Football is in the air. Well, at least talk about football. The ACC staged its annual Football Kickoff over a long weekend. For a couple of days, attempts were made to ignore, or at least minimize, the ominous storm clouds that are gathering around league football and paint smiley faces over the whole operation. They mostly succeeded and at least the event served to remind us that in another 5 1/2 weeks or so, football will be played.
A solid clue that football season is approaching was provided when the good old N&O devoted four days worth of coverage to its conference basketball predictions [Tech was picked 11th]. It won’t be long now, eh, guys? While the minority Raleigh contingent of the combined efforts of North Carolina newspapers with Observer in their names continues to treat football as a pleasant diversion until Ol’ Roy’s boys again crank up, the rest of the league does have at least a passing interest in the fall sport.
The theme of this year’s Football Kickoff seemed to be: ACC Football, not as bad as you think. Much of the efforts, especially those of ACC commish Little Johnny Swofford, were devoted to attempting to convince people that the league’s football wasn’t as lousy as it appeared. Little Johnny was glossing over much, including the Disney boys finally throwing in the towel on the miniscule ratings delivered by the league’s football championship game and exiling it to the Siberia of time slots, on ESPN opposite the Big XII championship on the big network ["It was our idea, honest"]. The ACC honcho did not address whether what is now the SEC Network might be attempting to get an ACC championship game rating of as close to 0.0 as possible in order to shave a few more million off of what is sure to be a seriously-low-balled ‘negotiation’ figure, if they even bother to make one at all. Well, maybe those talks with the Pac 10 about a joint package on one of those obscure channels on the fringe of the cable universe will work out.
Little Johnny was at his hilarious best when defending the championship game, claiming that it was a success by ‘all measures’ except those used to measure the success of a championship game. He touched lightly on what has happened, blaming sparse attendance on ‘the participants.’ Since he spent the next five minutes praising Virginia Tech, it wasn’t too awfully hard to figure out exactly to whom he was referring. There might as well have been a giant ‘Fredo go home’ banner stretched across the front of the Grandover building. Compared with the way Fredo is being treated these days by his conference, Temple was a highly-valued member of the Big East.
The collective wisdom of the members of the old media that cover the league annointed as their preseason favorite Virginia Tech. Considering that of their five previous predictions since league expansion, exactly one was correct, this could be seen as the kiss of death for Tech’s 09 prospects. Then again, the one time they got it right was picking Tech to win in 07, so maybe not all is lost.
There was lots of humor to be gleaned from watching, on the Internet, Monday’s interviews with the coaches. For three hours, beginning with Butch and ending with Fredo’s Uncle Leo look-alike Frank Spaziani and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, a couple of assistants awarded their jobs by default who might as well have ‘Interim’ stamped on their foreheads, the ACC’s football coaches wrenched themselves away from the golf course, bar and seafood station and paraded one after another to a table to answer questions from some ACC media flack. Considering that it is late July and none has yet lost a game, it was a fairly chipper group. That will change by mid-September, but for the moment, at least, all is well.
Each coach seemed eager to expound on his program’s prospects for the year. A laughing and joking Frank sure looked a lot like a guy who feels pretty darned good about his team. Well, Nick Saban was hundreds of miles away. This writer’s second-favorite ACC football coach, Tom O’Brien, carried his ramrod-straight Marine countenance to the table and then proceeded to crack jokes [one of these days, I really have to catch Captain Tom at a Wolfpack Club meeting]. Bobby Bowden was in full Bowden mode ["that dadgum NCAA"], Ralph Friedgen claimed his players were ‘enthusiastic’ about this year [they haven't been before?], even David Cutcliffe was in high spirits ["We're gonna win 7"]. No sooner was one coach finished answering the softball questions lobbed by the HQ guy than the next one bounded to the interview table eager to take his turn. Well, all except one.
The afternoon’s comic relief was provided when the ACC guy announced, “Next up is algroh of the Hoos.” As the camera continued to beam an empty chair across cyberspace, it was repeated, “We’ll next hear from algroh,” then, “We’re waiting on algroh.” As viewers couldn’t help but notice that the empty chair had a much better personality than does the Great NFL Legend and the dead silence coming from it made much more sense than the oft-incoherent algroh, stage whispers could be heard.
“Where’s algroh? Is he here? Somebody go find algroh. Oh, geez, Littlepage hasn’t already fired him, has he? He promised he wouldn’t until after the season.” As viewers reflected on how the empty chair seemed an apt visual for Hoo football and wondered whether Hoo AD Craig ‘Tubby, I’ve got to check and see if Carl’s portfolio is back up to $4 mil’ Littlepage would soon step up and introduce Vic Damone as the new Hoo coach, algroh finally wandered in.
The Great NFL Legend was not asked any of the hard questions, such as how recruiting was going, exactly why did it take until the Tech game to figure out that the best quarterback on the team was playing in the secondary, what the after-tax would be on the buyout or whether boygroh had moved out of the basement. He wasn’t even asked if Craig peddling all of those unsold Smithsonian tickets to Tech fans would cause him to patrol the sidelines dressed as the Hokie Bird.
Instead, the questions seemed designed to give algroh as many opportunities as possible to work “When I was in the NFL” into the answers. This correspondent counted five, which will translate into another 50 years of NFL experience in the Hoo media guide. We are going to miss algroh when he is gone.
Even though Finding algroh took a while, the ACC’s Football Kickoff finally concluded. The league’s coaches hit the bar for one last Scotch, stuffed some shrimp into their pockets and headed home. Practices open soon. As we were reminded by the grand time at Grandover, football is coming.