Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 12 - California Games

San Diego, CA -- 11/25/07.

To paraphrase The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, "I wish they all could be California games." That's because a loss on the road doesn't burn as bad when you already have a base tan. And lucky for Lauryn, Matt and I, we found time to soak in the sunshine and sunsets of sunny San Diego during the Ravens west coast road trip.

Even in November, the weather in Southern California lived up to its reputation as we were greeted with a cloudless sky and seventy-degree temperatures on Saturday morning. Our tour guides for what would prove to be a spectacular day were our friends Devin, who was also the best man at my wedding, and Santana, who grew up in Kansas, went to KU and for good reason had another football game on her mind this weekend (more on that in a moment).

Our coastal excursion began with avocado laced Omelets at The Cottage in La Jolla, CA, 20 minutes to the north of our hotel. The eggs were good, but the out-of-towners agreed that we should have followed the local's lead and ordered the stuffed French toast - I'm not sure what exactly they stuffed it with, but it included mascarpone, which might just be the most deadly substance a restaurant is allowed to legally serve. We proceeded to walk off the 'pone and headed down the hill to get our first views of the Pacific. (One fun fact worth noting is that Matt had seen both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean within 36 hours as he spent his Thanksgiving evening in Atlantic City, NJ.)

Within a few minutes we had a view of the coast, the famous coves of La Jolla and even a few seals that have wisely chosen to make San Diego their home. As we watched the seals scurry up the rocks I hoped that there might just be a connection to this week's blog. "Seal the Deal" perhaps, if we had a last second score to put the game out of reach. Or maybe, "Sealed with a Miss", if fate found a way to grant us victory thanks to a missed field goal attempt. Of course neither of those options had a chance of seeing the light of day by halftime, but I thought the slippery little guys still deserved some pub. Before continuing on our tour, Lauryn managed to sneak into a few stores. Unfortunately the beach shops of The Jolla are not your standard variety tourist traps. No hermit crabs or salt-water taffy for sale, rather Louis Vuitton and Coach bags. Sensing danger, Devin, Matt and I not only waited outside the store for the girls, we pulled up in the car with the engine running to limit the damage.

The next stop was a few miles to the south and Mission Beach. We weren't necessarily planning a trip to the ocean but we were in California and for some reason we had a feeling we should make the most of our Saturday. We also learned that in just a few weeks an ordinance was about to pass that would prohibit drinking alcohol on the beach. Clearly something had to be done before it was too late, like having a few drinks on the beach.

Now this is about the time that I decided I would go home smiling no matter what the outcome on Sunday. The landscape featured endless rows of beach volleyball courts, full of physically fit folks who actually knew how to play and how to look cool while doing so - Devin and I were itching to get out there just so that we could recreate the Top Gun round-the-world high-five between Maverick and Goose, but neither of us would have had any clue what to do if the ball came our way. (Fun fact #2 – the bar in Top Gun where Goose plays the piano was actually located right across the street from our hotel – the Kansas City Barbeque.) The California games also included a basketball court on the beach in which Matt and I each won a game of HORSE despite being on Devin's home turf. And then, just over the small sand dunes, a thin sliver of salt water appeared; a reflecting pool painted from pier to pier. The water projected back the mirror images of anyone who walked along the surface, from the surfers heading out to sea to our group getting a taste of what it must be like to live in paradise.

After we had a chance to reflect on just how perfect a place this was, and made sure to send a few pics via text message to friends in cooler climates, we began what would become the most competitive sporting event of the weekend. For Lauryn and I, it was our debut on the bocce ball court and the spouse-to-spouse combat was fierce. For those who either don't know what I'm talking about or think that I just misspelled basketball, bocce is in fact a sport that pre-dates the game played with the pigskin, and you can even buy your very own set at Target.

Team Lauryn jumped out to an early 11-3 lead, led by some veteran leadership (i.e. Devin's friends who joined us in the afternoon and have thrown a ball or two in their day) and Lauryn’s rookie of the day performance. But Team Josh (Matt and Santana were on my team as well, but since I was using the whole spouse theme, Team Josh works well) fought back to tie the score at 12. Then, after trailing 13-12, we had our ball closest to the pallino and proceeded to stick two more shots to earn 3 points and the victory. Scintillating stuff, I know, but if you saw the game on Sunday, you know that the paragraph above contains slightly more drama than any of the fourth quarter drives from Qualcomm Stadium.

The day wasn't quite complete as we headed to the appropriately named Sunset Cliffs to, you guessed it, watch the sunset. Now sunsets are why digital cameras were invented because without them, you would waste rolls upon rolls of film thinking you got the best shot when in fact, the best shot is probably still a few minutes away. Such was the case on the cliffs as Lauryn and I proceeded to take about fifty shots of the sun setting and our silhouettes against the glow. But just when we thought we had the picture nailed, Matt stepped in, right next to me, and Lauryn captured it for all our fans to enjoy. Truly a memorable awkward moment.

By now you're either waiting to hear about the game already, decided to move San Diego, or both. So I'll wrap up our non-football activates with our evening in the Gaslamp District. Again, San Diego doesn't mess around with names as the reason for the area’s title is, you guessed it, the lamps that line the streets are gas powered. We could have been convinced to do some serious celebrating had the Jayhawks pulled it out against the Tigers (is Missouri really going to be in the National Title game? Sportswriters better come to an agreement on how many Z's to put in Mizzou real soon). Instead, we did a little people watching in the outdoor mall - yes their malls are outdoors - and along 5th street. I think everyone would agree that people watching in San Diego could be considered the city’s official sport. Either way, a professional sporting event was still set to take place the following day and we could only wish for a day, and a game, as action packed as our city tour.

As we approached the stadium I was surprised to see a parking lot full of RV's. I suppose the sun of Diego is welcoming to those who live for the outdoors, but I don't get the asphalt attraction. Another tailgate option, at least for the players, appeared to be a breakfast buffet served in the same room in which the visiting team delivers their post game press conference and all photographers download their shots to their Apple’s. (It was quite the scene after the game with thumbnail galleries everywhere you look; of course most shots seemed to feature those with the white helmets.) One advantage we should have looked to exploit was the fact that at least some of the Chargers, including LT, went without their avocado omelets as the catering staff was forced to bare the bad news when the MVP came looking for egg whites prior to the game, no breakfast today, landing an early blow to the stomach.

The introductions were eerily similar to the scene at M&T Bank Stadium, as Shawne Merriman performed his best Ray Lewis impression with a pre-game huddle round-up speech and, excuse the pun, an electric entrance as the last player to emerge from the tunnel. He continued to show Ray what he's learned from No. 52 with a first quarter introduction/collision with Willis McGahee that Jeff and I had a front row seat for. It truly is a unique experience to watch a game from the end zone because you can actually see holes in the o-line open up (and wish you had a Playstation controller in your hand that would allow you to make Willis cut and run up field when you want) and you notice when a blitzing linebacker is not picked up by a blocker. Of course we also had the luxury of watching No. 23 battle over the goal line to score our first points of the game, but the next 20 minutes or so put a damper on his touchdown dance.

Another interesting aspect of the end zone POV is that we get heckled by opposing fans on the road thanks to our Ravens branded attire. But our Wired Raven this week, Jonathan Ogden, correctly pointed out during warm-ups that California fans can’t trash talk, and he should know after spending three years at UCLA. It makes so much sense though. What do you really have to be angry about if you live in a city in which you can have a few drinks and play bocce ball on the beach at the end of November – well I guess that drinking ban may put a damper on things – but bocce and the beach ain't bad.

As the clock began to wind down, an announcement could be heard dictating that fans were not allowed on the field after the game. I thought they were just rubbing salt in our wounds, but it turns out they were talking to a certain intoxicated Charger fan who sprinted past Lauryn and I, weaved through the cheerleaders (who had stunned looks on their faces, not that I was looking at their faces, um, I mean not that I was looking at them) and made it close to the end zone before a security staffer zipped past us in pursuit, tackled and cuffed him. The faint cheer from the fans will hopefully keep him company as he spends a night in jail.

The non-reaction to the runaway could have been in part due to the fact that the Bolt faithful were already consumed and amused by an air show of the paper variety that was taking place. Again proving that the residents of sunny SoCal are of the free spirited type, fans began to make paper airplanes with promotional signs that were given away before the game, courtesy of Chevy and possibly soon to be Southwest if they have their ear to the ground, or a subscription to the blog. Cheers rang down from all corners of the stadium when a plane would make it onto the field, with one majestic flight path that made its way into the grasp of one of the San Diego players. As the paper projectiles made their way to the grass, they became a solemn reminder of the meaning of the loss and the looming trip home; we had been brought back to earth; we were heading back to the east coast; and it would be another three weeks before we were back on the beach. I guess they don’t all have to be California games, Miami ones are okay too.

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