefully put them in the newspaper machine outside the Jitney Jr. on the way home from church. I can still hear the “plunk” of those quarters hitting metal and the creak of the newspaper machine door as it opened. Even now I think it’s what anticipation sounds like.

After Sunday lunch – or sometimes even during Sunday lunch – I’d open up that newspaper and read every single word about Mississippi State in the sports section. I saved all the stories that I loved in a brown photo album with a fancy fake brass binder. I soaked up every single word of Rick Cleveland’s columns and wondered how he learned to write like that. Same for Orley Hood, Billy Watkins and, in my grown-up years, Sekou Smith, Ian Rapoport and Kyle Veazey. Even though they have no idea, those men have been some of my very best writing teachers. I respect their work so much.

So a few weeks ago, when a blog reader-turned-friend who works for the Southeastern Conference asked me if I’d want to tag along with her during SEC Media Days, I was thrilled. THRILLED. Because yes, I love college football, and I especially love SEC football, and I especially especially love Mississippi State football. But no kidding: on equal footing in the thrill department – at least for me – was the prospect of seeing sportswriters that I’d read and admired for years in their element. In their natural habitat, if you will. LIVE AND IN PERSON. I couldn’t wait.

Since I already had plans to be out of town last Thursday and Friday, I could only make it to the first day of media days last Wednesday. I made a not-so-quick stop to get my driver’s license renewed on the way to Galleria (media days are at the Wynfrey Hotel, which is connected to the Galleria), and as I pulled off the interstate and onto my exit, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I’d been to that big ole mall in high school and college, wondering what sah-weet treasures Express and Espirit and Benetton might have to offer. There’s just no way I could’ve known that a trip to the Galleria at age 41 was going to blow that sassy safari t-shirt I bought from the Galleria Banana Republic when I was 17 STRAIGHT OUT OF THE WATER.

I couldn’t decide where to park once I got close to the mall, but I finally opted for the parking garage next to Sears. I have no idea why, especially since it’s not particularly convenient or, you know, CLOSE to the Wynfrey, but it wasn’t crowded and I was nervous and I felt a little better knowing that maybe I could CALM DOWN A SMIDGE on my walk to the hotel. Plus, I discovered as I walked through Sears that hammerhead auto-hammers were on sale for $99, and I would’ve completely missed that critical piece of info if I had parked, say, by the Belk’s. Or with the hotel valet. So clearly I made the right decision.

Also, I took this picture on my way to the hotel, but again, I have no explanation why.

Apparently I was feeling very impulsive and devil-may-care-ish last Wednesday.

I think we can all feel better now that we’ve seen such a stunning glimpse of Indoor Mall Architecture of the mid- to late- 80s. I know I do.

When I walked in the hotel there was all manner of activity going on in an area that’s called “Radio Row.” About 20 sports radio stations set up shop in the entry of the hotel during media days, and walking between all those tables is like being in a movie scene where all the supporting characters voice their opinions while rotating around the main character’s head. And I know that I’m probably not explaining that well, but four of you totally understood what I was trying to say, and I’m just as grateful as I can be for that. Apparently you four watched just as many John Hughes movies as I did.

After walking around for a few minutes I found my friend K at the registration tables, and I told her to put me to work – otherwise I’d just stand there and stare. She asked if I’d mind helping with lanyards and name tags, and of course I didn’t mind because I WAS JUST SO TICKLED TO BE THERE. Within five minutes I’d seen one of the men I mentioned earlier, another reporter who’s a bit of a legend in these parts, and a radio host/blogger from another state (known by Sister and me as the Chief Pot Stirrer during all the Cam Newton stuff). I didn’t say a word to any of the media folks, of course, mainly because I think I would have scared them if they knew how much I love to read what they write. And they probably would’ve thought I was a stalker. And then they might’ve called security. And what good is attending your first SEC Media Days if you have to be escorted back past the hammerhead auto-hammers as the nice men with badges are seeing you to your car?

When the registration stuff was almost over, we walked down the hall to a BEAUTIFUL lunch from the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Bureau, a new corporate sponsor of the SEC. It was a big ole seafood spread, and oh, it was tasty. I happened to be sitting with some State fans at lunch, and it was big fun to talk about All Things Bulldogs over some fried shrimp, crabcakes and iced tea.

(Come to think of it, that last sentence could be the foundation of a pretty good country song.)

(Only the country song would have to be about beer and not iced tea, but DON’T TELL THE BAPTISTS OR THEY’LL KICK ME OUT.)

(Oh, I kid.)

(They’ll only kick me out if I’m dancing.)

After lunch we went upstairs to where all the coaches and players were speaking. The line-up for Wednesday was Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State, and if you think I wasn’t over the moon about getting to see that last school, then perhaps I should introduce myself. As well as my MSU crazy.

Since I’d never been to media days before, I didn’t have any sort of frame of reference for the size of the event. And that’s why I was a smidge surprised when we walked into the room where the coaches were speaking and I saw how many reporters were in the room.

We rotated in and out of the big room for the rest of the day; we’d listen to a coach speak, then head in the direction of the conference rooms to watch the players move from TV interview to TV interview. The whole process is a well-oiled machine; it’s really well-done and so respectful of the coaches’ and players’ time. It also felt a little bit like a giant family reunion since a lot of the media relations people, reporters and SEC people have known each other for years. The SEC staff members were incredibly gracious and welcoming to everybody; it was impressive, really, to see how organized and efficient they were without seeming the least bit stressed or hurried.

Also, did I mention that I got to see the MSU quarterback? Because I totally got to see the MSU quarterback.

I have a feeling that he’s going to do great things for the Bulldogs this year.

The very last speaker of the day was Dan Mullen, MSU’s head coach, and to my credit I did not ring a cowbell (aye, and loudly) when he entered the room. I thought every coach did something really well when he spoke: Bobby Petrino maintained a calm optimism throughout his speech, Will Muschamp showed that he’s not afraid to coach with the big boys, Steve Spurrier won over every single person in the room with his dry wit and self deprecation.

And Dan Mullen? Oh, mercy. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the best PR machine that Starkville and Mississippi State have ever had. I lived in Starkville for six years when I was in college and grad school, and by the end of Coach Mullen’s speech, I was ready to go home, pack some boxes, load up the family and move back to Starkvegas. He and his wife love it there, and their enthusiasm for Mississippi and her people is totally contagious.

Once Coach Mullen’s speech was over, my friend K gave me the best parting gift ever: a box filled with media guides for every single SEC school. You can imagine my delight. And you can also imagine that once football season starts I will DRIVE MY PEOPLE CUCKOO when I pull out the media guides for whatever two teams happen to be playing. Because Mama here will want to SHARE SOME PLAYER NAMES AND STATISTICS. Oh yes ma’am I will.

All in all it was an absolutely incredible day. I got to see so many writers I admire, and I also got a little spring in my step when I realized that FOOTBALL SEASON, IT IS UPON US. I cannot wait. And while I’ve always been proud to cheer for a school that’s part of the SEC, I think I’ll be even more proud this year. Because the folks that I met at media days? They’re good people. They work hard. They work well.

And they work with their sponsors to make sure that there’s an endless array of fountain drinks and Golden Flake potato chips right outside the print media room.

Honestly, what’s not to love?

Go ‘Dogs.

It. Was. Glorious.

Today I went to SEC Media Days for the very first time. It will probably come as no surprise that I loved every single second of it. And I have every intention of boring you to tears (TO TEARS) with all my pictures and thoughts and favorite moments and etc.

But right now I’m wiped out, not to mention that I need to finish packing for my last bloggy trip of the summer and a flight that leaves early tomorrow morning.

So consider this post a bit of a placeholder. But if you’re an SEC fan, you can watch the Media Days coverage live tomorrow and Friday on the SEC Digital Network, ESPN3, or via the free Watch ESPN app. The festivities start in the morning at 9:30 eastern, I think.

All righty. There you have it. It’s been a good, full, happy day.

Go ‘Dogs.

I’ve Watched This Way Too Many Times…

…but oh my word – I CANNOT WAIT for football season.

(link via sweet Carol)

Who will you be cheering for this fall?

Some Thoughts On Pageants And Basketball

After church this morning the little man and I hopped in the car and drove to Starkville to see the Bulldogs play Auburn. I planned this little outing on the spur of the moment after State beat Ole Miss last Thursday night, and I figured it would be a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. D didn’t really care about going because basketball is his least favorite sport (AND SOMEHOW WE’VE MANAGED TO STAY MARRIED FOR OVER 13 YEARS), so Alex and I went on a super-quick mama-son road trip. I was tickled to pieces about spending the afternoon at State with my young’un because 1) basketball and 2) MY WORD, BASKETBALL.

On the way to Starkville Alex decided that he wanted to play Angry Birds on my iPod, so I called Melanie to distract myself from the Angry Birds music that EMBEDS ITSELF IN MY BRAIN. Seriously. After I hear it for five minutes I start to mimic the motions of a marionette, and after ten minutes I’m ready to throw the iPod out the window because OH SWEET MERCY AT THAT MUSIC. Anyway, Mel and I desperately needed to discuss Saturday night’s Miss America pageant. We’d enjoyed a lively commentary on Twitter the night before, but there comes a time when you need to discuss a topic beyond the 140 character limit.

I have to say that I was thrilled to see Miss America back on a major network. It should be. And Chris Harrison is the perfect host – totally earnest but completely in on the schtick of the whole thing, too. He gets it. Because the thing about Miss America is that you can’t overthink it – you just have to embrace it. I’ve said for years that the pageant needs to quit worrying about proving how modern it is and just let some girls twirl some fire batons, already. When I was growing up Miss America wasn’t just a pageant – it was an event – but for the last few years it seems like the pageant has been trying to prove its relevance, and it’s lost some of its appeal in the process.

I guess the bottom line is that when it comes the Miss America pageant, there are only, in my opinion, a few must-haves: articulate women, entertaining talents and evening gowns that have been bedazzled to the point that they weigh anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds.

I would also appreciate a couple of musical numbers. You know, something like this.

Or maybe even this.

Apparently the 1989 Miss America pageant was co-sponsored by Leslie Lucks dresses and Paul Mitchell Freeze & Shine.

The more I’ve thought about it today, the more I’ve decided that there were parts of last night’s pageant that were closer to the days of yore than what we’ve seen in recent years. Granted, there was no shortage of cheesy, but oh my goodness that’s part of the charm. I don’t like all the tricky business of having a top 12 but only 10 people do their talents and then wait! Only five of you will be interviewed! Overall, though, there were some definite old-school moments. And I just think that’s how Miss America should be. There was a ventriloquist who yodeled, for heaven’s sake. In fact, I couldn’t help but hark back to one of my all-time favorite pageant moments from my teenage years.

Yes. I know. And you’re welcome.

Mel and I eventually wrapped up our post-pageant analysis, and before I knew it Alex and I were walking into the coliseum. It wasn’t lost on me that the Black Crowes were playing as we made our way to our seats – it was like 1991 all over again except for the fact that I wasn’t wearing a really big bow in my hair and also my bangs no longer have their own zip code. But we did see Bully when we were on the way to meet EK, and that made a certain seven year-old very happy indeed.

Have I ever told y’all that I am fairly terrified of mascots?

Well, I am fairly terrified of mascots.

I attribute this fear to my lifelong distrust of clowns.

But I digress.

We were so glad that it worked out for us to sit by EK and her little man during the game, and OH, how we cheered. State was ahead by at least 15 points for most of the game, so the boys on the bench got lots of playing time. It was so fun to yell for them. Alex, like his daddy, is completely cut and dried when it comes to matters of competition – he’s not going to half-way cheer for anybody, and if you’re the opposing team, well, you fall from his good graces for the duration of the game. When the game’s over, everybody can be buddies again, but until then, NO MERCY. Anyway, at one point in the second half an Auburn player fouled Dee Bost, the Bulldogs’ point guard, and my child pointed his finger straight at that Auburn player, leaned forward in his seat and yelled, “DO NOT MESS WITH THE MIGHTY DEE BOST!”

And I was so proud.

So I guess the bottom line is that my weekend consisted of Miss America, church, and SEC basketball. I believe that’s what the sociologists refer to as the Southern trifecta. And the fact that I saw Miss Arkansas yodel? Well, we might just be dealing with the Southern quadfecta.

Which may or may not be a word.

But if it isn’t, it totally should be.

New Year, New Opportunity To Bore You To Pieces

I know I’ve mentioned this about 152 times, but after a 2009 holiday season that was a little rough because of the way family travel plans fell out (and was made worse by the fact that I was on the front end of a few months where I would feel a strong pull toward pajamas, television and no small degree of loneliness), I wasn’t exactly in my finest emotional state at the beginning of 2010. And while my normal reaction under similar circumstances would probably be to dream up some fun activities for the three of us or use the time productively or try to see the bright side of the situation, SUCH WAS NOT THE CASE IN 2009.

Given all of that, D and I agreed at the beginning of December that we were going to make a conscious effort to Take Part In Activities during this most recent round holidays. And oh, did we ever. We didn’t over-commit or anything – and we made sure to have plenty of at-home time – but we may have set a personal record for Having Plans. And do you know what? WE ENJOYED IT. Plus, we had more time with extended family this year (we saw D’s family and my brother’s family before Christmas, my parents were here Christmas Day and then Sister and her hubby were here for FOUR WHOLE DAYS after Christmas), not to mention that I got to catch up with some sweet friends last week. IT WAS ALL QUITE DELIGHTFUL.

And all that to say: I think it was our best Christmas and New Year’s ever. Seriously. We had an absolute blast. And in the end it had very little to do with the activities and everything to do with the fact that we got to spend time with lots of people. I told D this morning that the end of 2010 was pretty much the antithesis to the end of 2009, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. Because while I know there are lessons in every season of life, it sure is more fun to sit around a table and laugh until your sides hurt than it is to stay in your pajamas for three days and struggle to remember the last time you took a shower.

I’M JUST SAYIN’.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of All The Fun.

Alex got to hang out with his lifelong friend AC when we met my friend Norma and her girls for lunch this past Wednesday. It’s always so great to see them. Norma and I put the kids at the table next to us and let them eat their food and visit while we ate our food and covered about 72 different topics in an hour. We started off talking about hair color and had made our way to the spiritual gift of prophecy by the time lunch was over. Those two topics weren’t related, by the way, though you can rest assured that there have been MANY times when I have longed for someone to speak a prophetic word over my hair, amen.

I picked up these DELICIOUS gingersnaps for half-price when we were running errands Thursday morning, and OH MY WORD THEY’RE TASTY. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many of those cookies we’ve eaten over the last four days, but you can rest in the peace of knowing that it’s A LOT. They’re so thin and crispy and ginger-y – all the qualities I admire in a gingersnap.

Friday morning Sister and I went to a few of my favorite stores in Homewood, and afterwards we hopped over to my friend Jan’s bakery to pick up some cupcakes. When we were leaving Jan said to be sure to stop by the new antiques market at the end of the street, and since we were feeling all footloose and fancy-free-ish, we did just that. There were lots of different booths, and I couldn’t help but think of a couple of friends whose husbands love to hunt when I saw this:

THAT’S A LAMP BASE, PEOPLE.

When we finally made our way to the back of the store, I was drawn to a booth with a bunch of original paintings. I loved the colors, loved the style, and when I saw how affordable the prices were, I picked out one for my foyer and brought it home.

YOU CAN IMAGINE MY JOY.

We capped off the day with some friends who stopped by for New Year’s Eve, and oh sweet mercy I laughed until I cried. Sister and I managed to stay up until midnight, but everybody else had given up the ghost long before that. We really weren’t even staying up to welcome the new year – we were just trying to work in a little last-minute research before Mississippi State played Michigan in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. Pre-game preparation is essential, you know.

(If anyone is still reading this post, I should probably offer you some sort of prize.)

(I’m just as sorry as I can be about your certain boredom.)

(But it’s like I have to document all of this stuff so that I can free up memory space in my brain and move fully into 2011.)

(The crazy takes up a lot of room, you understand.)

Much to our delight, Emma Kate and her daughter C were able to join us on New Year’s Day. Since all of EK’s fellas were hunting, she and C had a girls’ weekend here in the ‘Ham. I CANNOT TELL YOU how happy it made all of us to have them here. EK even brought Sister and me a little treat she’d run across the day before.

We had a fit over them. Sister called them our Gator Bowl Good Luck Bling Rings. I mean, do you see how those fake diamonds sparkle and shine? We thought they were PERFECT, and besides my cowbell, my ring will be my new favorite game day accessory.

I didn’t have any huge expectations going into the game, but it didn’t take too long to figure out that the Bulldogs were on FI-IRE. I’ve never seen us play that well IN MY LIFE. Sister, EK and I screamed and hollered and cheered and jumped and hollered some more. And get this: the Bulldogs had such a big lead for most of the game that I never even pulled out my vacuum. CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE SUCH A THING? We really are so proud of our Bulldogs; they finished the season 9-4 (MY WORD) and made this past football season one of the most fun I can remember.

(Yes. We totally paused the TV so we could take that picture.)

(Yes. We are goobers.)

(Yes. We are PROUD goobers.)

(YES. 52-14!!!!)

It really was the best New Year’s Day ever.

Hope yours was, too.

Go ‘Dogs!

Hail, Dear Old State (And TJ Maxx, Too)

As some of you may remember, I nearly died last week during the Mississippi State / Arkansas game.

Oh, not dead dead. Just sorta kinda dead.

No need for alarm, of course. I bounced back beautifully.

Anyway, since the game against Arkansas was a bit of a heartbreaker, I was apprehensive at best about our game against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs really needed to win if we wanted to stay in the running for the Chick-fil-a bowl in Atlanta, and I’ve got enough years as a Bulldogs fan under my belt to know that things tend to get tricky for us when there’s some sort of pressure attached to a game.

And then there was the fact that the last time we played in Oxford, the Rebels beat us something like 104-2. Or maybe it was 45-0. Regardless, IT WAS SOMEWHAT EMBARRASSING.

I tried not to think about the game too much Saturday morning, and it helped that Sister and I spent a chunk of the day running errands. I had to get fabric for a couple of the little man’s school projects, and OH SWEET MERCY I may just lose my mind with the crafts. Put me in just about any situation that involves cutting fabric, and odds are that I eventually will find a small, private corner where I can assume the fetal position and weep at will. Thank goodness that Sister was here to stand in the crafty gap for me. I can’t imagine what my pre-game mental state would have been without her help.

Anyway, Sister and I were on our way home from the errands when we decided to make a quick stop at TJ Maxx. I don’t have a huge fondness for the TJ Maxx in our neck of the woods because I never seem to find anything there. I mean, I’ll occasionally find a deal, but they seem few and far between when you consider that I could walk into the TJ Maxx by Sister’s house in Nashville and find six red-hot deals within five minutes of entering the store. Maybe my TJ Maxx just gets picked over more quickly? Or maybe it’s part of a different distribution center? Or maybe I’m overthinking the nuances of TJ Maxx shopping and need to get back to the point of this post already?

Yes. That last thing.

Well.

We wandered back to the home stuff, mainly just to kill a little time before we headed back to my house before the State game. And when I turned down the third or fourth aisle, this little fella caught my eye:

Our mascot? Walking upright in a sea of red? At a TJ Maxx in Birmingham, Alabama that never has one bit of Mississippi State stuff since it is always FILLED TO THE BRIM with Alabama and Auburn merchandise?

YOU CAN’T TELL ME THAT IT WASN’T A SIGN.

In all seriousness, though, Sister and I did our best not to assign more meaning to that little Bulldog than what he deserved, and once the surprise of the initial Bulldog sighting wore off, I really didn’t think much more of it. After we looked around about 15 more minutes, we figured we probably should wrap up our Maxx-ing, so we started making our way to the front of the store.

But then this stopped me dead in my tracks.

YES MA’AM.

As you might imagine, I gasped.

It was, as best I could tell, the only one in the store. And while I was standing there trying to figure out what it might mean, WHAT COULD IT ALL MEAN, Sister tapped my shoulder and pointed at something across the aisle.

Clearly the Lord had decided to speak to us through t-shirts. I mean, it was like an Egg Bowl showdown right there in the middle of the casual knitwear.

We stood there for a few seconds, looking from the State shirt to the Ole Miss shirt to the State shirt to the Ole Miss shirt (I guess we thought that at some point the shirts were going to have words? Or a football from sporting goods was going to jump in the mix and the two shirts could battle it out in the parking lot?), and eventually my eye settled on a red tag on the Ole Miss shirt. About that time Sister said, “LOOK!” while she held up the very same tag.

The Ole Miss shirt was on sale. The State shirt wasn’t. WHAT COULD IT ALL MEAN?

And that’s not all. Because if you look even more closely at the tag, you can see two telltale words:

“PAST SEASON.”

Let that settle in for a few seconds, my friends.

“PAST SEASON.”

What happened this past season? Well, the Bulldogs beat the Rebels 41-27 in the Egg Bowl. THAT’S what happened this past season.

Let me guess: cold chills just ran down your spine.

I mean, HAVE YOU EVER?

Sister and I laughed about the whole thing while we stood in the checkout line, but we were definitely still nervous about the game. Once we got back to my house and cooked supper, everybody settled in for the Egg Bowl (Sister and I may or may not have watched from separate rooms, but I’ll save that tale of our collective crazy for another day). We cheered and hollered and clapped for three hours, and do you know what happened?

The Bulldogs won. 31-23.

The Egg Bowl trophy stays in Starkville.

photo by Keith Warren

AND THE TJ MAXX KNEW IT ALL ALONG.

Go ‘Dogs.