I swear I’ve been here before. If you are blessed to do this long enough – and I have been blessed to do this for more than three decades – you believe there’s not a stadium, a bowl game, a school that you haven’t been to in covering sports. And while I have covered Auburn football, and seen them play in bowl games in person, that was long ago. And now that I’m working at Auburn, I figured experiencing Jordan-Hare Stadium on a Saturday night would bring the War Eagle memory flooding back.
Nothing. I realized it, finally. I’ve seen men on horses, women on horses, covered wagons, bulldogs, cats (big ones) a bison, and a streaker all run on to the field at the start of a football game. But I had never actually experienced the War Eagle flight in person.
The fans and stadium didn’t disappoint. There are great football experiences at many places across the country, but this one, walking in, meeting fans, seeing the happiness, experiencing the family environment and a decided lack of bad fan behavior and nastiness you get in some places no matter who the opponent… Auburn’s game day experience was terrific. I would never have forgotten it.
Oh, and the football team lived up to the expectations. Fast. That’s what they say. I saw strong, too. I know this wasn’t an SEC game, but they did dominate the line on offense, they did have speed backs (especially QB Nick Marshall) take advantage series after series. If not for a couple of big plays, literally, this one was like a practice game. And San Jose State wasn’t to blame.
After the game, Gus Malzahn, who I have had heard so much about in terms of like-ability, positive attitude and more, focus on – oh my goodness – the positive. He’s been called by his players everything from quirky, to intense, to goofy. He doesn’t curse at his players but he does get excited about the game his team plays.
Some coaches will try to keep their team humble at the risk of sounding downright miserable after a 59-13 win. They do it to keep their team humble (or so they claim) and to keep the media at bay. They do this by overlooking the good and focusing instead on all the ways they failed to be perfect. But Malzahn seems to have a sense of accomplishment handy as a fuel for the real football hunger his players have shown the past couple of years. They have fun, because he likes figuring out ways to help them beat the other guys every week. And when you have a coach like that, you want to get better each and every game.
Moving forward, Auburn will have the chance to play for it all, or get very close. Next, a non-conference game at Kansas State is a huge obstacle in a week and a half. But if they approach each game with their eagle in mind – Spirit for winning football – and keep that terrific quarterback Nick Marshall healthy and on the field, I see no reason why they can’t be part of the playoffs. Of course, a couple of other teams – including one just to the north in this state – will weigh in.
Up next – the Tigers are at Kansas State on September 18, then home against Louisiana Tech and L.S.U. in the weeks that follow.
I’m Brent Weber and those are my Scorecard Scribblings from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
One of the greats of my lifetime died today.
I immediately thought of one of the most memorable times I interviewed him. It was when I was a young reporter for CNN Sports. During spring training, of course, we would crash every Major League camp with multiple stories on the agenda. The key issues of the spring, the season, the game. That’s the way we worked, pooling together our reporters and producers to get a broad range of input on the journalism we did in those days.
Gwynn knew we usually wanted to talk more than baseball, and he was so thoughtful, professional and accountable as a spokesman for his game, his craft, his profession, I never recall him saying no. I vaguely remember there were some serious issues we were talking about, though I can’t remember And of course, the baseball stories of the spring, whatever those were.
After the day’s workouts in Peoria, Arizona where both the Padres and Mariners trained, Gwynn was still there. In fact, he wanted to wait until the end of the day, some time in the late afternoon. The rest of the guys were gone. But not Tony. And he showed up, in uniform, when he said he would, probably ten hours after the suited up earlier in the day. He laughed that his tan had come in, so he wanted us to get in the shade. He even knew his lighting. He said “I don’t want you guys to do that thing where the camera makes my face look like a little black dot on top of my uniform.” His voice was unmistakable, his smile present and his laugh unique.
“So Web, what do we want to talk about?” I briefly mentioned the subjects I knew we would want to cover. He had been through this drill before, and realized that if he answered all the questions now, we probably would leave him alone for the rest of the spring – unless new baseball questions came up. I mentioned the four or five topics of the day, and he answered.
In one breath. In one answer. I think he talked for ten minutes or longer without stopping. He went right at the hard question, the easy question, the baseball question. He remembered what I had gone over. I am not sure, but I don’t even think I had to ask him anything else. I’m sure I checked with our producer in the field and our camera guy. Anything else? I’m sure I checked my notes. He covered it. All of it. One sound bite. One answer. One breath. Hilarious and impressive.
All my other memories are similar. He was a pro, he never dodged questions, but he didn’t always let you ask stupid ones. Usually, though, he was just something to watch. I had the chance to watch Tony Gwynn take a lot of batting practice. I had the chance to watch Paul Molitor take a lot of batting practice. I watched Rod Carew teach a lot of batting practice. I learned.
Tony Gwynn died today. He was 54-years-old, two years older than me. What he left behind is humbling. He loved what he did. He loved his fans. He loved to compete. And he loved to teach. I may not have had a Hall of Fame career, but today, in thinking of Tony Gwynn, I am reminded what “putting on the uniform every day” is all about. I think I will take a few swings, in his honor.
Thanks Tony, for teaching me to be a pro.
As a footnote: of the hundreds of stories I did for CNN alone, I probably interviewed him a dozen times but for some reason I can’t find any of those in my archives. I will keep looking and if I find one, I will post it later.
I am still a little shocked that more people didn’t see what I saw. Miami may have been defending champs, but they proved over the long haul and in a miserably unchallenging run to the finals through the Eastern Conference that this wasn’t going to be a three-peat.
The Thunder was the second best team in this NBA season. They played well in their eventual series loss – game 6 in overtime – to the now NBA champion Spurs. The Spurs had to take down the Heat to make my assertion a valid point, but what I saw over the length of the season in terms of consistent team play, depth, ability to make adjustments in-game, in-season and in-series – the Heat 2013-2014 were not the team to beat. No team in the East had earned it – this season.The Spurs were the team to beat. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a game and a quarter or so behind them.
Whatever team survived the West would have survived the “First Division” as champs. I understand this is cyclical in the NBA. The East will come back – eventually. But for now… as I said in the last Sports Talk of the season at KOSU (we are on hiatus until later this summer) I felt the West would win it. To paraphrase, I said the Spurs could win it in 5 if Tony Parker plays. Spurs won it. In five games. Parker played. So did everyone else on the active roster for San Antonio.
The Spurs were consistent all season and post-season; do people really find the way they play basketball boring? Are you kidding? they are surgical when they play their game. And basketball is a 5 on 5 game. Over a series, or a season, it is a 12 on 12, or a 12 on 8, or a 8 on 8, some may argue. With all due respect to the most dynamic player in the NBA today and his very talented teammates, Lebron James and his buddies didn’t get to play 3-on-3 this year.
So when thinking about what OKC needs to do next year, remember the big picture. They have to play team defense. They have to play team offense. They have to move the basketball, rely on their big stars within the framework of a game and they have to make adjustments. Oh, by the way, they did all of those – for the most part – all season. They have the NBA M-V-P. A roster that enjoys playing defense and playing as a team, even with a superstar leading them. They just have to do it a little bit better next year if they are to unseat the Spurs and hold off the charging talent elsewhere in the NBA.
You can hear more on Monday morning with Nikole Robinson Carole on KOSU-FM in Oklahoma City and Tulsa as well as the web.
Michael Cross and Brent Weber post-game four on Thunder vs Spurs.
Serge Ibaka answered the call, and his teammates responded by showing up like they didn’t in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio.
Here’s my wrap as heard on KOSU-FM, the NPR station, in the morning. Please be sure and tune in Nikole every weekday morning on your way to work.