This week is an odd week. The NCAA Tournament is in full swing and of course I'll lose every pool I enter. It's amazing how you can watch these teams all year long, yet when it comes time for March Madness it is like you know nothing. This week was also my late father's birthday; he passed in 2002 of cancer. My dad was an avid sports fan; like most people in western Pennsylvania he loved his Steelers, and his Pitt football and basketball. Me, I was the black sheep. The reason is I have never had a favorite. I have always watched football and never really cared who won. For some strange reason this is not allowed in Pennsylvania.
I liked watching D.J. Dozier, Curt Warner and Todd Blackledge as much as Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and Larry Fitzgerald. I have always cared more about the intricacies of the game, the X's and O's, more so than the fanfare. To this day, I could still care less which team wins or loses and I know that would drive Pops absolutely nuts.
Another great time of the year is approaching: the NFL Draft. Like most people who are reading this now, and I am a draftnik. I have had this disease for as long as I can remember. But one particular draft sticks out to me. It was before my father became sick back in April of 2002. I had gone to my parents' house equipped with all my draft guides and my draft projections that I had worked on for weeks and months prior. Along with my two brothers, my father and I got together at my parents' house too watch on the big screen. It was at that time my father echoed something that I will remember for the rest of my life. "Where is all that ever going to get you in life?" He could not fathom the idea of this being fun to me, and from that day on I knew I would make it a point to show him. Later in the year he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away two months after his diagnosis. Six months later I was hired by Scout.com and I was realizing a dream.
Part of me thinks it was luck. A stronger part knows a guardian angle had a hand in it.
Friday, 11:00 PM
I have an evening flight tomorrow so I figure I'll shave and pack later. I should have gone to bed, but I instead decide to load a few player videos. I bounce back and forth from the TV to the computer, getting my work done and my hoops fix at the same time. I am anticipating my trip to Jacksonville. They have one of the coolest restaurants. I have been in Clarks Fish Camp in Mandarin. The place looks like a shed, sitting next to a black water swamp, but it is great. You'll go in and they have all these stuffed animals and it's a really a backwoods atmosphere. The menu is dotted with such delicacies as venison, rattlesnake, kangaroo and alligator and so on.
Kangaroos are beautiful creatures, but they are sure tasty, as well. Yep, a plate of kangaroo and a cold one are difficult to beat.
Saturday, 10:00 AM
The head and my face is shaved, I have showered and packed. I check my e-mail and answer a few messages, now I check the mail and my Netflix are here. The kids wanted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so of course we get it. The movie is horrible, but I sit and watch it anyway. I have one kid on each side of me; this is great when the kids will stop for five minutes and just chill with their old man. Needless to say, not even Mutant Turtles or dad can keep these kids interest. They'd rather be on the Playstation.
Saturday, 2:00 PM
It is time to take off for the airport. My flight is at 4:58 PM.
Saturday, 4:15 PM
I think I have finally found a way to get people to stop looking at the big guy. I sat on the opposite side of a girl wearing rainbow-colored knee high socks and a man in a pink shirt with a permed mullet. All eyes were on these two, I could sit there and just surf the net for a few minutes. Duke won; my national champion pick is still alive. I am flying Air Tran today, connecting flight in Atlanta then on to Jacksonville. I like Air Tran. Even though its cheaper, that doesn't mean it's not good. I got an exit row seat, which I think I may have said last week is like poor man's first class.
Saturday, 5:10 PM
I decided to watch a movie, "History of Violence." It's a new release about a former mafia hitman who settles in a small town with a new life as a husband, father and diner owner (surprisingly, he does not serve kangaroo). Then, after he is lauded as a hero for shooting two would-be robbers, the mafia finds out where he is. And that's as much as I'll give away.
Saturday, 8:40 PM
We had a minor setback in Atlanta; the runway we were to take off from had no lights so we had to wait for another to clear. I'll be about 20-30 minutes late into Jacksonville.
Saturday, 9:20 PM
I just called Scott Kennedy to pick me up at the airport; he informs me that they are leaving Clarks Fish Camp in Mandarin. Of course I have fantasized about the place for a year, and now it all comes crashing down on you, like being kicked you know where. I called them all names and gave a sigh because my night was ruined. I sat on a bench and waited. I met a salesman from Jacksonville who had an even worse time. He just flew back from Dallas; unfortunately his keys forgot to make the trip with him. Here's my ride. I'm guessing it will only take about two minutes for one of my friends to throw the kangaroo in my face.
Saturday, 10:15 PM
I'm starving; whoever said big guys can live off blubber storage a la whales was a liar. Ryan Jordan and I decide to head on to Jacksonville to the landing so I can feed. I call my good pal Rob Riva from FightOnState.com and he guides me to Benny's Steak and Seafood. We walk in an immediately I can tell its pretty upscale. Now I start thinking about my allowance that my wife gives me. Here is one of those times when you can make a choice, have a beer and something cheap (appetizer) and leave and hit McDonalds. Or choose to just sit down and say the hell with it. Of course I choose option number two. I look down the menu, and I'm not a big seafood guy so I choose the prime rib (of beef, not kangaroo). I honestly can't remember eating it before, but my first thought was this is grandma's pot roast thrown on a grill and a heck of a lot more expensive. I got the calamari for an appetizer. I figure I'm going down swinging. I eat as much of the free bread as I can until I feel like I may spontaneously combust. We then hit the road and drive back to the hotel.
Saturday, 11:55 PM
Nothing exciting, but we end up staying at the Best Western Executive, a far cry from The Omni that we stayed at last year. This place has a security guard with a pistol at the entrance and an old out-of-service police car in the back of the lot just for esthetics. Immediately I figure this is not a good sign. Just let me get a few hours of sleep and get out of here. I have to make my call home to the wife and kids then its nappy time.
Sunday, 6:30 AM
Rise and shine. Time for a quick shower then get dressed and head onto the lobby for the continental breakfast. On a good note the water in Jacksonville tastes like chlorine just like home. No scent of dirt like last weekend in Waco. It's off to Jacksonville University.
Sunday, 4:00 PM
A lot of the guys drove to Jacksonville. Seeing as you can't get a decent rate on flights in or out of Pittsburgh, I'll ride back with Scott Kennedy, stay at his house and fly back Monday morning. We have to drop Andrew Bone off at the airport; he is on his way to the Bahamas. Of course now I'm thinking, man would it be sweet to go on a vacation. The closest I have gotten to one was the week I spent in intensive care back in October. We hit the Longhorn Steakhouse on the way to the airport. By this time we are basically all dehydrated so food is really not all that important. After we drink gallons of sweet tea and water it's time to hit the road again. We drop off Bone and head toward Savannah, Ga. On the way I get out the laptop, and me and Scott start entering the results of the combine into a spreadsheet. Kennedy is one of the best multi-tasking drivers you find. His knees are on the steering wheel, he's checking Blackberry and reading results to me. Now I'm typing and thinking we could die.
Sunday, 10:25 PM
We arrive at Scott's house where we are greeted by our Scout.com mascot Hershel; Hershel is the coolest dog on earth. We have to get up at 6:00 AM to head to the airport, so I get ready for bed, and get out the laptop to finish watching my movie. Once again, it is time to call the wife and kids and then it's off to sleep.
Monday, 8:15 AM
I made the airport. I'm glad we left as early as we did. I just stood in an hour-long security line that was about an eighth of a mile long. I arrive at my gate and my plane is boarding. No exit row this time. Air Tran now has XM radio so I just decide to listen to the radio and try and sleep for an hour.
Monday, 10:30 AM
I arrived back in Pittsburgh and now it's time for the hour and a half drive home. I'll see everyone next week after our trip to Duke.
In the meantime, anyone know where a man can get a good plate of kangaroo in Durham?