Monday, January 5, 2009

San Antonio

I was in San Antonio last weekend for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The Army All-American bowl is the Catalina Wine Mixer of high school football. It is reserved for the nation's best players and one of our receivers, Bryce McNeal, was selected to attend. Each player is allowed to bring one coach, and our Head Coach asked if I would accompany Bryce. As you may have guessed, there was no hesitation on my part. Free airfare, free hotel, all expenses paid, -5 degrees vs. 80 degrees....I'm in. I have been journaling over the course of the weekend because I thought it would make for a good entry. Here is the story of my unbelievable experience in San Antonio:

January 1, 6:15 am:
-I rationalized staying in on New Years Eve by saying to myself that I would have my fun in the forthcoming weekend. Much to my delight, I woke up to see three of my favorite guys passed out in the living room - Moody and the Lindgrens. I'm not sure how they ended up at our place, but I did not want to wake them, so I just stepped over Jeff on my way to the airport. I had a minor setback getting through airport security. I was aware that all liquids needed to be placed in a plastic bag, but I didn't know there was a 3.5 oz limit for each bottle. In fear that I would take down the plane in terrorist-like fashion, the very eccentric security entrance monitor escorted me to baggage check. Not wanting to surrender my extensive collection of toiletries, I decided to check my bag for the price of $15 - so much for all expenses paid.

January 1, 11:45 am:
-I had to transfer through Dallas to get to San Antonio. I have never flown American Airlines, but apparently they send you both a text and voicemail update on every detail related to your travel itinerary. I had 5 messages before I even got to San Antonio. Hungry for lunch - I stopped for Chinese food at something called Blue Bamboo Express. I ordered a 3-item combo and my billed totaled up to $14.29 with no clearly defined description of how that was added. The lady asked if I wanted teriyaki sauce - I said "no" and somehow she interpreted that as "yes" and commenced showering my meal with it. Due to the circumstances I pulled the Larry David and drew a line through the tip portion of the receipt. The meal was awful, primarily because of the terikayi, so thank you for that experience Joy K. - employee number 91.

January 1, 1:15 pm:
-I made it: San Antonio. As I walked towards baggage claim, I noticed a guy holding a sheet of paper with my name on it. Because of how cool the situation was, I excused the fact that my first name was misspelled. His name was Glen and he worked with SportsLink (sponsors for the Army bowl). Him and his wife Alissa transported me from the airport to my hotel. They both were great people, and very helpful in explaining what I would be involved in over the course of the weekend. I love the feeling of being in an unfamiliar city and not having to worry about directions - one of my favorite simple pleasures. I stayed at the Westin in downtown San Antonio, which Glen explained was where most NBA teams stay when they play the Spurs. The hotel was unreal and I was assigned to a room on the 15th floor with a riverwalk view. It was definitely out of my price range....but good thing I wasn't on my dime.

January 1, 4:00 pm:
-After getting situated, I headed to orientation. On my way, I stumbled upon a huge spread of appetizers, so finding the orientation room then became my second priority. After grabbing two of everything I filled up my glass with iced tea and then accidentally dropped the ladle into the punch bowl. I felt like a complete asshole, until a guy laughing told me that I was probably the third person to do that. I didn't find out until later, but that guy near the appetizer table was the National Editor for, Jeremy Crabtree.

At orientation, I received a detailed schedule for the weekend...and an extensive gift package from SportsLink, Schutt equipment, and Russell Athletics. They had my schedule down to the hour of where I would be and asked that I attend every event. As I glanced around the room, I noticed the same thing I generally notice in any coaching context...I had no peers. There were no coaches present under the age of 30, let alone 22. They were from elite high school programs that year-after-year provided some of the best football players in the country. It was very humbling to say the least, but I have always had a longstanding policy of never believing that anybody else is better than you are.

I have also never felt uncomfortable in situations where I don't know anybody, and I often embrace the situation. This is where I first started to mingle and get to know a lot of the coaches. The majority of them were very cordial and as eager to hear about my coaching history/Army-elected player as I was theirs....with one exception. There was this one jerk who approached me and asked: "What position do you play?" This is a similar question that I'm asked at Breck banquets and parent gatherings, but I explained to him that I was here on behalf of a player.

"So you're a coach..?" he asked.
"Yeah..." -Me getting annoyed.
"You look like a teenager" replied dick-head coach.
My response: "Well, you look like you're losing your hair"

There was a long awkward pause, before he did his best fake laugh and never hassled me the rest of the weekend. Although this guy was obviously pissed off, it got me instant credibility with three of the coaches who were sitting at the table. I conversed and hung out with them for the majority of the weekend. They were from New York, New Jersey, and Ohio, respectively. All of them very well-established with great careers and numerous state championships under their belt - and most importantly, they were all exceptional human beings.

January 1, 7:30 pm:
-I didn't know it at the time, but at orientation, I had established the 3 guys that I would essentially be in the foxhole with for the rest of the weekend (an Army themed weekend needs Army analogies). Wherever we went, whether it was breakfast, clinics, or the charter bus - the four of us were generally together. They had a pretty exciting night planned for us in the form of a San Antonio rodeo. There was cattle roping, barrel races, and bucking broncos - as legitimate as you can get. All I could think about when I was sitting in the bleachers that night is: "I'm pretty sure I was meant to live in Texas." A place where country music is the only music, being surrounded by legitimate rhinestones, and sitting outside on a beautiful night in January. I could never see snow again and not even bat an eye.

The Army football players were with us that night...well, all of them except for my player. He texted me and said he was staying at the hotel to eat with his family, so I tagged along with the foxhole. They had a barbecue prepared for us in a building near the Rodeo pit. There were some big boys at that BBQ. The coaching side of me wondered what it would be like to watch these guys do some one-on-ones, but the rube side thought the building would be a great venue for 32 Below. The guests of honor at the dinner were Coach Boone and Coach Yoast. Do those names sound familiar? That's because they are the former T.C. Williams coaches who's story was chronicled in the film "Remember the Titans" - one of my all-time favorite movies. At this point, I am cursing myself for not bringing my camera. The New Jersey coach offered me his camera, so I got my picture with the both of them (somebody remind me to e-mail him). Ironically, Vince Papale, who's experience with the Philadelphia Eagles was remade into the movie "Invincible," was there as well. So I figured, "why not - I'll get my picture with him too." Quite the first night.

January 2, 7:30 am:
-Breakfast was served at Westin Hotel in the Navarro Room. At this point, I'm starting to realize that I'm getting treated a lot better than I deserved to be - these Hispanic employees kept waiting on me hand and foot. I never even had to open a door all weekend, they did just about everything but actually feed you. I was assigned to Table 9 at breakfast. After introducing myself to the group, I started to notice that we were grouped together regionally. All of the coaches were from either Wisconsin, Michigan, or Ohio. I finally got my hands on a program and realized that Bryce was the only player selected from Minnesota, so I guess that would make me the only Minnesota Academy Coach representative (I know...not a big deal...but I like to pretend like it was). At my table most notably was Ted Ginn Sr., Head Coach at Glenville High School in Ohio. His son, Ted Ginn Jr., is a high profile player who may have been on your fantasy team this year. He had a great career at Ohio State and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins.

January 2, 11:30 am:
-Shortly before lunch, our buses departed to Brooks Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. This was the best part of weekend and I could honestly write an entire blog about my experience here. BAMC is a rehab facility for limb salvage, amputee, and burn victims recovering from injuries sustained during their tenure overseas. We toured the complex and got to see their state-of-the-art equipment, but the real treat was getting to hear testimonials from three injured soldiers. One in particular recanted his story of having his vehicle blown 10 feet off the ground by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He fled the vehicle engulfed in flames while 5 other men in his brigade expired instantly. He was in coma for over 2 weeks and later learned that 70% of his skin had suffered irreparable burn damage - in addition to the loss of his right lower leg. He has spent the last year in San Antonio rehabbing and trying to regain normal living functions.

You wanna talk about adversity - the problems I hear people bitch about everyday don't even seem the least bit significant. It's hard to put into words how empowering it is to hear someone retell this story, and then have them talk about how they still have long-term goals and are still upbeat about their future. The individual discussed previously will be competing at the Paralympic Games as one of 5 archers for the US team. The theme of the weekend was "Army Strong," just like the commercials that appear quite often. That theme encompasses a lot more than you think because these guys are tougher than you'll ever understand....tougher than I'll ever understand.

January 2, 3:00 pm
-The afternoon continued as the bus took us to a nearby college for a brief clinic put on by NFL and Division I coaches. It was on this bus ride that I really gained a grasp on the types of coaches I like to be around...and also the ones that I cannot stand. I got along best with a coach from Ohio who sat next to me on almost every bus ride. Looking back, I honestly feel that he picked me because he was sick of the egos that filled this Academy year-after-year, and I was viewed as the young guy who was incapable of having an ego. I hate to disappoint you Friday Night Lights fans, but there was a Permian coach who won the award for "most pompous guy there." He'd put down the philosophies of others and he literally got out a grease board and held a clinic on the bus before we even got to the clinic. The Ohio coach just shook his head, looked at me, and said: "Shawn, always remember that you cannot learn anything by talking - be humble." In whatever endeavor I undertake, I don't ever want to act like a person that thinks he knows everything.

January 2, 7:00 pm
-As I got back to the hotel, I got out a notepad and feverishly started writing - trying to remember all of the great D-Backs stuff I got from a Baylor coach during the clinic. Formal attire was required for the Awards Banquet tonight and I needed to get changed. Unfortunately, I did not have a sport coat, so I had to dress Homecoming style. When I got into the elevator, there was a guy wearing a sweater vest with jeans and I immediately started to feel better. On my walk to the convention, I received a call from my roommates who reprimanded me for missing our traditional Friday happy hour and dinner. It was really hard to compose myself at a classy ordeal while I was talking to people who sounded like they had been drinking since 3 in the afternoon. It kind of reminded me of the old commercial where the young guy answers his phone at a business meeting and his friends yell "Schmitty!!! Guess how many cookies I have in my mouth right now!?!?"

I was assigned to Table 101 at the banquet. Is the salad fork on the right or left? Or is it the second fork on the right, the second on the left, or is it the one at the top of my plate? Why the hell does each person have 5 forks?? There were 150 tables with ten seats at each one - if you do the math that's 7,500 forks. Dinner etiquette is so ridiculous - how can anybody ever enjoy a meal?

I thought it was really strange that I wasn't placed at the same table as Bryce and his family. I was paired up with a kid from the East team who will be playing at Ohio State next year. That night I met ex-NFL players Anthony Munoz and Priest Holmes, who both had kids in the game. Shortly after dinner, the 82nd Airborne Choir performed for us and even covered a couple of Toby Keith songs - that was pretty cool. The keynote speaker was Marshall Faulk who confirmed that he will not be coaching the Rams next year - what an absurd rumor. He gave a great speech and closed it off with stressing the importance of getting a degree: "Do not major in eligibility." Probably the best line I've heard all weekend. I was beat after dinner and had no desire to go out - I'll have plenty of "me" time tomorrow.

January 3, 7:00 am
-Now before my plane left, everybody who had been to San Antonio told me the same thing: "You have to go party on the Riverwalk." Well I was ON the Riverwalk, but much to my surprise, I woke up that morning and it was no longer there. The water was all drained up and there were guys in rubber boots cleaning out the area. The morning news confirmed it: The Riverwalk's bi-yearly maintenance was scheduled for today. Just my luck.

At breakfast this morning, I was told that I was going to be on national TV during the game. Bryce was one of 12 players who was going to declare live at the Army Bowl. I got a little nervous after hearing this and I headed back to the room a little early to make sure I was "camera ready." I also had to call Dad, Mom, and few other friends and let them know that I was going to be on NBC this afternoon - with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter (as the Bowl reps described to me).

January 3, 11:00 am
-I was given specific instructions to not leave my seat during the game. The guys from SportsLink (sponsors of the Bowl) needed to know where I was so they could find me right away. The game kinda dragged on and honestly got a little boring. The extent of the plays that these coaches came up with really didn't correlate with the 2+ weeks they had to practice them. A lot of mindless deep balls, bubble screens, and gap-on-over made the game lack excitement. Nevertheless, I sat in my seat patiently waiting for my National TV Debut.

Keeping true to his word, the SportsLink rep was at my seat with precisely 3 minutes left in the 3rd and escorted me down to the field. As I waited in what I guess you would call the "green room," I met Karl Malone in passing (the last of my celebrity run-ins). He too had a kid playing in the bowl game. Bryce literally brought every family member he's ever had down to the field with him - there must have been 25 all together. This Ahmad Rashad look-a-like from NBC asked if I wanted to be in front, but that would have bumped out Ma and Pa on the hard camera. Not wanting that on my conscience, I elected to stand in the back. So due to the circumstances, I wasn't as prominent on TV as I originally thought - you would have needed to do a Magic Eye to find me. And to re-answer the same question again: "No, I had no idea he was going to Clemson." What happened to Oregon??

-I have family that lives in Kileen, Texas and they made the drive to San Antonio to come see me after the game. I got to see my cousin's 3-month-old who is currently featured in my new picture. She's a great baby - didn't fuss the entire time I was there and....I think she kinda looks like me. We drank beer all night on what was once the Riverwalk, but still got to enjoy the beautiful 80 degree weather. Great weekend, great experience.