SEC Football: Yesterday and Today

Last week I introduced myself to you as your SEC blogger for Campus Pressbox. I know that was exciting. Try to contain yourself. We’re only in week two and I don’t want you to peak even before all of the spring football games have been played. I’m not going to rehash any of those drama-filled debacles for you in this space, that is unless you need a good sleep aid. Just turn on the SEC Network, record one of those barn burners and play it near your bedtime. The sandman will be pounding you into submission before the first quarter has come to completion. A good night’s rest is very important.

We now move on to a short history lesson. Where else can one get all of this, and more, in a thousand words or less? Exactly!

Follow me deep into the bowels of the Library of… Ok, nooooo, just into that bastion of academia, Wikipedia.

“The SEC was established on December 8 and 9, 1932, when the thirteen members of the Southern Conference located west and south of the Appalachian Mountains left to form their own conference. Ten of the thirteen founding members have remained in the conference since its inception: the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, the University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University (“LSU”), the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”), Mississippi State University, the University of Tennessee, and Vanderbilt University.

The other charter members were:

The University of the South (“Sewanee”) left the SEC on December 13, 1940, and later de-emphasized varsity sports. It is currently a member of the Division III Southern Athletic Association.
Georgia Institute of Technology (“Georgia Tech”) left the SEC in 1964. In 1975, it became a founding member of the Metro Conference, one of the predecessors to today’s Conference USA. Georgia Tech competed in the Metro Conference in all sports except football, in which it was independent (the Metro did not sponsor football). In 1978, Georgia Tech joined another Southern Conference offshoot, the Atlantic Coast Conference, for all sports, where it has remained ever since.

Tulane University left the SEC in 1966. Along with Georgia Tech, it was a charter member of the Metro Conference. Unlike Tech, however, Tulane remained in the Metro Conference until it merged with the Great Midwest Conference in 1995 to form Conference USA. Tulane remained an independent in football until C-USA began football competition in 1996. Tulane left C-USA in 2014 for the American Athletic Conference.”

“Sewanee! How I love you! How I love you! My dear old Sewanee!!!” I do Al Jolson too! And hey, folks, it’s free!

Did I hear a cackle? Harrumph! “I didn’t get a harrumph out of you!” $1 to Blazing Saddles.

In 1899 Sewanee recorded a sterling record of 12-0. Not only that, but they outscored their opponents 322-10! The lone team to score on them was Auburn, War Damn Eagle!, with John Heisman at the helm.

The “Iron Men”, as Sewanee was affectionately known back then, dominated Southern Conference football.

There’s more! The “Iron Men” won five road games in six days that season!!!

Now, speaking of former SEC teams, how many of you knew that Georgia Tech and Tulane used to play in the SEC? And how well have these teams done since their departure? MmmmHmmm.

How many of you know that Missouri is in the SEC? Don’t snicker! When was the last time Georgia won the Easy and played in two consecutive SEC Championship Games?

I do soooo love having a third team of Tigers in the conference, but I also seem to often come up with thirteen when counting up the total number of SEC squads; or I come up short of seven teams when counting the Easy. (Dang! I keep hitting the “y” key instead of the “t” key when referring to the “other” division in the SEC.)

I thought I heard groans from fans of the teams in said Easy. Alrighty then! When was the last time a non-West division team won an SEC Championship Game? I can hear Jim Morrison even now, “The west is the best.” Name that song!

OK! OK!, in the spirit of fairness, when was the last time Ole Miss won the West?

When was the last time Mississippi State won the SEC?

When was the last time Arkansas won the SEC?

(Now don’t forget! We’re talking football here. God bless the non-revenue sports. I’ll say ten ‘Hail Marys’ and ten ‘Our Fathers’. Wink wink. I’m not Catholic, but I did date one once.)

Aggies, you get a mulligan.

Vanderbilt and Kentucky, your baseball and basketball teams get you a mulligan. You may pass ‘Go’ and collect your bowl money, and it’s a helluva lot more than $200.

Well, that’s all we have time for, today, boys and girls! Say your prayers and eat your vegetables. And whatever you do, join us here, again, next week. Same Bat Time! Same Bat Channel!

Adios!

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

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SEC Football Previews and Picks

Hello, I’m Bird and I’ll be your SEC Blogger! I really hate it when servers greet you that way at a restaurant. So why not begin this, new, weekly column in such a manner? Does that make sense? No, but neither does picking SEC football at this juncture. Being that this is my initial SEC blog, I thought I would divulge my spring divisional picks and crown a winner of the SEC Championship Game. I will also take a look at the most intriguing intersectional match-ups involving teams in the Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. I love predictions and speculation on what lies ahead for us college football fanatics.

So here we go! Mind you, this is only April and the landscape can change, sometimes dramatically, by September. We will take another look at it when the season draws much closer and freshmen arrive on campus. Injuries, suspensions, and unforeseen events can also alter our perceptions over the next five months.

East

Tennessee (No surprise here. Most forecasters will probably lean in this direction.)
Georgia (I’m basing this on the winner of the World’s Largest…, no we can’t say that. Ok, the Jacksonville Drunk Fest).
Florida (Will lose to both the Vols and Dawgs and they need a quarterback.)
Missouri (A very good defense, per usual, and new head Coach, Barry Odom, will pull an upset or two out of his pocket.)
Kentucky (The Wildcats continue to improve and will make a bowl.)
Vanderbilt (Derek Mason will also see improvement in the monumental task he finds himself in.)
South Carolina (Will Muschamp wasn’t very good at Florida or Auburn and will not be at USC East either.)
West

Alabama (Sigh. As long as Nick Saban is at the helm in Tuscaloosa, it’s foolish to call it any other way.)
Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze is doing a remarkable job in Oxford. Two-in-a-row against Saban. Also remarkable. Chad Kelly returns.)
LSU ( Leave Les alone! He’s 112 and 32!!!)
Auburn (The Tigers will be much improved but I don’t know how this will reflect in their overall record. They absolutely must find a quarterback.)
Arkansas (Bret Bielema fields another good team but the loss of Brandon Allen, Alex Collins and others will hurt.)
Texas A&M (The turmoil in College Station mounts.)
Mississippi State (Dak Prescott is long gone. Dan Mullen has built the Bulldogs into a good program but they’re in the SEC West.)
Who will win the SEC Championship Game on December 3? The University of Tennessee will upset the University of Alabama… in Knoxville on what actually will be the Third Saturday in October in 2016. The Crimson Tide will defeat the Vols in the Georgia Dome to, once again, capture the SEC crown.

And now, the intersectional match-ups:

Alabama vs. USC West (Sept. 3)
This one has fans all over the country chomping-at-the-bit for some foot-damn-ball and the Lane Kiffin storyline makes it even more compelling. It will be played in Jerry World. Does Bama play a game there every season, or is it just me?

Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 3)
An enormous opportunity for Gus Malzahn’s felines to take a quantum leap in the eyes of the football world with what is, possibly, the number one team in the country coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia vs. North Carolina (Sept. 3)
Larry Fedora had this thing rolling until undermanned Baylor rushed for a new bowl record of 645 yards in the Russell Athletic tilt. The Bears won 49-38 but it wasn’t that close. This is the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game in Hotlanta.

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3)
From Lambeau Field in Green Bay! How much fun will that be? Should be a donnybrook! You need this, Les. The critics could be howling if you lose. But it’s not a conference game.

Missouri vs. West Virginia (Sept. 3)
In Morgantown. Great chance for Odom to get some positive press and whet the appetite of the Tiger faithful.

Texas A&M vs. UCLA (Sept. 3)
Jim Mora, Jr. brings his Bruins into College Station. Kevin Sumlin could, at least temporarily, quell the storm in Aggieland with a victory.

Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5)
The Labor Day special. A huge game with far-reaching national implications and two highly-ranked teams. It will be played in Orlando. I smell a wide-open affair.

Arkansas vs. TCU (Sept. 10)
The Hawgs will be traveling to Ft. Worth for a monster showdown in Cowtown. They will win their opener, the previous week, against LA Tech. This one will be just a bit more demanding. It’s hard to see them coming away with a win.

Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)
At the Bristol Motor Speedway in the tri-city area of Eastern Tennessee. The place holds 160,000. It will be strange to not see Frank Beamer patrolling the sideline of the Hokies. Maybe Butch Jones can get people’s minds off the off-the-field issues surrounding the program.

Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 17)
The Dores will make the trip to Atlanta in a game both schools have to think they can win. This could result in a very good ball game.

Mississippi State vs. Brigham Young (Oct. 15)
The Bulldogs travel to Provo, Utah for a mid-season clash with the Cougars. They play Auburn the prior week in StarkVegas and could be beat up both physically and emotionally.

Now I’ve gotten myself revved up for some SEC Football! Hey, it’s only 150 days until Vanderbilt and South Carolina tee it up in Nashville!

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn: Road Trips, Part One – Austin

Road Trip! We’ve all been there. Whether it’s impromptu or somewhere in the more distant future when further planning is required, road trips are fun, a lot of fun.

Seeing as how spring football practice is in full swing, Auburn will have their first ‘for real’ scrimmage Saturday, our thoughts may be turning to the upcoming 2016 regular season and planning for any road trips we might take this fall.

The only visit to an opponent’s venue for the LeCroy’s, this autumn, will be Oxford, Mississippi for a game with the Ole Miss Rebels. This will be our ninth Auburn versus Ole Miss road test and one of those, 1990, was in Jackson. Auburn, as did many other SEC schools, used to play both Ole Miss and Mississippi State in Jackson’s Memorial Stadium. The facility held more people and was better suited for large crowds than either Starkville (Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium) or Oxford (Davis Wade Stadium). That has changed. The two rivalries are now played on the school’s campuses and have since 1992 when Auburn went into Oxford and got pummeled by the Black Bears, uhhhh Rebels.

It was my son, Luke, and I who attended that ’92 game as it was in 1990, ’96, ’98 and 2000. The remainder of the Ole Miss games were me and Paul (my nickname for my wife, Melodye) except for one. Her moniker stems from the Willie Nelson tune, Me and Paul.

Another note before we move on. Since 2002 our trips to Ole Miss games have landed us in Memphis and we commute to Oxford. Ah yes! The land of BBQ and blues, Elvis, Stax and Sun Records.

Ok, road trips. All this talk caused me to reflect on these excursions and I began to question myself as to which trips have been my favorites. Well, that’s tough because so many of them have been quite memorable. I tried to narrow it down to my three most enjoyable.

And here we go! In chronological order and this does not include bowl games. We’ve been down that road.

Texas 1991

We were living in Sumner County, Tennessee at the time and Austin was over 900 miles from our home which was about twenty minutes from NashVegas. It was, approximately, a fourteen-hour drive.

This was one of those father and son trips.

Luke and I left Tennessee on a Thursday night after school and work. We spent the night in West Memphis, Arkansas and West Memphis is not an overly desirable destination for travelers. Suffice it to say we were out of there early and headed for the Lone Star State. We ate lunch at a KFC and Luke squirted hot sauce, from one of those plastic packets you tear open, in his eye. So sorry, buddy. We did the best we could to flush his eye out and we pressed on down I-35 south which would take us on in to the state capital of Texas.

Just north of Waco lies the sleepy little community of Abbot, TX. Does anybody know the significance of Abbott? Raise your hands! I don’t see any hands so I’ll fill you in. It’s the place where the aforementioned Willie Nelson was raised by his grandparents. Abbott has a population of around three-hundred. Not a great deal to see there, but if you are a huge Willie fan, which I obviously am, then it warrants a run through.

Somewhere between Waco and Austin we began to see advertisements for what appeared to be an interesting little place. The key to getting us off the road and into their establishment was homemade beef jerky. I don’t remember the name of the place but I do remember sitting on their front porch with my, then, thirteen-year-old son and gnawing on the best jerky I had ever eaten. It was a warm and windy afternoon there among the mesquite and Texas live oaks. It also was one of those special times you look back on wistfully as a tear forms in your eye.

We finally arrived at the DoubleTree Hotel on the north side of Austin in the very late afternoon. If you’ve never been to Austin, and you should make a point to go there, everything is accessed by frontage roads. I blew by the DoubleTree, on first take, and had to navigate the frontage road on the east side of I-35, but we did it without much of a struggle.

As Luke and I stood there, waiting to check-in, we noticed some very large young men garbed in Texas Longhorn warm-up suits. It turns out that the Texas football team was lodging at the same hotel as we were. Well how about that? David McWilliams was the Longhorn coach in ’91. I spotted him, cigar in tow, as he exited his ride which dropped him off in the portico in front of the hotel.

My heart began to beat a bit more rapidly. Big time intersectional college football was only about twenty-four hours away. War Damn Eagle!

Pappdeaux Seafood Kitchen was next door to the hotel. Neither of us had ever eaten at one. The hotel staff gave it a strong recommendation and we had dessert there that evening after some BBQ brisket at The County Line restaurant. We went back to Pappadeaux’s the following night after the ball game. Great recommendation DoubleTree staff!

Saturday! It’s now countdown to kickoff!

After coffee and pastries, it’s off on a driving tour of the metro area, the mall, and some Tex-Mex fare. There were some really brightly-colored, interesting low rider trucks at the mall. The food was good and the ride around the outskirts of the city was a most pleasant one. We ran into some fellow Auburn fans at the Tex-Mex restaurant and one of them stated that he would become a Texas fan if he wasn’t committed to the Tigers. The hospitality was excellent out there.

Before long it was time to get back to the hotel for some “tailgating” at the outdoors bar and then catch a shuttle to Texas Memorial Stadium.

Fifteenth-ranked Auburn brought a 2-0 record into the game against a Texas team that was 0-1. A sellout crowd of 77,809 was in attendance and the game was televised by ESPN. Luke and I were seated with the Auburn contingent in the north end zone. We were set back a back a ways from the field as there was a large track that circled the artificial surface.

One of the highlights of the weekend was when the Texas fans and players stood and sang “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You”. Chills, even today. Wow! To say we were primed for the kickoff would be an understatement.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and almost ran it back all the way. Stan White hit Victor Hall on a 25-yard touchdown pass and the Tigers were up 7-0 with only 49 seconds elapsed on the clock. Corey Barlow returned a pass interception for a touchdown with 3:07 still remaining in the first quarter and AU fans were giddy. Unfortunately, that would be all the points the Tigers would score that evening. Fortunately, they hung on with some great defense, and won the game, 14-10.

The play that sticks out most to me was an absolutely brutal hit Auburn defensive back Fred Smith put on one of the Longhorns. Mercy!

Auburn was ranked number 13 after the game. They went to Knoxville the next week and were beaten by the Tennessee Vols, 30-21. It was the first of six losses and their nine-year steak of winning seasons came to a close. It was a disappointing year.

The one thing that stays with me from that night in Knoxville was a drunk Tennessee coed making a point to walk up to our post-game tailgate and telling a tired old joke. “What did the Auburn graduate say to the Tennessee graduate? Do you want fries with that?” The wound was quite fresh and I was not able to hold my tongue. I won’t repeat here what I said but I remain embarrassed by it to this day. Moral of the story? Watch your tongue. What’s said is said. You cannot take it back. Sigh.

Well folks, that is it for part one of this three-part series on road trips. Next up, in April, we’ll take a spin to Baton Rouge and the Auburn-LSU game of 1997.

Auburn: Corso and Clemson

On College College GameDay, September 7, 1996, Lee Corso picked Fresno State to beat Auburn in an upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Anyone remember the final score on that one? Let me jog your memory. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs by a score of 62-0. There were signs at dining establishments around the Loveliest Village chiding Corso for his blunderous pick and rightly so.

Things have changed since that day, at least they have for me. I hope they have for the rest of the Auburn Family. Move on. I now find Corso to be a lovable figure. He brings some great humor to his job with his antics and, at times, some pretty good insight on the game of college football. He has become somewhat of a grandfatherly figure in his role.

In short, I like him.

I actually began to truly warm up to “Coach” back in 1995 when GameDay came to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. Our family went by the tent where their crew was stationed, it’s nothing like it is today, and we had a chance to shake Corso’s hand. He could not have been more gracious. He was very friendly and complimentary of Auburn. He mentioned how great the atmosphere was, as good as he’d ever seen. Hey, it’s the Iron Bowl. There is no atmosphere that beats that.

A few minutes after we left the GameDay tent we ran into Craig James on Donahue St. near the stadium. He also complimented Auburn on the atmosphere.

But back to Coach Corso. Last week he was a guest on a radio sports show in Mobile and he had high praise for Auburn and Gus Malzahn.

I tend to agree with Lee on most points but Gus is on the hot seat. I do agree with him in that he shouldn’t be. I think Gus is still learning to be a head coach and that he will learn from his mistakes of the past two years, well, since November of 2014. He had no control over the quarterback woes in 2015. He has taken a much more hands on approach in spring practice and with the offense. He has been seen personally coaching up JUCO quarterback transfer John Franklin III.

I love the fact that Gus is getting back in a more involved manner and, hopefully, that will pay great dividends.

Corso also makes a good point on being in the same state with Saban. Too many teams in the SEC, including Auburn, are measuring their success against Alabama and that is not a good thing. Look at Les Miles and LSU as a prime example. Don’t worry about Alabama. Sure, they are in the same division but you’ve just got to be the best you can be. The best LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss (two in a row versus Saban, by the way), Miss State, Arkansas or Auburn.

Corso thinks Auburn could make a lot of noise this year. They very well could. Auburn has been known to come off a bad year with a special season. The best examples of that would be the 2003-2004 and 2012-2013 seasons.

The 2003 team was thought of, by many, as a national championship contender with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Jason Campbell and company. They promptly lost their first two games to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech and for all practical purposes, it was over. They finished 8-5 with a Music City Bowl win over Wisconsin.

The 2004 team with, essentially thew same cast of characters, went 13-0 and should have played Southern Cal for it all. The AP and Coaches Poll geniuses, of course, put Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game and they were drubbed. The 2004 unit is ,arguably, the best team in Auburn football history.

The 2012 aggregation was one of the worst in Auburn football history. They went 0-8 in the SEC, last in the West, en- route to a 3-9 season. Sheer and utter misery. Coach Gene Chizik was fired just two seasons removed from the BCS National Title.

Then the 2013 (12-2) squad came along, under new head coach and former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, and came within thirteen seconds of winning it all. One of the greatest turn-arounds in college football history.

That could happen in 2016 but it is highly unlikely. Living in the SEC West is murderous, suicidal, brutal, or excruciating. Pick a word or come up with one yourself. It ain’t no place for sissies (drawing on my inner Coach Pat Dye).

Me? I’m taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. I know by the time the 2016 campaign gets here I’ll be buzzing like a bee. It’s tough to contain oneself now. But I am definitely working on curbing my enthusiasm ($1 to Larry David).

The opening game with Clemson, pre-season number one?, was mentioned by Corso. You can look at that game a couple of ways. You can take the attitude of, “Hey, it’s a non-conference game and, whatever the outcome, if we play well then that’s a good start. Or you can say, “Beat Clemson and take a quantum leap in the eyes of the committee, pollsters, and the college football world in general.” If you know me, you know which course I’m plotting. 😉

But you know the good thing about all of this? We are talking college football! That is a good thing. The sun is shining. It feels like spring. And, yes, we are talking college football.

Bring it on!

Gills Rock

I was once an inspector for AAA. My job was to inspect and rate hotels, restaurants, campgrounds and attractions for this iconic American institution.

I truly enjoyed working for AAA. The work took me places I never dreamed I would see, and explore, when I was a child growing up in the Deep South. About the farthest we would venture from home, back in the fifties and sixties, was the Gulf of Mexico. Our destinations tended to be either Pensacola, Florida or Gulf Shores, Alabama.

There was the one occasion, though, that we made our way west. Across Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas we crept and crawled in our Plymouth Belvedere, tail fins and all. It certainly felt like creeping and crawling to an active five-year-old. But we did stop in San Antonio to visit the Alamo. This was a grand treat to one who’s imagination was filled with thoughts of Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. And yes! I was gifted with an authentic replica coonskin cap which I wore proudly for many weeks to follow.

But back to the sugary white sands of Lower Alabama and the panhandle of Florida.

Whenever we were lucky enough to go on one of these short trips, usually one or two nights, we would never make plans or secure motel reservations. We piled into the car and headed south. When we reached our destination we would slowly cruise by the little ‘mom and pop’ motor courts and look for a decent enough looking place with a swimming pool. A pool was a requirement. When one returned to the room form the salty waters of the Gulf, there had to be a fresh water oasis we could enjoy before bathing and eating dinner.

How did one know if the establishment were decent?

On one such excursion we were all craning our necks at the places that dotted the shores of this paradise as we made our way past them. My father slowed down considerably as we approached one neatly-manicured inn. He almost came to a complete stop, pointed at an emblem that hung from the motel’s flashing neon sign, and asked, “Do you see that?” My eyes now fixated on the three large A’s and the word APPROVED. “You can trust that place. It’s triple A approved.” And from that day to this, I, for the most part, continue to agree with daddy.

Triple A approved. That is how I found myself in Gills Rock, Wisconsin. Gills Rock is located in Door County. Counties are important to we Southerners and I was taken by the close knit community that is Door County. There were no hotel or fast food chains here, except in Sturgeon Bay, which serves as the southern gateway to the county. It also serves as the county seat of this peninsula.

The Door County Maritime Museum was located in Sturgeon Bay. I had to visit the museum for possible inclusion in the AAA TourBook. The most notable feature, in the opinion of this nautical novice, is the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit. The ship had a number of layovers in Sturgeon Bay during the winter months. Two of those who perished, when the Fitzgerald sank, were Sturgeon Bay natives.

Now Gills Rock, an unincorporated community, is situated at the northern point of the peninsula and has long been a commercial fishing outpost. Scuba divers also enjoy exploring shipwrecks at Death’s Door, the narrow straight which connects Green Bay to Lake Michigan. I had no desire to scuba dive at Death’s Door but I was intrigued by the opportunity to do some charter fishing for salmon.

My room had a television but no cable. Its reception relied on ‘rabbit ears’ which protruded from the top of the nineteen inch, faux wood box. There was no phone in the room but there was a phone booth outside in the parking lot of the motel, The Shoreline Resort.

The owners of Shoreline also operated a restaurant and bar which was downstairs from my second floor room and observation deck. It was quite good. The chefs and servers were students from a culinary institute. They were both eager and adept. It was great to have such a place mere footsteps from my front door.

I spent a portion of each evening at the bar where one could also get food service.

One night, after a long day of inspections, typing reports, and following my daily walk, I ambled down to the bar. I pulled up a stool, situated myself, and greeted the fellow patrons on each side of me.

The gentleman on my right, already well-lubed, inquired in a voice that was a tad more loud than what one would consider a normal tone, “So where are you from?” I indicated that I hailed from the home of country music, Nashville. “So, are you enjoying Wisconsin?” “You betcha!” I replied in my best impression of the phrase I picked up from the movie ‘Fargo’, which had been released a couple of years earlier. He roared with laughter and repeated the phrase.

Mary, both barmaid and co-proprietor of Shoreline, with her husband Jim, smiled as she poured my Leinenkugel from the tap. I recognized the jazz tune, be-bopping from the Bose speakers in the corners of the room, as one of Charlie Parker’s. Julie placed a ‘Leiney’ coaster in front of me and then the foamy mug of brew on top of it.

Mary was approaching middle age. Her dark brown hair was bobbed and her eyes were almost the color of her hair. Her smile was warm and unpretentious. She was a beauty. She exuded a humble, yet confident, air.

“Is that Charlie Parker?” I asked her. “Yes,” she answered, and her expression indicated that she was pleased, but not overly surprised at my possible recognition of Bird’s work. “I just got this a few days ago and I really like it,”she then handed me the mini-box in which the discs were packaged. ‘Yardbird Suite: The Complete Charlie Parker.’ “I’ve got that too!” I confessed.

And off she went, to the dining room, with a tray which supported four cocktails, vodka tonics.

At about that time, Peter, one of the student servers, was making a beeline to the rectangular beer chest to grab some bottled beverages. “Nice work,” I chimed in as I nodded at the tattoo on his right forearm.  It was a coyote which was howling at a bright yellow moon and stars, set against an indigo sky.

“Thanks! How about you? Any ink?” I rolled up my right t-shirt sleeve and revealed an interlocking AU, which is the logo my beloved Auburn Tigers. “Nice colors! How long have you had that?” Pater continued. “About a year,” I answered.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers then replaced Charlie Parker’s set and, seemingly, bounced out of the speaker system. I knew who they were only because Peter had shared that with me three days prior.

My food arrived. Baked salmon with parmesan herb crust, and fresh out of Green Bay. I smiled as the aroma titillated my olfactory senses. The fish was complemented by garlic mashed potatoes and a glass of Bogle Petite Syrah.

When the delicious meal had been consumed I asked Mary if I could get a Makers on the rocks to take back to my room. “Absolutely!” she cheerily replied.

I paid, tipped generously, took my bourbon, and headed upstairs to my room.

Now sitting on the back deck of my simple but contemporary style room in Gills Rock, Wisconsin, I could see the point where Green Bay meets Lake Michigan. A flock of Canadian geese, in formation, honked their way across the now dusky sky. I dipped the tip my Dominican cigar into the glass which was one-third filled with Makers Mark.

The words to Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ came to mind and I began to softly sing them as tears filled my eyes.

“Blue, blue windows behind the stars,
Yellow moon on the rise,
Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.
Leave us

Helpless, helpless, helpless
Baby can you hear me now?
The chains are locked
and tied across the door,
Baby, sing with me somehow.”

How I wished that this were possible, but she was fourteen hours away and nestled with our children in the lush green hills of northern Tennessee. In a cabin on a tobacco farm which was replete with livestock, we now made our home. It really wasn’t “our” home as we had rented it from a farmer who had been cajoled, by his wife, into purchasing a large, white, two-story home in a nearby subdivision. It was a bedroom community of Nashville which was a mere twenty-five minute drive from this haven in Sumner County.

My thoughts then turned to the mournful lyrics of Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’

“Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is winding low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
Like me, he lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

And I did.

The tears began to trickle and then pour down my cheeks. I missed her. I missed them. I longed for our home in Tennessee.

I ground out the remainder of my Dominican stogie, wiped my eyes, and went back inside my quaint, but newly refurbished room at this AAA Approved lodging.

I was now completing week four of a five week stint here in an idyllic getaway for many who flee the suburbs and bustle of Chicago and Milwaukee. Weeks one and two had found me in Green Bay. It was there where I ate fish on Friday. “How’s the perch?” queried one elderly female patron. “Fine,” I replied, although it was a bit dry and not so flavorful.

Green Bay was great. I visited Lambeau Field, drank German beer, and dutifully performed the task that had brought me here.IMG_2765

The Packers were my favorite pro football team when I began to follow sports back in the early sixties. I liked the Packers because they won. Their quarterback, Bart Starr, was from Montgomery, AL near where I was born and raised. Starr played Sidney Lanier High School and, later, the University of Alabama.

Some of the other standouts, on those Packer teams, coached by the great Vince Lombardi, were Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg and Max McGee.

On my first Saturday night in Green Bay I wound up at the Iron Horse Saloon. But first, Friday night’s proceedings.

I spent the previous night at the Grizzly Rose Saloon. It was enjoyable enough but was too ‘Urban Cowboy/Line Dancing’ and not a classic honky tonk, which I strongly prefer.

I was observing the evening’s said proceedings, at the Rose, when I glanced up from my seat at the massive surround style, polished wood bar, and in through the door strolled a gentleman by himself and scouring the cavernous facility for a spot on which to land. There was an open stool next to me and I knew, somehow, he would make his way to it. He did. We exchanged informalities and began to chat.

I don’t remember his name, I carried it and his phone number in my wallet for months, but I can almost see him now. He was a slight fellow with a scraggly mustache and dark brown hair. He wore a faded yellow Peterbilt cap, worn jeans and work boots. He had just come in off the road having ridden shotgun with a friend of his who was an over-the-road truck driver. Their trip had taken them across the country and back.

As our conversation progressed, it came to light that he had been through Memphis on their return trip to Green Bay. I mentioned that I had also travelled through Memphis but had never stopped there. I was also about to take a territory of my own and it would encompass Memphis, as well as the western portions of Tennessee, Kentucky, and southern Missouri. The entire state of Arkansas would also be included in the territory.

We spoke of Elvis, Sun Records and the Mississippi River before our conversation turned to country music. Now we’re getting somewhere. Our tastes were very similar. We shared a passion for traditional country music and neither of us were keen to the’Boot Scoot Boogi’ and the like. For us it was Haggard and Jones, moans and groans, and not the slick-sliced, overproduced pap that Nashville continues to churn out to this day.

We then began to formulate an idea of the type of honky tonk we’d like to open. BEER was the name we came up with for our place. Just one word… BEER. It would also have a banner strung across the intimate room which would read ‘No Line Dancing’. BEER would harbor the  world’s finest country jukebox. Hell, we were open-minded sorts. The carefully chosen house band would be allowed to perform both kinds of music, country AND western. Who doesn’t like Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and Riders in the Sky?

True to her name, only beer would be served. Tap, bottle or can! If you wanted whiskey, I would keep my private stash in the office or you could leave it in your car and get a snort or two between sets. No wine! Beer damnit!

Dreams huh? And those that are formed and fueled by alcohol and a mutual love of twin fiddles and a steel guitar.  It was a good Friday night to commiserate with a newly made friend about the sad state of country music. Nothing has changed to this day. The decline continues. RIP Hank Williams. We miss you, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and Waylon Jennings. Who’s gonna fill your shoes?

“I feel tears wellin’ up cold and deep inside like my heart’s sprung a big break. And the stab of loneliness, sharp and painful that I may never shake. You might say I was takin’ it hard when she wrote me off with a call, but don’t you wager that’ll hide the sorrow when I might break right down and bawl.”

The house band, at the aforementioned Iron Horse Saloon, opened with one of my favorite old Jones tunes on what was a rather pleasant Saturday night in the land of the Packers. Well slap the dog and spit in the fire! We got ourselves some COUNTRY music! And off we went! Yep, the race is ON!

I was so happy to have found some ‘real’ country music in a setting to my liking, nothing against the Grizzly Rose, that I was pickled tink. Well, maybe that’s how the beer would describe my elation. One set led to another and then to another break. I became so engrossed in the music that I had almost failed completely to absorb my surroundings. I downed my last swallow of Bud, climbed off barstool mountain, and took in the scenery. Bikers! That was it, about thirty or forty bikers and ME!

I had never before, but have several times since, found myself in the company of so many leather and bandana clad Americans. I was, initially, taken aback but soon found that there was no need for alarm. It’s all good. Yes, it was.

The Iron Horse, duh! think about the name for a minute, was not a place where a bunch of weekend warriors happened to show  up one Saturday night. It was a bar for bikers. Owned and operated by bikers. Well, me and my new found Harley hound friends had a big old time. There were no brows furrowed with suspicion or furtive glances. Just slaps on the back and the occasional bursts of laughter.

As midnight rang in Sunday, I turned it over to the rice-burnerless regular patrons of Green Bay’s finest bastion of country music.

There were no such establishments in Door County but there was a restaurant and lounge in Egg Harbor, just a few short miles from Gills Rock, which had come recommended by a couple of the locals.

But before plowing into an evening with a more upscale crowd in Egg Harbor, WI, something needs to be said about one of the neighboring communities more interesting features. It’s Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay, WI.

Al Johnson’s is famous for its ‘goats on the roof’. Yes, there are real live goats who graze on the restaurant and butik’s sod roof. Lucky for me, when I passed through Sister Bay, that it was August because the goats are NOT on the roof in winter.

I have seen a good many odd or quirky sights growing up in Lower Alabama, but never anything like goats on the roof. I have chased goats. I have eaten goat meat, mostly in the form of an Indian curry, but I had never, before or since, observed goats grazing on a rooftop.

I didn’t eat or shop at Al Johnson’s either. Maybe I should have. Surely they don’t… NO!

Back to the eatery in Egg Harbor. I do not recall its name and I do not remember what I ate there, but I do recall its jukebox. This jukebox was, absolutely, loaded with tunes of Nashville’s finest!

After I secured my position at the bar, in the lounge of the restaurant, I ambled over to this jukebox to select the tuneage for my time there. The bartender asked if I needed any change. I replied in the negative, whipped out an Abe Lincoln and fed him to the music machine. George Jones, John Anderson, Willie Nelson and more were chosen to serenade me and anyone else who might wander in here over the course of the next couple of hours.

There was a father and son sitting a few stools down from me, and after about six or eight songs, the eldest questioned aloud, to no one in particular, “My god! Who played all this sad stuff?” I immediately fessed up in the affirmative.

I love my ballads. Or as Jones himself would describe them, “Slow, slobbing tear jerkers.”

We struck up a conversation and the father wound up inviting me to go out on his boat with him and family the following day. I don’t know if that was just bar talk but I did appreciate the invite. I politely declined as I had other plans on the docket. I was going salmon fishing.

Yes, that salmon fishing that piqued my interest developed into a reality. My reservation was set and it was off to Lake Michigan, on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, in quest of fishes.

As I would come to understand, there is not a lot of “fishing” that goes on in trying to land salmon. Back in Lower Alabama we used to actually cast with a rod and reel or just plunked a cane pole into whatever body of water we found ourselves.

When one salmon fishes, by charter at least, the host or guide takes care of everything and mounts the rod and reel on the back of his boat. The fishing, for his guests, consists on watching the rod and line of one’s setup. If you get a hit then the rod will bend and the IMG_2762bobber will plunge underwater.

There were four of us on this excursion into the Great Lake; the host, a young married couple and moi. The wife of the married folks caught the first salmon. It was a decent sized fish. There were not a great many hits that afternoon but eventually I got a good one and began to grapple with my salmon. These guys put up a pretty good fight. I hooked him, released the lock on the rod and the salmon took off. I would reel a bit and then let him run some more. I finally got him into the boat, after about a four or five minute struggle, and our captain netted him.

This was great fun. But those two fish were the only ones we kept. There were a handful of misses and a couple of false alarms. My salmon weighed about fifteen pounds. I was proud. Pictures were taken by the couple who remembered their camera. I had left mine behind in my room.

Now, it was getting late, sunset was fast approaching and oh captain, our captain, moved to crank the boat. It didn’t start. After several more failed attempts at cranking, he realized, as did we, that our vessel was not crankable. And the diagnosis? A dead battery. So here we are, a good ways out on Lake Michigan, with our salmon all dressed up with no place to go.

Ahab called the coast guard, to come jump us off, and the wait began.

Darkness descended upon us, as did hunger. It was only thirty or forty minutes before the Coast Guard arrived but it seemed like an eternity. Then there was the business of getting us going. That didn’t happen. We were towed back to safety in the harbor at Gills Rock. It was now around 9 PM. I let the couple have my salmon, as they planned to cook them, and proceeded to make haste to the inn for some sustenance.

There was a restaurant, nearby, that I had intended to evaluate that Saturday night. I called them and they said they would be open until 10 o’clock. I made it over there a few minutes before the kitchen closed and was fed. I didn’t opt for salmon. I had enough of that for the day. Something for land lovers was more to my liking.

All’s well that ends well.

Then it was a stop by a convenience store for beverages and back to my room and the nineteen inch telly with the protruding rabbit ears. I could only pick up one channel clearly enough to be watched. So there it was… me, Dennis Quaid, Jessica Lange and John Goodman all enmeshed in ‘Everybody’s All-American’. The thinly-veiled story of the great Billy Cannon, his time with the LSU Tigers, and the entirety of his life.

Hold that Tiger!

“Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that it did not hurt…” Not true, but it makes a good segway.

What does one occupy himself with on a Sunday in Door County Wisconsin? I had my fill of fishing. I had been to the Maritime Museum. So, it’s off to Sturgeon Bay for a couple of hours at the cinema and then, maybe, a small sack of cheese curds.

You might ask, “Just what is a cheese curd?” Well, as you may know, Wisconsinites are fond of their cheese, as am I. Packer fans are affectionately known as ‘cheeseheads’. You’ve seen them in those silly cheese wedge hats they wear to  Green Bay games.

But the curd!

From our dear old Wikipedia:

“Cheese curds in cuisine, or cooking, are the solid parts of soured milk either eaten alone or used in various regional dishes, mostly in eastern Canada and the northeastern and midwestern United States. They are sometimes referred to as ‘squeaky cheese’.

Production
Cheese curds start off with fresh milk. The milk is pasteurized, much like in the process of creating cheese. During this process, rennet is added to clot the milk. After the milk has been pasteurized, the result is a mixture of whey and the early stages of the curd. This mixture is then cooked. Next, it is pressed to release the whey from the curd, thus creating the final product of cheese curd.

Characteristics
Their flavor is mild, but can differ in taste depending on the process in which it was made. It has about the same firmness as cheese, but with a springy or rubbery texture. Fresh curds squeak against the teeth when bitten into, a defining characteristic due to air trapped inside the porous material. This “squeak” has been described by the New York Times as sounding like “balloons trying to neck”. After 12 hours, even under refrigeration, cheese curds lose much of their “fresh” characteristic, particularly the “squeak”. Keeping them at room temperature can preserve the squeakiness.

The curds have a mild flavor and are sometimes somewhat salty. Most varieties, as in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Vermont, or New York State, are naturally uncolored. The American variety is usually yellow or orange, like most American Cheddar cheese, but it does not require the artificial coloring.

Fresh
Fresh cheese curds are often eaten as a snack, finger food or an appetizer. They may be served alone, dressed with an additional flavor, or with another food, such as a small smoked sausage or piece of cured pork, with the elements skewered together on a toothpick. Examples of flavorings applied to fresh curds include jalapeño chili peppers, garlic, various herbs, or spice blends such as Cajun seasoning, with garlic and dill on cheddar curds being a popular combination.”

There you have it, folks! All you ever wanted to know about cheese curds… and MORE!

Well… all good things must come to an end. I did may fifth and final week in Wisconsin and it was back to 1025 Brinkley Branch Rd. in the beautiful hills of northern Tennessee.

I made one final stop at a house of cheese and then it was down the eastern coastline of Wisconsin to Manitowoc. I spent the night there at a Super 8 Motel. I would traverse the remainder of the drive on Sunday, all told about twelve hours.IMG_2764.jpg

I couldn’t wait to see Miss LeCroy, Luke, Leah and Misie (our Bichon Frise)!

Wisconsin was great! But, “There’s no place like home.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time: Opening Day In Auburn

It is a mere matter of hours before the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks kick off their 2014 seasons. Anticipation and anxiety walk hand in hand as we approach what promises to be a most exciting football fall. It’s time!

There is little in sports more exciting than your team’s first football game of the season. School is back in session. The first hints of autumn have barely begun to reveal themselves. A few leaves have fallen. The sun has taken on a slightly perceptible difference. High schools have already taken the field for their openers, and the familiar sounds of marching bands practicing have piqued the memories of Fridays and Saturdays in days past. It’s time!

Saturday, August 30th, orange and blue clad faithful will converge on Lee County, Alabama by the thousands. They will be joined by throngs of supporters from The Natural State… Arkansas. It’s time!

Magnets will have been affixed to every shape, form and fashion of vehicle. Flags will be flying. Tents, ice chests, grills, food and children will also have been loaded into these cars, trucks, SUV’s, buses and RV’s. Their sound systems will emanate with recordings of games past. Fight songs will blare loudly through open windows as the battle cries of both sides permeate the east Alabama landscape. It’s time!

They will come from the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. They will also make the trek from communities like Camden, Ft. Deposit, Pell City, Eufaula, Anniston and Autuagaville. They will come to create the sixth largest city in Alabama. They comprise the Auburn family. It’s time!

Tigers Rags, Toomer’s Drugs, Flowersmith’s, Five Guys, Ander’s, J&M, Mellow Mushroom and the local watering holes will all be teaming with patrons. They will be seeking to find that piece of memorabilia that just might prove to be a lucky charm. They will be fitting themselves with this year’s “uniforms”. They will be eating. They will be drinking. They will be seeking to occupy the hours, minutes and seconds that separate them from 3 PM Central Daylight Time. It’s time!

The parking lots and lawns, throughout the campus and beyond, will become villages of navy blue and burnt orange with smoke billowing and the smell of burgers, brats and chicken titillating the appetites of the masses. It’s time!

Laughing and squealing kids will be tossing footballs, chasing each other and pretending that they are the next Nick Marshall, Sammie Coates or Corey Grant. Even adults will don jerseys with the numbers like 34, 24, 2 among them. It’s time!

High definition televisions, equipped with satellites and driven by generators, will broadcast the games that will kickoff before and after the beloved Tigers take the field. Observer’s eyes will be affixed to the flat screens hoping to gleen a glimpse of a future opponent or check the score of a game they might have placed a wager on. It’s time!

A Volkswagon bus, garishly smothered in the home team’s colors, shakers and stickers, will roll down College St. as ‘War Eagle’ booms from it’s mounted siren style speakers. Cheers and shouts will affirm the passers-by familial bond with those in the mobile shrine. It’s time!

Long time friends and acquaintances will renew and relive the times, many or few, that they have shared on The Loveliest Village of The Plains. Past victories will be relished and the pain of defeats that occurred in days gone by will be dulled by liquid “spirits” and the indomitable “Spirit” that is unique to Auburn. It’s time!

The tailgates. The band. The Tiger Walk. The first announcements from the PA system startling the hordes. It’s time to get things in order. It’s time to pack up. It’s time to get your game face on. It’s time for that last snack or drink to brace yourself for the grand event that all have come to share and support. It’s time!

It’s time to make that old familiar hike to that old familiar place. That place where countless thousands have shared unbridled joy and gut wrenching sorrow. Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s time!

It’s time for football!

Auburn Football!

Oh yes! Football! There is that matter of the game that is to be played.

The Auburn Tigers vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.

SEC football.

West division foes.

The game promises to be physical. For the home team it promises to be fast. Auburn Fast. Fortunately for Auburn, they are deeper and more talented with more experience than Arkansas. That bodes well for the Tigers. It won’t be easy but the home team will prevail.

Auburn 42 Arkansas 20.

It’s Time!

2014 SEC West Division Champions: The Auburn Tigers

When one begins a discussion of the SEC West it often begins with Alabama. The Crimson Tide has proven their worth over the past seven seasons under head coach Nick Saban. Everyone knows what they have accomplished and those accomplishments have been extremely impressive. They don’t rebuild, they reload. The majority of pundits and prognosticators are, once again, picking Alabama to win the West. That’s fair.

Any debate over who will win the West has to include LSU. The Tigers have won the division three times since Les Miles arrived in the Red Stick back in 2005. They won the BCS National Championship in 2007 in spite of losing two games. LSU has lost a ton of talent to the NFL over the past few years. They lost ELEVEN underclassmen just last year to THE LEAGUE. LSU also just reloads and they have a lot of talent, per usual, but they have to replace their quarterback and fill many other slots as well. This does not appear to be THE year for the Bayou Bengals.

Texas A&M exploded on the SEC scene in 2012 with Johnny Manziel behind center. The Aggies had two very good seasons with Johnny Football as the signal caller but Kevin Sumlin’s team could not capture a division title. They will not in 2014 either.

The two Mississippis, Ole Miss and State, are receiving a lot of platitudes for the coming campaign. They both do appear to have solid teams. But the fact remains that Ole Miss has never won the West and State has only won it once and that was back in 1998. Both teams should make some noise this season and could pull a couple of upsets to make the Wild West just that, but neither will take home the crown. Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen will have to continue to build those programs in order to have a serious chance at a title.

Arkansas. The Razorbacks play what coach Bret Bielema refers to as “Normal American Football”. That phrase is a bit of a head scratcher as many of us are not sure just what the phrase means. Bielema is building a foundation in Fayetteville and the Hawgs will be a better football team in 2014 but they absolutely will not take the West.

That brings us to Auburn. The Tigers will win the SEC West in 2014.

My reasons for picking Auburn to go to Atlanta in December are plenteous and not altogether without bias. But hey, all of us have our prejudices and presumptions, and we often wear our allegiances on our sleeves. Good… let us begin.

Without boring you with black and white statistics that you can find anywhere, I’m going to give you my three primary reasons why I think Auburn will come out on top in the West.

MOTIVATION

This most unlikely aggregation came within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena last winter. How many people thought that would happen? I think the answer is somewhere near zero. Not even the most blindly optimistic of us even considered that a possibility.

Coming up just shy of a crystal football did not deflate these Tigers. All it did was instill a deep hunger to return to the title game. This is one motivated football team and they are on a mission… believe me. The 2014 edition of the Tigers is a more experienced, and a more talented football team than it was in 2013. They have more quality depth.

In essence Auburn will have a better team than it had last season and that spells trouble for the rest of the SEC, and for the entire college football landscape.

MARSHALL

Now this is where it truly begins to get scary. As good as Nick Marshall was last season, he will be much improved for the 2014 campaign.

Marshall is a freakish athlete with a raging inferno of a desire to win. He is brilliant and deft in commandeering this offense, and he is a magician in executing the zone read. Now that he has had a full season, off season, a spring, and a summer to further grasp the offense, and polish his passing skills, there is no reason to think he will not be the best quarterback in the SEC.

Finally, Nick Marshall could emerge as a bona fide Heisman candidate and could very well be Auburn’s fourth player to bring home that hardware.

MALZAHN

The final, and possibly the most integral, piece to Auburn’s return to the Georgia Dome in early December is its head coach… Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn is, arguably, the best game day tactician in college football today. But as good as he is on football Saturdays, his attention to detail in practices, his relentless work ethic, and his will to win, combine to make him a guy that is extremely hard to beat.

When you take all of the above factors and combine them with a coaching staff that is exceptional, you have a formula that will lead the 2014 Auburn Tigers to Atlanta and, yes, beyond.