Stagg Bowl vs. Orange Bowl

Here’s something impossible to do. Let’s compare the experience I had between the Stagg Bowl and Orange Bowl.

I’ll stick to the tailgating and fan experience. You can read about the game on I just read the Andrew Reed column naming Stone Station as the runner up for best tailgate. I must agree. Although my comparisons were limited to CNU tailgates, which were unique since I was fortunate enough to tailgate with families of two players, a Virginia Tech game in a monsoon on a Thursday night against Boston College (the other BC), and finally the Orange Bowl.

The intensity in the parking lot at the Orange Bowl was more evident. I think this was due to the sheer number of fans in attendance. I was in a predominately VT parking lot. However there were a few token Kansas fans. Tailgates consisted mostly of a few tents and grills. Impressive, since fans had to travel more than 1,000 miles to get there. Many rental cars were adorned with turkey heads and VT magnets.

A large black Denali pulled up next to us with many accessories. The parking lot at Dolphin Stadium was very tailgate friendly. The VT fans in the Denali were not. At first, when they pulled about and started unloading, I had memories of Stone Station at the Stagg Bowl as they unloaded food, grills and tables. The memories faded quickly. The Denali owner was more into status, such as a Tracvision on his truck and a wide screen TV that ran on generator power and retracted into his vehicle somewhere.

Apparently, this guy flies to the games and has an employee drive the truck to the games. I wasn’t impressed. They were a little snobbish and not very friendly. The Stone Station guys were more into sharing fun with everyone around. It didn’t matter who you were, just stop by, say hello and have some good food with new friends.

The VT guys just don’t get it. The Stone Station food was probably much better. I can’t tell for sure since I wasn’t invited to taste the VT food. Some Kansas fans parked behind us and fired up a classic Webber grill. I was thinking they had the right idea. But then, they tossed whatever meat they had on the grill while the flames were still shooting 3 feet into the air less than foot from the gas tank on the rental car. I guess in Kansas they don’t wait for the charcoal to glow before cooking. Maybe they like their medium rare meat crunchy on the outside. I began to chuckle at all the tailgate novices. Stone Station is in a much higher division!

The intensity inside the stadium was great. The flyover was loud and caught many by surprise. I was wondering if they would have one since it was raining and 57 degrees. I remember CNU’s very first game in 2001 was to have a flyover; but the weather had other ideas. Yep, that’s right 57 degrees in Miami. It was damp cold and very windy. I was actually colder there than at the Stagg Bowl and I was equally prepped, if you know what I mean.

The one thing that I kept thinking while watching the crowds and fans and bands was, “this doesn’t mean anything.” It’s not a championship game. It’s not a game leading to a championship. In this game even the winner goes home without a championship. I was trying to imagine the atmosphere in this game if it were a regional championship, or if the winner went to play for the D-I title. Just put the 11 conference champs and 5 at large teams together and let them duke it out on the field. The computer formula geeks will find something else to do. The sponsors and TV contracts and alum wallets will follow. But that’s a different story.

One final note on my very random thought process on this blog. I was looking around the parking lot and at the game. I saw a lot of VT orange and maroon and a lot of Kansas blue. I didn’t see much else. At the Stagg Bowl I saw colors from Wesley, UMHB, UWW, MUC, CNU, Bridgewater, and even a Wabash flash. I saw dance teams walk by to chat and take pictures (thanks girls, my wife loved it!!), a marching band eating Stone Station “fixins”, and purple fans handing out purple liquid in syringes. I saw Wesley and Bridgewater QBs tossing the ball in the parking lot, competing as usual. The guys came by to chat.

At the Orange Bowl I saw fans cook for themselves and a few friends and family, walk into the game, cheer, and walk out to get back to the hotel. The fan camaraderie wasn’t there like it is in D-III.

Through it all I enjoyed myself. I was with family — nieces, nephews, in-laws. My son was with me. I wore a VT hat and a Kansas shirt (my nephew is a Jayhawk). I’m sitting in the Hilton in West Palm Beach writing this, while my son snores during his nap, cellphone vibrating away. We spent the afternoon today driving away from an angry Rhino! No, I don’t have any purple liquid syringes from the Stagg Bowl in my room. We went to a Safari park and got between two females and the Alpha male. I laughed so hard, hearing my son taking pictures in the back seat and yelling, “Dad! Dad! Dad!”

And now the trip must end tomorrow. A final and painful plane ride waits. On the way down, I had a head cold. My left ear hasn’t unclogged yet. I had a fever during the game (that’s why I felt colder in Miami than I did in the rain in Salem), and as I write this tears are streaming from my left eye. I’m thinking I have a bad infection going on.

Or maybe I just miss my buddies Llamaguy, Skoaltrain and the rest of the gang!

It’ll be OK, coach

“It’ll be OK, coach.”

That’ how I would sum up the experience I just had sharing the trip with the CNU trip to Belton, Texas, where the Captains were defeated 51-19. Aside from the score, I took away many positive things from this trip.

I recently wrote in The Daily Press for this game that there would be no southern hospitality in Belton, Texas. I was wrong about that. Everyone in Texas, no matter what town, was extremely hospitable. When we finally arrived at the Killeen/Ft Hood airport, hours later than planned, a representative from the hotel was waiting for us. She would provide the escort to the hotel. At the hotel, a bevy of staff members greeted me with smiles, balloons in CNU colors, and quickly pointed me to my room key and elevators. Exiting the elevator on the third floor, more staff members greeted and directed me to my room where I found a nice basket of goodies waiting, adorned in CNU blue ribbon.

Later that evening, the few donors that contributed to the athletic department in order to hitch a ride with the team were taken to dinner by two CNU Athletic Department employees, Heather Moody, Athletic Director of Development and Jon Waters, Associate Director of Athletics and Assistant Men’s basketball coach. They took us to a Texas steakhouse. You can’t go to Texas without finding a good steak and having Texas style Bar-B-Q. Heather found a good place in Temple. Now, I’ve always heard the saying that, “Everything’s big in Texas.” I can prove it. At this restaurant, on the children’s menu, I saw an entrée for a 12 oz. Rib Eye!!!

Saturday morning I was able to eat brunch with the team. After picking out a table at random, I found myself eating with four CNU coaches, Justin Long, whom I mentioned in my previous blog, Justin Wood, former All-American linebacker and Aztec Bowl player, Curfew Speight, and Jonathon Dean. They treated me like I was one of them. I sort of was. Coaches Speight, Dean, Woods, and I all went to the same high school. Go Bruins!

As time progressed, many times I encountered CNU players and coaches. Whether it was at breakfast, in the elevator, or after the game, I was always addressed as “Sir”. It reminded me about all the positive influences sports has on people such as respect, teamwork, discipline, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. Being addressed as sir was something minor, yet extremely impressive. I cannot put into words the experience of being able to be that close to the inner workings of a college football team as they travel and prepare for a game on the road.

The CNU players impressed me beyond words. I kept in mind that these players are not here on scholarship. They love the game. They love being a part of a team. They love and appreciate what football has to offer them. When we finally landed in Newport News at about 4 a.m. and we were leaving the plane, a player came up to me and thanked me for coming to “watch us play.” I’m not even sure who that player was (no jersey with a number), but it was nice to hear. I could tell he meant it. He appreciated someone coming to watch him play.

Which brings me full circle to my opening comment. After the game, while waiting for the players to shower, Coach Kelchner came up to each donor and personally apologized for the outcome of the game and took total responsibility, simply saying, “it was my fault.” I quickly responded with, “It’s OK coach. We have next week.” I don’t think he heard me. He was focused somewhere deep in his thoughts.

For the rest of the trip I watched Coach Kelchner as he interacted with others. He always seemed deep in thought, somewhere else. I started to think about this. A head coach has to figure out, after games like this, how to approach his coaches and players in the week ahead. As a former youth baseball and basketball coach, I realize you have to approach everyone differently. Some you have to get in their face, some you have to push hard in practice, some need to see their mistakes and learn from them, some just need a pat on the back and be told, “It’ll be OK.”

That’s what I want Coach Kelchner to hear. Who tells him that? Who consoles the head coach? Who points out the mistakes? Who gets in his face? Who just says, “It’ll be OK, coach”?

It’ll be OK, coach!

Superfan takes turn behind mic

This was a huge week for this Christopher Newport fan. Prior to this week my involvement with CNU sports was fairly minimal, mostly just contributing to athletics and attending basketball and football games.

On Tuesday a few of my snippets about each CNU game was put into the Daily Press, a local paper, by writer Jennifer Williams. It was nice to be recognized by someone as a knowledgeable fan. The article referred to me as, “superfan.” As of Tuesday, my daughter, Casey, had to call me Superfan Dad. Little did I know that the title would change in 24 hours.

On Wednesday I was asked if I could cover for Tracey Cooper, the analyst for CNU radio. The play by play guy, Francis Tommasino and I are friends, neighbors, and fantasy football enemies and he was gracious enough to think of me for the job. Never mind that I had been bugging him about it for years. He asked, “Is Superfan ready for the broadcast booth?” I said yes and now my daughter has to call me, Superfan Radio Announcer Dad. She said, “Loser” is easier to remember!

I’ve never done this before and wanted to make sure I did a good job. So, I went to the official sites for both teams and downloaded stats, media guides, and game day notes. I went to JTs site, and obtained info. Thanks JT! I even heeded some last minute email advice from Pat Coleman. Thanks Pat! This is fun! If I spent as much time preparing for my fantasy league I’d probably do a little better.

I was up at 6:30 on Saturday. It was time to prepare. I was pumped. I had to be there around 10:30. Air time was 12:30 and I was curious about the amount of lead time and preparation needed to go on the air.

When I arrived, Tommasino went over the pregame schedule. I was impressed. What I thought was something fairly casual, was really well choreographed. He told me that we go on the air at 12:30. First commercial break was 12:32 for 2 minutes. Then, we would be on the air from 12:34 to 12:37….and on and on. Now, I was feeling stressed. Timetables!! It was second nature to Francis. He mentioned to me this was his 65th broadcast of CNU football. Add to that all the hoops games and also the games he did at St. Bonaventure, and you get the picture. He’s a professional.

He checked the headsets and equipment, called into the radio station and set things up quickly. He explained technical things to me and we tried to figure out what was wrong with my headset. I had noise in my left ear, which I learned the technical term was “hum.” A nice simple technical term. Also, we were informed that live stats would not be available either. Now I really felt handicapped.

The game started and I began to relax a little. My son, Stephen, sent a text message: “shut ur hole!” OK, he buys his own gas this week!

Tommasino is an ultimate professional. He made me feel comfortable and was re-assuring during commercials. He would also prompt me with cues as he talked in order to let me know when it would be good for some of my comments. It’s more difficult than I ever thought it would be. I would try to add something semi-intelligent between plays. But Rowan was often using a no-huddle, so there were times when I didn’t have much of a chance to talk. I think one thing that I lacked in accomplishing was providing game stats. I could have done a better job. I felt I was talking and thinking about what to say at the same time. I caught myself splitting sentences in the middle, connecting them together by repeating a word. I was very aware of trying to stay away from slang and the dreaded “umm” or “like” too often. I also caught myself starting sentences with “yeah” or “absolutely” whenever Tommasino made a good point. Rookie mistakes. I’m sure when I hear the archived broadcast I’ll not like what I hear. It’ll be my “game film.” I wonder how I will grade out?

When it is archived I would like Llamaguy, Matt, and the gang from Bridgewater to check it out. While giving out scores I mentioned the BC game and gave some recognition to my good D3 friends at Stone Station. I said you were “good people.” I had the honor of hosting a Stone Station communion ceremony at CNU last year. I’m looking forward to the next time!

This radio experience brought me closer to CNU sports and D3 sports overall. I understand better the passion about D3 sports that Pat, Ryan, Keith, JT and others have. It was a different perspective. I’d like to do the radio gig more often. I think I could get good at it. I wonder if Superfan will ever get to be Superfan Radio Announcer again.

One thing I have to mention. I was deeply touched watching this happen. The coaches’ box was next to the radio booth, separated by glass. In the booth was former CNU standout at safety, Justin Long. He graduated last year and is now a coach. Younger brother Matt, a sophomore, stepped into Justin’s position. Matt set a CNU record today by intercepting three passes. The second interception was crucial. It changed momentum. I looked over to the coaches’ booth after that interception. The initial reaction by Justin was that he was pumped up, fists in the air, and he was very intense. I thought he was going to run down to the field and hit someone. Then a few seconds later when I looked over again, he was wiping tears from his eyes. He was extremely proud of little brother.

That one slight moment in time told me a lot about the Long family…..and I’ve never met them. I think that image will stay with me a long time. I get to meet them in Texas next week. I’m sure it will be one of the highlights of my trip.

This week I continue being more than a regular fan. The Captains are headed to Belton, Texas, to take on No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. CNU offered tickets on the team plane to fans. I jumped at the chance. My only worry is that in the snippet for the newspaper, I predicted a large UMHB win. Maybe I’ll have to ride home stuffed in the overhead carry-on compartment!

Hopefully, Pat and the gang will be kind enough to allow me to blog my experiences on the team plane.