Here I am, on my first-ever assignment as a sportswriter. Okay, it's not really an assignment and I'm not really a sportswriter. But I am a writer who was lucky enough to get press credentials for the NCAA Final Four basketball championship in San Antonio.
I had been excited about this for weeks, so it's not surprising that I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm went off -- at 4:45 AM. My flight was scheduled to leave Los Angeles and 8:00. The first thing I noticed when I woke up was that my back was killing me. I had hurt it the night before in the somewhat less than athletic activity of packing my suitcase. But I wasn't going to let the pain stop me. I did some stretching exercises, and promised myself I would do more throughout the day. This was the Final Four. If Uconn's Emeka Okafor could play with his back pain, so could I. Neither of us was just going to hang around the punch bowl and watch the other guys waltz in the "Big Dance."
When I arrived Friday night, I saw that all of San Antonio was into the excitement and pageantry of the NCAA Final Four. The banners and signs were everywhere, as were the tournament souvenir stands. If you were so inclined, you could buy a wardrobe and decorate your house with objects bearing the words, "Final Four."
Walking around Friday night, I was able to see quite a few of the participants. I was surprised that they didn't appear to be in better shape. Many looked overweight, yet they seem very interested in finding free food. And I must say that some alcohol was consumed as well. And all this the night before the big games! But these guys must know what they're doing. They are professional sports writers.
I didn't get much sleep Friday night. I guess it's pre-game jitters. But Okafor and I have the entire off-season to sleep and heal our backs. (Mine is feeling better now, thank you). I walked over to the Alamo, and when I got there I said to myself the same thing that I was hearing from the other tourists all around me: "Is this really it?" It's considerably smaller than one imagines. Yet it is no less inspiring. Looking around it, I could only imagine how difficult it must have been for those heroic Texans to defend it: There's a busy street on one side, a tall hotel on the other, and little shops in front of it. Plus I'm sure Davy Crocket and Sam Houston often had to hold their fire because of all those tourists walking around..
The Alamodome is pretty deserted right now. It's around noon, and there are only four of us using the "media work area." That seems pretty strange to me, especially considering the amount of free food that is here for the media. I have the feeling that real sportswriters get up a little later than I do. Or maybe they are up, and they're off somewhere chasing a story, looking for a "scoop." Maybe that's what I should be doing now. Maybe I should be hanging around hotel lobbies, trying to interview really tall young men or middle-aged guys with bad sport jackets. And, let's face it, my questions might not be typical, but I have some pretty good ones to ask, like: How many players on Duke can spell Coach Krzyzewski's name? How many members of the press can do it? Do the players bring soap and shampoo from home, or just use whatever's in the shower?
My team analysis might not be all that typical, either. For example, I find it very interesting that in 5'9"David Nelson and 7'1" Luke Schenscher, Georgia Tech has both the smallest and the biggest players in the Final Four. How are you going to beat a team that is both David and Goliath?
Duke has a player whose last name sounds like a first name, and whose first name sounds like a last name – Shavlik Randolph. That should confuse the other team.
UConn has two Ryans, two Marcuses, and two Browns.
But the team with the most potential to deceive its opponent has to be Oklahoma State. They've got twins on the team—Joey and Stevie Graham. Watch those guys on the bench very carefully to make sure they don't switch jerseys if one of them gets in foul trouble.
It's several hours before tip-off, and I'm starting to worry that I might peak too soon. I really need to pace myself today, especially considering that there are two games. So I'm going to try to do what any real sports guy would do in this situation: take a pre-game nap.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.