Blogging for Eleven Warriors is a pretty cool and unique opportunity that I never really thought I'd ever get. I had written things about Ohio State football in the past for my friends, previews and predictions and so on, but writing about the Buckeyes with any sort of regularity and with any sort of audience seemed to be a pipe dream that would probably never end up happening. So when it did, I was extremely excited. I was also happy just writing one or two really goofy posts a week; I'd never considered myself all that much more informed than some of my other fellow fans (and usually still don't), so the idea of doing any sort of actual reporting was not anything I had considered.
Then, this past August, Jason asked me if I could attend a few practices, take some pictures, get some video, and maybe ask a question or two. This really threw me for a loop. After immediately saying that I'd do it, I started to realize that I had pretty much no idea exactly how to do it. That continues to be a pretty consistent theme in most of my posts here, and what I want to talk about today are some of my experiences this past season in my adventures of "doing it," "it" being covering Ohio State football with some modicum of accuracy and semi-professionalism while continuing to be in way, way over my head. If you're looking for in depth analysis of Braxton Miller's throwing motion, you might want to check out the upcoming podcast instead.
However, if you're looking for anecdotes about players getting stuck in metal bleachers and Ellen Tressel almost getting run over, then you've come to the right place.
Not a game. Practice.
I hate August probably more than any human being alive, but on this particular August day the offensive linemen who are tasked with hitting a blocking sled over and over in the 93 degree heat were probably a tad more miserable than I was. Also I was actually excited to be at practice watching a red-faced Jim Bollman yell at his line, whereas Mike Brewster and company were probably less thrilled.
In any case, this is basically what an Ohio State Buckeyes football team practice looks like in the summer: old men yelling at young men to do repetitive tasks perfectly or else they'll get yelled at again, while a few dozen reporters look on balefully and text each other fart jokes. If this sounds like I'm ripping on OSU football here, I'm not. The players and coaches clearly have a level of competence in mind that they want to attain, and if point A is where they are currently at and point B is where they want to get to, the coaches seem to have a good handle on the most efficient point from A to B.
It can be somewhat boring to watch. Until you get to see it up close.
"I'M OKAY! I'M OKAY. AUGH!"
After a while, practice goes "live." The two or three dozen reporters gather around the sideline of the practice field and the first team offense and defense does some situational game drills, complete with refs ("By the way, that call in the championship game was totally the right one guys" "Uh, okay, thanks"). The first thing you notice is that the team already looks very good. They hit hard and fly around the field like madmen, with a violent but controlled chaos that is impressive. The second thing you notice is the size of everyone involved. Pryor stampedes by us on a scramble and you realize that if 6 foot 4, 240 pound linebackers can't stop this guy, then you don't have a chance in hell.
We all take a few steps back from the field, which is smart because ten seconds and one "AAAAAARRRGHBURGHULAHURBAAAAAA" later and Zach Boren is a blur in front of us and finds himself wedged inside some metal bleachers after flying ass over end out of bounds. Aside from Bollman's jaunty straw hat, watching an upside down Boren politely turn down the assistance of a tiny woman in freeing himself from some bleachers is the highlight of the day.
Movin' On Up
Things that are cool about the Ohio Stadium press box:
- Free food. Mostly BBQ, hot dogs, etc. but also all the free McFlurries you can eat. It turns out I can eat several.
- Cool people all over the place. In two games there I get to talk to several reporters, a Fiesta Bowl rep who would rather talk about Vietnam than anything else, the guy who helps keep stats for OSU ("Well I had just been here forever, so they let me do it"), and a DJ for a Columbus Hip Hop station.
- OSU royalty is there too. Gene Smith is a very, very large man, I almost literally run into Ellen Tressel, and John Cooper kind of just goes wherever he wants. As he should.
- The view of the field and the setup is terrific. Ohio Stadium has a wireless service for the press, so all you need to do is log on, type up your report, and bam. Published on the internet. Time to go home.
- Stat Kids. At the beginning of the game, during the game, and after the game, Stat Kids come around with nice little stat compilations so I know who all has done what. Okay, yes, ESPN Gamecast accomplishes the same thing. But can a computer make you feel like a sultan, being waited on hand and foot by an army of greasy faced college students? No. It cannot.
Kenny G Scores a TD
Getting on the field during a Buckeye game is something the weak and pasty dream of, but generally cannot accomplish. So yes, though I was on the field during a "boring" blowout victory over EMU, I was still incredibly excited. I mean, it's the field! During a game! All of a sudden the chances of Jim Tressel saying "Aw, what the heck" and giving me his headphones were now slightly higher then they were before!
Kenny Guiton was excited too. Coming in with roughly 7 minutes to play in a meaningless game with OSU up by 46 points, he scores his first collegiate touchdown on a 15 yard scramble. The Buckeye sideline EXPLODES, high fiving him, slapping his ass, and shouting in his ear like he just cured cancer. In fact the happiest dude on the team is probably Terrelle Pryor, who celebrates by giving Guiton a bear hug and telling everyone who'll listen that Kenny is the next John Elway.
When the players and coaches later talk about how much of a family the team is, I believe it.
The press room after the game is intense. Jim Tressel makes his remarks and answers a few questions, but the real event is when the captains come in. Sitting in a row in front of dozens of assembled cameras, mics, reporters, and spotlights, they answer pointed questions from some very tough reporters in a rapid fire sequence that would make most people tap out.
The reporters are very good at their jobs, but the players are also very good at theirs. The tug of war that takes place between the two groups in terms of how much information will be given up is never ending. Players are reluctant to deviate from the standard Tresselized responses we've all come to expect, so reporters try to ask things in such a way that will elicit responses more in depth than "it's one game at a time, a win is a win, it is what it is, eye one the prize, USA number one go Bucks." Sometimes through cleverness, inspiration, or just plain wearing down the players, reporters are successful. If it sounds rough, it is. But it is also the reality of media in the 21st century and both players and reporters seem to have an understanding and a respect for one another.
In between these two groups is Shelly Poe, the OSU PR director. She is the mediator who decides when a player has been asked enough questions, establishes ground rules for the press, and more or less runs the show. Shelly Poe is an unsung hero and probably deserves like 15 medals and a new Prius.
Watching OSU players on tv give the same canned responses over and over has the unfortunate side effect of not allowing their personalities to show through, which I feel is somewhat to the detriment of the fans in that we have difficulty perceiving players as more than a stat line. Watch Cam Heyward answer the first question with the same patience and interest as he did the 500th. Watch Tyler Moeller's eyes light up after being asked what it felt like to be playing football again. Listen to Brian Rolle's intensity when he talks about his goals for the season.
My point is that these players are people. Collectively they are smart and not so smart, eloquent and inelegant, verbose and very quiet. When we celebrate their accomplishments and deride their failings it's important to keep in mind that every player is an individual who at heart is just as human as we are.
Putting it on paper
So after attending three practices and tons of interviews I find myself in the position of having to write game recaps for Eleven Warriors. I have all of this information and countless quotes floating around in my head, but I'm not sure what's relevant, what's interesting, and what I should maybe hold back. Here's an example:
After the EMU game I finally work up the nerve to ask a player some one on one questions, and after bugging Dexter Larimore about prepping against crappy teams, I see that Devon Torrence has finished talking with reporters and is now having a very animated conversation with Taver Johnson, his cornerbacks coach. It isn't hostile at all, but they are having a disagreement about a blown assignment during the game. I listen to some of the conversation, but guilt gets the better of me and I leave them alone.
It isn't a big deal in the long run, but this is the issue: What do I do here? Do I listen in and report all of the "juicy details" of a "fight" between a DB and his coach? Or do I ignore it, don't make any effort in trying to bridge the gap between fan and player, and let it be?
My summary for the Ohio game, in my opinion, sucked. I felt it was hollow and kind of lazy, so I vowed to do better the next week after the EMU game, and I think I did. Not because it was so much better written, but because I think I did a better job of bringing the players to the fans. And that's the goal.
That's it for this installment, next time we'll get into the nuts and bolts of blogging and talk about a little controversy.