A GRIP ON SPORTS
Man I forgot how tiring it is to watch college football practice in 90-degree heat. Almost as tiring as it is to actually practice, I'm sure. Read on.
• Before we get to my impressions of Washington State (spoiler alert: football practices are pretty much the same no matter who is in charge) I wanted to fulfill a promise I made yesterday. Yep, I'm going to share a story from Autzen Stadium. It dates all the way back to October 3, 2009, during the second year of the Paul Wulff era. The Ducks were good, the Cougars weren't. Add it up and it resulted in a 52-6 Oregon rout over WSU, making the 57,378 pretty darn happy. And allowing many of them to celebrate with adult beverages. Remember that. As you may or may not know, the print media is kept in the pressbox at most stadiums until the final five minutes of the game. At Autzen, as at other places, you then have to make your way to the field for post-game interviews wherever they take place (in most venues, postgame occurs in an area off the field, usually near the locker room, so you follow the team off the field and wait for players and coaches to emerge). At some fields you have to make your way through the stands, in others there are elevators and paths to the field that avoid the crowd. Autzen is one of the former. So, with something less than five minutes left in a 47-point rout, I began my trip down to the field. Only problem: the crowd was leaving. And the aisles are pretty narrow. So here I am, making like a salmon trying to get upstream against the current. Except the current was made up of people, one of whom who had over-celebrated with his adult beverage of choice. He decided I shouldn't be going down to the field. I should be leaving like everyone else and told me so. Sorry, but I've got a mission to complete, so I pushed my way past him. He then proceeded to punch me in the back as I went by. Now, in my younger days, I would have stopped, pivoted and delivered an answer with my fist – have I ever mentioned I am Italian? – but by this time I was a calm, relaxed member of the over-50 set, so I continued on, my blood pressure rising as I descended the crowded steps. Finally I made it to the field.
• But the adventure was just beginning. As time ran down, I noticed a bunch of people congregating near the steps that led to the field. I asked Bud Withers, the veteran Seattle Times writer who has attended approximately 2,300 football games in Eugene, what was up and he explained Oregon has this cute tradition of letting fans on the field after the game was over. They run around, throw footballs, pretend to be Ducks. A pretty cool idea. Then the game ended and we made our way to the end zone nearest the Cougar locker room. The players and coaches would be shepherded to us, where we would do our interviews in a fenced-in area just outside the end zone but within a stone's throw of the field. The Oregon band, just off to our right, was kind enough to continue playing while we interviewed folks, making it all that easier to be misunderstood. How nice. So out steps Wulff, a little ticked off after the shellacking, but willing to answer questions. The mob of writers, cameras and assorted other folks descended upon him, with myself in the front, just off Wulff's right shoulder. Withers, who didn't react as quickly, was behind me, but in true veteran reporter fashion, he raised his recorder over my head, holding it above my right ear where it could catch everything Wulff said. Until, in the middle of a question, it exploded. Understand, we are far enough away from the field that the action on it is not affecting us. But we are close enough if someone wanted to launch a football into the middle of our knot of people, they could. And someone did. The football must have traveled on a flight path that carried it through Wither's tape recorder and into the right side of my skull. The recorder ricocheted off my head and to the ground, where it broke into 127 pieces. The football ricocheted off my head and went flying toward the locker room, where it came to rest. The first words out of my mouth, that I can write here, included the question “what was that?” as I really didn't know. Wulff must have misunderstood me because he answered a “who” question, using the word “some” and finishing it with a noun that starts with the letter A. I was reeling a bit (every get hit with the point of a football in the head? Me neither until that day, but it hurt and had me seeing stars) and Withers was out one tape recorder, but the interview continued. I lent Bud my copy of Wulff's comments, he later wrote a scathing letter to the Pac-10 about the conditions and the next time we covered the Cougars in Autzen, we were in a little room off the field. The Cougars lost that one, 43-28.
• Speaking of the Cougars, I watched practice yesterday, their first day in pads. My first impression: It was pretty darn hot. But no one got sick, which is a testament to how much running and conditioning they did in the offseason. Though a lot of players shed weight, talking with some of the weight-training staff, no one lost strength. So the improved fitness allows them to compete at the level Mike Leach wants them to. Which brings me to a Leach practice. I've seen a lot of different coaches run practices and Leach's is different, but not all that different. In fact, the defensive side of practice included just one drill I had not seen before, a goal-line tackling drill. The offensive side was almost completely filled with passing and passing-game elements, but that can be expected with the thrust of the offense. And the speed of practice was not all that much greater than the past few years, though there seemed to be a lot more team segments. Those segments are not timed by a clock, however. They are timed by Leach. Instead of a clock ticking off the 10 minutes or so of each drill, the Cougars work on something until Leach is satisfied with his group's progress (always something with the offense), then the groups switch. It makes the practice a bit more fluid.
• As for the players, I was impressed by some of the newcomers' bodies. Some of them, like Ioane Gauta and Brett Bartolone, also had some moments in which they excelled, but one day isn't enough for anyone to tell if a player is going to be good – and help fill a hole. Sorry, but I'm not going to write Gabe Marks is the next Marquess Wilson because, though he looked good, how the heck do I know if his play is going to be at that level over a long period of time?
• Washington State: Christian Caple has you covered this morning, as he always does, with his morning blog post. That post includes video from after practice, but Christian has discovered a long-lost video from a player he passes along. It's no “Blair Witch Project” video, but it does have some similarities (as in it was lost for a while). Christian also has his blog post from last night about the changes among WSU's players (including Rickey Galvin, above), which led to this story. … The WSU basketball team rallied a few times in the second half and won the opening game of its Australia trip, 75-74 over the Melbourne Tigers. You can find the box score here.
• Indians: After a short homestand, the Indians hit the road again. They also lost again, this time 4-2 to Salem-Keiser.
• Preps: Greg Lee has his weekly youth notebook.
• Mariners: The Eric Bedard trade just keeps on giving … to Baltimore. Chris Hillman, who went to the Orioles in the trade for Bedard, who never panned out, picked up the win, out-dueling Jason Vargas (above), 3-1. It is Hillman's third win against the M's in three starts. … Mike Carp took a day off to see his newborn child. … Larry Stone thinks it's finally time to cut ties with Chone Figgins. … There are many parts to building a winner.
• Seahawks: Terrell Owens is now a Seahawk. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? You can argue either way I suppose, but Jerry Brewer argues there is danger involved. … Danny O'Neil of the Times chats about the Seahawks.
• Sorry this is a bit late today, but it takes a while to write a tale at times. The post will be earlier tomorrow, I promise. Until then …