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November 15, 2009At first it appeared to be a "What were they thinking" day.
Antony Grant's regular-season debut coaching the University of Alabama men's basketball team was scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Coleman Coliseum, with the undefeated football team set to kick off five hours later in Starkville, Miss.
However, on second thought it was really a one-of-a-kind of day. Although I could have watched both games in their entirety had basketball started an hour earlier, there was a unique opportunity here in more ways than one.
11 a.m.: Turn on Tennessee at Ole Miss while getting ready. Notice that the Volunteers skip the pistol formation and go right for the shotgun. However, someone really needs to tell the CBS director that the canned school fight songs that are overused just sound bad. Make sure the recorder is set correctly for the football game and make sure I'm not wearing the colors of the teams I'll be covering. That's a professional no-no, so I go with blue.
Noon: Head to Coleman Coliseum where the undersized Tide is a clear underdog to Cornell, the defending Ivy League champion that returned all five starters and 11 veterans. Word has it the new coaching staff wasn't thrilled to see that for the first game of the season.
1 p.m.: The Grant era gets off to a lackluster start in terms of attendance which was later announced as 10,135 (and seemed high). He got a nice ovation when walking out on the floor the first time, but the crowd was similar to what the Crimson Tide drew near the end of last season. Meanwhile, the media guide has been released after a decision was finally made on which Grant photo to use on the cover. He's seated.
1:05 p.m.: The first possession results in a turnover, but sophomore forward JaMychal Green comes back to score first basketball of the Grant era.
1:10 p.m.: Cornell scores the next 10 points.
1:20 p.m.: A pair of Anthony Brock 3-pointers brings Alabama back, but Cornell is getting better shots and has a more balanced attack. Senario Hillman's drive pulls Tide to within 20-18, only Cornell answers with a 3-pointer that draws some cheers. The Big Red has some fans here, in part because senior guard Louis Dale is from Birmingham.
1:30 p.m.: The Tide has seven turnovers already. Wait, make that eight. Meanwhile, sports information starts distributing out-of-town scores, but not of other basketball games, SEC football. One player who's catching my eye is freshman forward Tony Mitchell. Considering the lack of post players the team will really need him to step up.
1:40: Ole Miss putting defensive tackle Jerrell Powe in at fullback near the goal-line, following the example of Alabama with Terrence Cody, is already making the rounds in the Coleman press area along with Dexter McCluster's impressive performance against Tennessee. I try to image what a Powe/Cody goal-line collision would be like and shudder.
2 p.m.: Cornell leads at the break 26-20. Tide has nine turnovers and has yet to attempt a free throw. Time to grab some coffee and head to Starkville.
3 p.m.: Found out the basketball team lost, 71-67, but can't help but be impressed that Alabama made a game of it. The Tide was down 15 at one point in the second half and closed, but Cornell made 7 of 10 3-pointers in the second half and hit its free throws. Here's something that's beyond my comprehension, though, Alabama didn't have a single free-throw attempt in the first half and was 15-for-22 in the second half. Really?
3:45 p.m.: Arrive at Mississippi State. It sure doesn't feel like an SEC game. The anticipated traffic problems are nearly non-existent as it appears to be a late-showing crowd.
4:15 p.m.: Finally get inside Davis Wade Stadium. No one seemed to know where the media entrance is. Make my way up to the open-air press box, get on-line and check out the massive new video board that can also serve as a drive-in for the entire city of Starkville. Seriously, they should show movies on this thing during the offseason.
4:30 p.m.: Already wondering why Alabama can get in trouble for playing the AC/DC bells during games because it's artificial noise, but nothing's done about the cowbells here.
5 p.m.: Just experienced my least favorite thing about games at Mississippi State. To get to the pregame meal one has to leave the side of the stadium the press box is in and walk around to the adjoining building that houses the locker rooms and alumni dining room - where I ran into Buck Showalter, whom I covered when he was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks (he's a lot more relaxed than when I was around him in 1998-99). To get back up to the press box you either have to cut in front of a couple of hundred people in line for the lone elevator, or walk up the stairs. I hate those stairs. Gorgeous sunset, though.
5:30 p.m.: The cowbells are deafening, even during warm-ups. Between that and the overly loud PA system, Mississippi State should hand out aspirins in the press box.
6 p.m.: MSU comes out in black jerseys with maroon numbers, wearing the color scheme for the first time ever. I've never heard this stadium so loud, but a suggestion: The next renovation should be on the dog house they wheel out before kickoff in front of the team. By the way, did you know the former mascots are actually buried here?
7:30 p.m.: Halftime. You can just feel the life being sucked out of the stadium. MSU didn't convert a third down in the first half, completed just four passes and had just 83 yards of total offense. One more score and the Bulldogs will have to start airing it out and we'll probably see some turnovers.
8:45 p.m.: My favorite part of covering games, going down to the field. Had to take the stairs again because the elevator was packed of Mississippi State fans making an early exit, and one can barely hear a cowbell as Alabama puts the finishing touches on the 31-3 dominating victory. Had a great view of Mark Ingram busting through the hole on his 70-yard touchdown run and Mark Barron's second interception. Hey look, Star Jackson.
9:30 p.m.: Nick Saban's press conference was held in a large closet outside of the locker room, followed by the player interviews back on the field. There's not too much that can be said about such a convincing win and after a while the questions aren't very good either. I start getting frustrated with so many people about the black jerseys, like they had anything to do with the outcome. Squeezed in the final question to Ingram, "Did you take any stitches?" The answer, "Five."
10 p.m.: Head back upstairs to get back to work while someplace nearby is having a very loud karaoke night. Can't think of a headline for my game story, but eventually come up with "Black dog." How often do you get to use a Led Zeppelin song as a headline? See, told you it was a one-of-a-kind day.
Midnight: Leave the cold press box and venture out to find the car parked in the middle of a lot that's been overrun by revelers. Run into a DUI checkpoint just off campus. For some reason the officers don't waste much time with us.
2 a.m.: Finally home. Still a little too keyed up so watch a little of the first quarter before falling asleep.
Yep, quite a day. What's next?
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