Journal from Tennessee

Heavy rain, watered-down Sprite and Frogger. Oh yeah, and covering basketball, too. All in a days work for

NASHVILLE - Our plans to seek warmer climes south of the Mason-Dixon line are thwarted by Mother Nature. Nashville is a balmy 37 degrees and wet when we arrive Monday night and the mercury barely climbs above 40 for the duration of our visit.

We get to Nashville at around 7:00 pm. We're pretty hungry so we go to Demo's on Commerce Street, which is probably the nicest place to take a cheap date in all of Nashville. Marco orders Sprite, but once he drinks half of it our waiter attentively refills his glass with water. Fortunately we don't get charged for any drinks.

We stay at the Ramada across the street from LP Field. There are no NCAA basketball teams staying there, but we do share breakfast with Cedarville of the NAIA, in town to play God-Knows-Who (they tell me, but I forget).

Deprived of that real-campus feel at Marquette, we set out to experience Vanderbilt. And after a quick visit to the bookstore (the Christmas season is upon us) we take a self-guided tour. It is raining fairly hard once again, so we decide to tour as many buildings as possible. This leads to us getting temporarily lost inside the medical school.

When wet, Vanderbilt smells kind of like fried shrimp. As opposed to Marquette, which smells like s—t most days regardless.

Since Nashville is the Athens of the South, we also stop in Centennial Park to see the Parthenon. It is impressive from the outside, but admission is $5 so we don't go inside.

On the way back we stop for lunch at Jack's Bar-B-Que on Broadway, where Marco realizes that, in keeping with tradition, he must have a hot dog and Sierra Mist before the game or Marquette will suffer a horrible defeat. Panic ensues when we realize – GASP! – Nashville is a Coke town.

Game time rolls around. We luck out and find $4 parking at the public library, two blocks away from the arena. The Sommet Center, home of the NHL's Nashville Predators, is a pretty impressive arena inside and out. It's a cozy environment for a game. Also it helps that the interior is painted blue and gold.

The hospitality food, however, is not as impressive – fried chicken sandwiches from Chik-Fil-A kept warm inside a couple plastic coolers. They also have lots of peanuts. I'm allergic to peanuts. But, lo and behold, Marco finds his Sierra Mist. Then he scarfs down a hot dog from the concession stand five minutes before tip. It's game time.

Tennessee starts Josh Tabb instead of J.P. Prince. He must not be drinking his soda because he finishes the game with only five points. He should just have what Wayne Chism is having. Nashville native Chism goes off for 26, including 15 of the Vols' 19 during a four-minute second half stretch.

Dominic James also shows some athleticism by leaping to meet 6'7" Tyler Smith at the height of the latter's jump on an attempted dunk – and block the ball cleanly from his hands!

Then again, James' display of jumping is nothing compared to the acrobatic mid-air splits Buzz Williams is seen executing from the Marquette sideline. One elicits the comment, "Take it easy, Frogger!" from a Vols fan sitting in the front row.

Marquette loses 80-68 despite Marco's best dietary efforts. The blame actually falls on Matthew "Romo" Hutson, Marco's partner in odd superstitious rituals, who violates the stipulations by both drinking Cranberry Sierra Mist instead of regular and putting condiments on his hot dog.

After actually doing work writing the game story, we nearly get trapped in the library parking lot overnight. But the night had only one tragedy in store for us and eventually we find our way out.

After one last night in the hotel, and three more soft-drink product placements, we bid the Nashville skyline and its Batman building behind and head back to Chicago.

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