Coach's Corner

Thanksgiving #1 occurred at the traditional time, after I weaseled a last-minute invitation from my pal, Leonard the Lawyer. Usually, I like Thanksgiving.It's what I'd classify a good holiday, as opposed to potentially suicidal times like Christmas, or overrated holidays like the Fourth of July, which promises only ghastly heat, dripping sweat, and picnics highlighted with biting ants, bees trying to fly into the opening of my Coke can, and 10 minutes of fireworks, followed by a three-hour, three-mile-ride home.

But, Thanksgiving's a good thing. No matter what my social status, I'll always find a dinner invitation. It's not hot. Many bugs are dead. Real food served at a table. Buffets covered with meat, stuffing, and pies. If I'm pathetic enough, maybe I can scrounge up some leftovers. Yes, Thanksgiving's a fine thing, yet I approached this year's annual signal for a month-long swine-down with great trepidation. A successful, six-month diet was about to be trashed in a carbohydrate binge of egg nog, stuffing, and sugar. And there was nothing I could do about it.

It began at Leonard's, where a sweet meal was quickly followed by not one, not two, but three pieces of assorted pies (would I hurt a cook's feelings?), two of which were slathered with ice cream. A pinprick to my abnormally swollen belly would've burst me wide open. As Kelly and I lumbered home, I regretted, for a few hours anyway, the extra pecan pie I had nagged Kelly to make, which was waiting at home on the kitchen counter. By 10 o'clock, the pie had been violated. I was ashamed.

But not too ashamed to do it all over again in 36 hours. For some reason, Kelly's extended family celebrates Thanksgiving a few days after the rest of the world. So it is, after years of skillfully avoiding any extended family contact, that I find myself on a three-hour trek up to Chopper Land, Texas, in the bush south of Waco, to the Kelly Family Compound. For years I'd been hearing tales of the dysfunctional family: a crazy sister, a redneck brother-in-law, delinquent cousins, the eccentric uncle, and the kind (but old fashioned) grandfather, who would pull out his shotgun if he knew his granddaughter's sinful living condition. Much of the ride north was taken up with baleful tales of warning.

Perhaps my most sophisticated intuitive skill, polished over 50 hard years, is giving myself an out fromrelationships. "Meet the family day"made me feel a tad claustrophobic, so I got press credentials to the Lady Longhorn game that evening against Tennessee. That I'd last been to a ladies' game some three years ago was only a coincidence. So was the fact I could only stay at Kelly's Compound a few hours.

To my disappointment, the familywas on their best behavior. The crazy sister was nice, the brother-in-law and I talked football for hours. My Yankee accent was dissected. Huntin' came up often. I nodded dumbly, not acknowledging an urban upbringing void of aught-sixes and the proper ammunition for shootin' quail. All the children were polite. Momma and Poppa greeted me with Southern tact.

And once again, with malice toward none and equanimity toward all, I ate everything placed upon the table. An hour later, with many of the family members now asleepupon divans and Lazy Boy rockers, it was time, according to plan, to head back to Austin. Kelly's mom insisted we take home multiple pies. Not wishing to cause offense, I acquiesced.

I'll admit up front, I'm not much of a fan of women's basketball. That said, and though it served as a handy excuse to avoid a much longer stay at the Compound, I also wanted to see the Tennessee Lady Vols. This storied program, with three straight national titles, is the Chicago Bulls of college basketball, men's or women's. Indeed, the casual, loose, arrogant confidence they evinced, even during warm-ups, reminded me of the Bulls. And, with #23, a female Jordan look-alike and the game's best player in Chamique Holdsclaw, and almost as good Duncanville graduate Tamika Catchings, the Vols impressed even a complete skeptic like myself.

Tennessee toyed with the youngTexas team for about five minutes, when, with Texas only down by a point, the Vols applied a withering press. Eighteen UT turnovers later, the half ended. Tennessee was up by 24. The game was over.

To Texas' credit, they never showed any signs of quitting, or even losing their poise. With the game in control, Vol coach Pat Summitt, mercifully called off the dogs. The 9,733 upbeat fans could now admire the beauty of Tennessee, and wonder about the ugly score if Texas' three-point gunner, Kim Lummas, hadn't scored a career-high 26 points. Her long-range bombs were the only open shots Texas shooters saw all night.

Summit, a steely taskmaster, allowed after the game that she was disappointed her team "didn't come out with the same defensive intensity in the second half." This was nonsense. If Summit wants those girls to do something, she fixes a baleful, wolfish glare their way and it gets done and it gets done pretty damn quick.

Finally, a long day was over. I was encouraged to see two pieces of coconut cream pie still in the fridge. By morning, somehow, they'd disappeared.

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