Ahh, the ACC Men's Tournament, where blue collar Joes bellow collegiate nicknames, orange sweatshirts pass for fashion and bromance springs eternal. Normally, I only strafe the exterior of this fine institution, but this year's gig required surgical insertion. Thus, I followed a team of seasoned El Ocho operatives into the deepest lair of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. It wasn't easy, but under a heavy load of lanyards and lenses, I bluffed my way through numerous checkpoints posing as a conventional sports journalist. Worried that at any moment some beefy security guard would demand I name all the colleges in the conference (or even explain the game of basketball), I kept my head low, my mouth shut. Eventually, I made it to the rendezvous point, where I spent two snack-filled days embedded with the sports field's most forward units. I really think I'm the fatter for it.
Of course, one doesn't just stroll onto the hardwood, no matter how many spare batteries or press-passes you got. Only once in fact did I make it to the floor. (A lovely local lady won the chance to launch a half court shot for one One MEEELLION dollars. She never came close to riches, but her story chewed up a good two minutes of b-block.) No, I spent much more time exploring the concourse, passing freely through backstage doors I never knew existed and averting the gaze of half-mad supplicants who wanted nothing more on this green planet than to scream the name of a university they never attended into the lens of a camera that wasn't even on. And here I though America Idol audition wannabes were obnoxious. Guess I'd rather have a lady dressed as a viking give me her best Whitney than have some tubby drunk shower me with testosterone and pork-skin spittle. Is it any wonder I hid in the pit?
Except they don't call it 'The Pit'. According to the sign, it's the Audio/Video Media Acquisition Area. All I know is past the team entrance, down the hall, around a few bends and straight through what looks like a TSA convention, sits a grid of tables, laptops, monitors and enough cable to upfit the moon with HBO. It's cavernous, yet crowded. The again, local TV's always been a small world. And with sports department budgets next to nil these days, that world's even smaller. Still, you couldn't swing a dead camera battery without clubbing a former colleague. Example: I was hoarking down popcorn when I felt a rumbling in The Force. "Kay-Oh", I mumbled under buttery dust. There in a corner, with rounded shoulders and a shock of white hair sat an old Master, Kevin O'Brien. One March morning long ago, that dude pushed me into News. I didn't know whether to hug the gut or drop-kick him in the sternum. Wisely, I did neither.
Besides, who can execute any Hong Kong Phooey with this much food on board? To me, it's the most confounding element of these kind of events: The Spread. Between the breakfast buffet of French Toast, Bacon and Eggs to the Salad bar to the sandwich fixings to the full Lasagna and chicken dinner to the hot fudge sundaes to the ever-present plethora of Popsicles, potato chips, pretzels and Pepsi products, these cats know how to masticate! I'm not complaining, mind you but for the life of me I can't figure how or why these sporting orgies are so heavily catered. I do know this: if every assignment came with this kind of feast, I'd be pushin' 300 pounds. And a wheelbarrow to carry all the Oreos I'm gonna gorge on...Now back to the game!
It was a helluva competition. The UNC-Miami game, that is. Friday's Quarterfinal match-up between the Tar Heels and the Hurricanes had all the hallmarks of a Carolina tragedy - until UNC's Tyler Zeller scored his team's only lead - just in time to win the damn thing. It was thrilling to watch - even for a non sports fan like me. Even more invigorating was the throw-down that followed. See, minutes after the Coliseum erupted into near religious fervor, camera crews began gathering in a narrow hallway outside Carolina's locker room. Having nothing else to shoot at the moment, I blended in, if only to witness the bedlam first hand. It wouldn't be my first post-game interview. I covered enough ECU football to know locker rooms smell worse than anything the Navy had to offer. And that. is saying. A LOT. But enough of my yammering -- GO!
The next few minutes were a blur. There I was, chatting up my buddy Scott Garrand when somewhere down the hall, a series of locks tumbled open and the walls began to strobe. It was much like the Running of the Bulls, but instead of apoplectic longhorns trying to run you down, it was former high school jocks who weren't about to be denied their chance to grill sweaty men in bath towels. Hey, who am I to judge? I once stepped on a lady's face to get a clearer shot of Randy Jackson. Still, those Hollywood 'togs ain't got nuthin' on a pack of overfed sport directors all hopped up on Blow-Pops. It's why I only lingered in the locker room long enough to bag this self-satisfying shot, before ducking out the door and heading for my deadline. Now, two days later, I'm sitting safely at home, watching Duke and Carolina battle each other for the whole enchilada. All of which makes me wonder...
What's on the buffet?