A big weekend for football.
Things got started Saturday afternoon, when I headed to Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis to cover my first high school game of the year. On paper, it appeared to be a blowout and, well, the paper did not lie. As usual, the team I was covering was the underdog and got their behinds handed to them. But they’re young and looking for silver linings in every cloud, so the coach was very helpful and full of useful comments afterwards.
I spent most of the game in the press box, which is about the highest vantage point possible in Lucas. In fact, it kind of hangs from the roof rather than sits on top of the deck below. You are way the hell up there, but at least you have a good view. Although there were official stats,* since this was my first game of the year I busted out my stat-keeping system to shake off the rust and be prepared for the night I’m sitting in a high school stadium press box and responsible for every stat myself. There were some tricky moments in the first quarter, but soon I was getting everything down and reasonably close to the official stats.
<em>* The biggest perk for some journalists is that they have access to a hospitality room (i.e. free food). I’ll take official stats over free food every time. My math isn’t always the best.</em>
I headed down to the field midway through the fourth quarter so I could be in position to grab the coach after the game. I made it down in time to be standing on the goal line as my team scored their only touchdown of the game. I went from being as far away as possible, to being about as close as possible without having a uniform on. The change in perspective was kind of jarring.
It was a beautiful day, so the roof was open. It’s an odd roof at Lucas, in that even when open, it still covers most of the seats, but the wall above the north end zone opens completely, so you can look out of the stadium into downtown.
As I headed back to the locker rooms, I literally ran into one of the teams for the next game.* The nightcap was a contest between two perennial 5A powers that are loaded with talent. The team I walked through wears dark purple uniforms, with even darker helmets. I swear every guy on the team was taller than me, and with their pads and helmets on, it was a little intimidating walking through them.
<em>* There were four games in the event.</em>
After doing my interview, I stayed on the sideline for the first quarter of the next game. Talk about a difference. Both teams were loaded with fast, big players, and amped to be on the field. It was a quantum leap up in quality from the game I covered, although I’m sure some of the difference in perspective was due to my closeness to the action.
I think this was the first time I’ve ever been on a Field Turf field. It’s interesting, especially compared to the old Astroturf-styled surfaces. Very soft, almost spongy. It has a wet feel to it, which is strange since I assume the roof at Lucas is closed 90% of the time, so it’s not like it gets soaked every time it rains. To go with that feel, the predominant smell is a musty, wet-cardboard odor. It’s not entirely pleasant. There is also a healthy whiff of warm rubber, since the surface is made from recycled tires and sprinkled with small rubber bits for added cushioning. Unless you’re used to it, you can’t help from continuing to notice those odors, because they’re so counter to the way a football field normally smells: warm, earthy, slightly damp, and above all organic.*
<em>* If only I had more space in my story, I would have described what the field smelled like to my paper’s subscribers. I would have asked players for their views on the subject. “So, you got your asses handed to you, but what about that wet-dog smell?”</em>
So that was fun. Thanks to the beauty of AT&T’s lightning fast 3G network here in Indy,* I was able to track college scores from the press box and on my walk to my car after the game. I was home in time to follow most of the KU game. UTEP seemed kind of scary when the schedule came out. A road, night game against a team that can score a lot of points. When KU has rarely scheduled this kind of opponent in the past, they’ve tended to get their asses handed to them. Thus, this seemed like a big test. Or maybe not. It’s clear UTEP wasn’t as good as advertised, although I think KU’s defense had something to do with that.
<em>* Apparently it pays to live in a medium-sized city. 3G in Indy is awesome. So good I’ve shut off my iPhone’s wifi access completely. Even on my home network, it takes several seconds to connect, so I stick with 3G. I’ve heard less-than-great things about the networks in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, among other places.</em>
Amazing how much of the post-game discussion centered around how Todd Reesing was off all night. Yet we still racked up over 500 yards of offense. The defense has been solid, and is now getting pressure on the quarterback. The coaching staff showed a willingness to mix things up after some of the breakdowns in week one, and those changes seemed to work. Jake Sharp looks, ahem, sharp. Dezmon Briscoe was back on the field and putting up huge numbers.*
<em>* It’s entirely possible this year’s All-American receivers could be Dezmon Briscoe and Dez Bryant. Briscoe is 6’3’’ 200. Bryant 6’2’’ 215. Both are from Texas. Both are juniors. Both play in the Big 12. Wacky, wild stuff.</em>
A nice win, not unexpected but easier than anticipated. Now we have to be careful not to start looking too far ahead, to say the Oklahoma game, and stub our toes like tOSU did on Saturday.
Onto Sunday and the first full day of NFL action. The Colts opened at home, under an open roof, against nemesis Jacksonville. Yes, all afternoon I kept looking to see where I was standing less than 24 hours earlier and telling the girls all about it. “Daddy was standing right where that cheerleader with the massive fake breasts is standing.”
The good was Joseph Addai running hard again. He didn’t rack up a lot of yards, but he looks like a different back than he did a year ago. The new defensive coordinator is already paying dividends. A blitz on third down? Unheard of in these parts. And it worked! You can’t complain too much about the Tony Dungy era. He did win a Super Bowl. But things had gotten stale, and while Jim Caldwell seems to be very much in the mold of Dungy in terms of personality, mixing things up on the field should pay dividends. Oh, and my man Reggie Wayne is going to have a huge year.
The bad: Anthony Gonzalez collapsing in a heap without being touched. That’s never good. Not being able to tackle Maurice Drew-Jones for the 180th straight game. Not creating consistent space to run on offense.
And of course, since it was a Colts-Jags game, the Colts had to play a little sloppy, the Jags had to hang around, and it looked like Josh Scobee might get a chance to kick his third game-winning field goal in Indianapolis in the last five years. Fortunately the defense held and it never came down to that. 1-0 is a better start than last year.
As I was running some errands Sunday evening, I listened to a local sports talk station. I was amazed that one of the big subjects was Lucas Oil stadium. The hosts and people at the game were complaining that it isn’t nearly as loud as the RCA Dome was and the open roof ruined the game for some. It’s a gorgeous building, designed as it is so that it can be easily adjusted to host the Final Four every fifth year. It has all the amenities you could ask for. And in year two people are turning on it.
It’s funny how many communities have spent loads of money on these fancy new stadiums, built to be luxurious and offer endless outlets for people to spend any money left in their wallets after paying for parking and tickets, and while they end up being wonderful to look at and comfortable, something is lost in the transition.
The RCA Dome wasn’t that old, it’s not like it was Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but it was small and generic and its upper deck was entirely bleacher seats. People were cramped next to each other. It was hot and ugly and uncomfortable and loud. Lucas is comfortable and pleasant and the sound gets lost in the much higher roof when closed, or escapes to the city when opened. So the team and city got their new jewel, and a Super Bowl in 2011 as reward, but perhaps ruined some of their home field advantage in the process.
Hey, 27 new Peyton Manning commercials. Great.
I’m not sure there will be a better play this year than Brandon Stokley’s game-winning touchdown against Cincinnati. It was so good I sent my brother-in-law in Denver, who is a huge Broncos fan, an email that only said “Holy shit!”
I was feeling a bit under the weather in the afternoon, so I slept through the late games. In the five or so minutes I watched the New York – Washington game, the Giants looked awesome. I’m feeling pretty good about my Super Bowl pick one week in!
The Brett Favre Sears commercial is pretty great. I’m also enjoying Southwest’s “It’s On!” campaign. Genius.
The referees in this Sunday night game could have used a few more preseason games. They’re not in their best form.
Hey, let’s make this a tradition. 1500-2000 words about football every week!