Coach's Corner

I am a bottom-feeding commentator on the world of sports. This is noted with little of the bitterness of a younger Coach, certain the next week would surely bring a call from a senior editor at Sports Illustrated politely inquiring if I'd consider joining their writing staff in whatever capacity might suit me. No, he'd tell me, I didn't have to move to New York City, but would I mind coming up to New York once a year for the Heisman Awards? A suite would be available for me at the Four Seasons. Soon, Frank Deford would call wondering if I'd mind filling in for him on NPR.

Ah yes, I'd have the last laugh at all the sports information directors who'd snubbed an obvious writing talent such as myself in the old days back at The Austin Chronicle -- where they'd have a picture of me on the wall -- and Louis Black fondly recalled me, from time to time, in "Page Two."

Yes indeed. Yes indeed. Whatever small deficiencies are inherent in my personality, an active imagination isn't one of them. This is a very good thing, because low-level media swine must fight and scrap, like the tough little ponies of the High Gobi Desert, for survival. Interviews with Barry Bonds are unlikely.

With a clearly defined inferiority complex, often (some say) slipping toward disturbing levels of paranoia, it's no surprise it makes me feel important if I can slap a dateline at the top of my column. Dallas, San Antonio … even Memorial Stadium. It's the little things that make the water taste better, the small things that make for a restful evening of sleep.

This column was supposed to have a dramatic dateline from Wrigley Field, or maybe a more modest, less insecure, Chicago, at its head. At one time in my life I was a tour director; responsible for getting a busload of 40 wealthy, elderly people from San Francisco to Calgary; a 15-day trip where tight schedules were followed to the minute. Where lunches, airline pickups, nightly room assignments, dinner reservations, and picture stops were all a part of my daily routine. If nothing else, a tour director must be organized or all will be lost: You can't very well be at the airport to pick up your group on August 12 when they all arrived on August 11. But that was long ago. As the best soldiers are 18-year-olds, most tour directors are young people. There is a reason for this.

I knew the schedule was tight, but I could do it. We were leaving for Colorado on Monday … or so I thought. I made all the arrangements. No problem. My Dad got me tickets to two Cubs/White Sox games in Chicago. I'd be home on Sunday. Quick turnaround. I was a tour director. A problem arose when my wife wondered exactly how early my flight back to Austin was on Sunday morning since our flight to Colorado left at 9am … on Sunday.

This wasn't a good few days to be left at home with Kelly, still smarting from my friend Dunn's cancellation of our annual trip to a seaside house in Newport Beach. Kelly resents this passionately and places the blame on me instead of where it belongs. These few days (when I should have been at Wrigley Field) coincided with the start of the Tour de France, another reminder of the damn beach house, where she watched every minute of what I once considered an obscure sports event.

I seriously doubt if many have seen (broadcast on the obscure Outdoor Life Network) as much of the Tour as we have in our happy little house in West Lake. I had no idea my wife was a cycling aficionado before our annual trips to Newport. Fact is, I've never seen her ride a two-wheel bike. Anyway, she greedily grabbed the Sunday sports page from my hands, the one with the "Le Tour De France 01 Sports Extra Guide." It's now dog-eared and lying in a shambles beside her chair. During the two-hour telecast she compulsively consults her guide, much like a horseplayer who's rarely seen without a Racing Form close at hand. She knows who sponsors all the teams by the colors of their jerseys. She understands the obscure strategies of the peleton, the breakout, and what, exactly, the chasers do.

Her passion is contagious. I'm up early, placidly watching the pheasant-hunting show that precedes the 8:30 edition of OLN's coverage. I look forward to the somehow gently reassuring Continental voices of Phil Legget and Paul Sherman as they bring us up to date on the day's happenings, while the race comes to us through the rain-spattered, jiggling, motion sickness-inducing images of the "road camera," two inches from a rider's face. Kelly hates these guys because they're not Americans. Ergo, they're anti-American and pay little attention to Lance and his Postal Service (Posties as Phil calls them) team except to show them laboring, from time to time, back in the peleton.

Kelly's day (a day not in Newport Beach!) rises and falls on the blue and white back of Lance and his Postal teammates. If they picked up a few seconds it's a good day. If they lose a few, well, the day's not so good. But, she happily points out, the mountain stages are about to begin, and don't I remember how last year at Dunn's house …

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