Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week 1 - Speechless

Cincinnati, OH – 9/10/07

Good thing I’m a blogger. Because without the written word, my 30 hours in Cincinnati would have been worthless.

Maybe it was something in the sauce (more on that in a moment) but my mouth went mute on Monday night as the NFL season finally started for the defending AFC North Champs. It was a longer wait than most teams had to endure as nearly half the league had posted final scores by the time we landed in Northern Kentucky. Don’t be confused, we still played the Bengals in the Buckeye State, but the airport is situated to the south of the Queen City, just over the Ohio River amongst the Bluegrass.

Upon further review, we probably should have opted to take on the Wildcats in Lexington, but as ESPN’s national audience witnessed, we maintained our course and continued on to Ohio. A little back-story, I was at happy hour Friday night in Canton and happened to meet a couple that was at least 50% Bengalese. Despite their affinity for the orange and black, I took their advice on where to eat in their hometown. For those new to the blog, my articles will typically be comprised of equal parts restaurant reviews, sportscaster sightings and even a little news about the game itself.

Surprisingly, according to my new friends at the Pickled Parrot, Cincinnati is known for its ribs, or at least a rib restaurant, and its chili. I didn’t think the RaveTV crew was up for a night out at the chili stand, so we headed to The Montgomery Inn on Sunday to see if they could compete with Kansas City (my personal favorite road-cuisine in ’06). The verdict? Not so much. Although the potato-chip-and-bbq sauce appetizer was a nice way to start the meal, the sweet potato recommended by our cab driver left a little to be desired, like another 30 minutes in the oven.

We ended the night watching the Sunday night game in Fountain Square. And that’s not a bar or restaurant, Fountain Square is an open-air courtyard downtown that has two prominent features – the Tyler Davidson Fountain and an enormous television mounted on the top of Macy’s. Considering the bar and restaurant association of the Midwest apparently bans fun after 9 o’clock on Sundays, it was pretty much the only place to watch the game. Romo and the ‘boys took care of business, leaving just a Monday night double dip to round out opening weekend.

After digesting the ribs all day, and putting 6 hours on the books for Exit10, we boarded the busses and made our way to the stadium. While we prepared our cameras for the evening, Ravens President Dick Cass came by to wish us a good game. Knowing my connection to RaveTV (my wife is an Emmy Award winning editor and producer for the team – nice plug, right?) Mr. Cass affectionately greeted us both as most of the organization has caught on to the fact that the couple in row 34 has become a permanent fixture on the flights around the league.

The prep time also exposed me to a few new changes for the crew this year as we not only had some new equipment to learn, but I had some new wardrobe choices to show off. The easiest to spot were my new kicks - standard issue by the NFL - Reebok whites! They may not make a fashion statement on the street, or at least a positive one, but on the field they felt official. And in case the glare off my feet wasn’t enough to signal me out as a team employee, all on-field staff are now required to wear a vest as well. Not quite the green and gold plaid vest Zach Morris and I rocked in ‘92, but a black vest with an NFL logo branded on the front and back to solidify my status and allow me to take the field.

Our wired Raven for opening night was Bart Scott. Apparently Bart said his peace earlier in the week during a verbal battle with Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson in the press because as game time neared, Scott’s stance on the matter was simply, “Tonight’s not about words.” Bart, I couldn’t agree more.

Enter the Hall of Famer’s. Since ESPN was covering the game, we were treated to a multitude of stars from the Worldwide Leader. I saw both PTI pontificators in the press box, Stuart Scott give Ray Lewis a hug on the bench, and Sal Paolantonio report live from the field. Right before kickoff, however, Sal Pal seemingly disappeared and was replaced on the spot by Suzy Kolber, who is much cuter than Sal in person (and on TV and even in print). Lauryn was also sure to point out Suzy K’s new hairdo to Jeff, our Director of Photography, and I, which I’m sure was a hot topic in the blogosphere last night.

In addition to the professional press, two former pros now working for ESPN also made their way on to the field for the game and just happened to be standing next to me during a series in the first half. It was just Emmitt Smith, Steve Young and I standing on the sidelines waiting for Carson Palmer to call the next play. I’m surprised I got that sentence out. I’ll repeat. Emmitt Smith, Steve Young and me! (There were about 20 other people in the vicinity at that point, but they really don’t matter.) You see, Emmitt and I go way back. He doesn’t know it, but I grew up idolizing #22 and have the Sports Illustrated covers and commemorative watch/football/faux marble plaque collection to prove it. And this was my chance to meet the man, shake his hand, one “journalist” to another (I’ll leave it to my readers to determine who I was referring to in the quotes).

When I first noticed Smith on the field, I shot Lauryn a few knowing glances. And after more than two years of marriage, she knew what the glances meant. Don’t blush, they meant I caught a glimpse of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and if I didn’t have a blogging career on the line, I might just drop my tripod and ask Emmitt to sign my vest.

Alas, no words were actually spoken between Smith and I, but we did share a moment as we watched the game from the best seats in the house. Ed Reed launched himself (don’t worry, shoulders first) at an unsuspecting Cincinnati receiver and neither of us knew what to say. It was an unspoken response, Emmitt thinking that he knows what its like to get hit that hard, and me thinking that Emmitt was thinking that he knows what its like to get hit that hard. See you in Pittsburgh, E. Let’s do lunch.

Back to Ms. Kolber. Suzy and her personal television holder (seriously, there was a PA with her all night whose job was to hold a pole with a TV attached that was broadcasting the ESPN feed of the game) seemingly followed me the entire night as she made sure not to miss a play, but the cameras couldn’t tear themselves away from Ray Ray. From the pre-game stretching, when a rather adept cameraman had to bob and weave with each of Ray’s dance moves, to the overhead skycam with a heat seeker set to #52, the network must have had an eye or two on Lewis all night. The pinnacle of the publicity may have been when Lewis got up slowly after a monster hit on TJ Houshmandzadeh. The trainers formed a semi-circle around him when he got back to the sidelines and the camera crews completed the Lewis eclipse by surrounding him on the other side of the bench. I’d like to see the skycam shot of that!

The injury was a sign of things to come as players on both teams were taken off the field one by one, requiring two new sets of crutches to accompany us back to Baltimore. The sloppy play produced more bad news for the men in purple and black, as the Ravens turned the ball over six times in all. One of the most decisive in the defeat was a fumble by Steve McNair that was caught mid-air and returned for a touchdown. But the circumstances prior to the snap were suspect as a momentary rain shower sprinkled the field for a few minutes during the series. The rain came and went, but the drizzle had just enough time to collect on the pigskin, resulting in the slippery pass attempt. The only explanation is that the “Who Dey” song performed by Bootsy Collins on the jumbotron before the game was in actuality a rain dance that predicted wet weather for those precious few plays. There really isn’t any other explanation, for the music video at least.

The most exciting moment of the game for Ravens fans came on a punt return in the fourth quarter. As the special teams unit set up, I commented to Lauryn, “Reed’s returning the punt.” I didn’t think she heard me at first, so as the ball was in the air I told her again, “Reed’s returning the punt!” As Reed juked and jolted his way towards his first career punt return for a touchdown, I found myself jumping on the sidelines yelling back at her, “Reed returned the punt!”

I suppose my fleeting cheer proves that I still didn’t have much to say on Monday night, but at least my choice of words was versatile. It was also more than I could muster in the presence of Emmitt, more than Todd Heap could conjure up after his touchdown was negated, and pretty much the only thing worth saying after losing to our division rival in front of a national audience (Thank you ESPN for showing Lauryn twice – My Mom in NJ caught them both). I suppose Bart was right, last night just wasn’t a night for words.

1 comment:

Jarrett said...

That's awesome, man.

If only you could've asked Emmitt just how amazed he was at David Blaine that time he showed up at Cowboys camp.