Kyle Field at Texas A&M University — before its most current expansion — rose high over the flat southeast Texas landscape.
Three decks rose skyward. On top of those three decks sat a seven-deck press box/luxury suites edifice. On the seventh level of that fourth deck sat the schlubs who made it their living to write sports.
Sports writing is, appropriately, the toy department of any newspaper. My father, who cut his teeth in this business in the sports department, recalls fondly a coworker putting a sign on the swinging door to the sports department that read: “Do not feed the sports writers.”
School children visiting that old newspaper in Connecticut kept laughing when they neared Dad’s department, yet not until hours later when someone in that department noticed the sign did the meaning of the laughter come into focus.
Really, sports writing is a bit of a scam — at least on the college and pro levels.
“Wait, so I can sit in an actual seat near the 40-yard line with a table I can lean on. You will deliver stats all day, have other games on the television and you will feed me?”
“You will give me a parking pass so that I can easily access the stadium and then special access to the elevators so that my bulbous hind end won’t have to exert any extra energy by actually walking to my seat. Then I can go onto the field after the game has ended and talk to the players and coaches? Where do I sign up?”
I spent many a Thanksgiving in Starkville, eating a free turkey meal with all the fixins with the rest of what I called the “brotherhood of slobs.” I spent many a Saturday morning driving from Vicksburg to Oxford on a few hours sleep for what we termed “The Bloody Mary Game” — an 11 a.m. kickoff. I drove to Knoxville, Tenn., with my great friend Don Taylor and two others to watch Peyton Manning rip apart Southern Miss with his pinpoint passing. Yet when the game ended, I opted to interview former Warren Central great running back Brian Darden instead of the football royalty quarterback.
I’ve covered Tim Tebow, coach Les Miles when he was at Oklahoma State and have seen some of the best college football players ever — all on the university’s dime.
So wouldn’t anyone want that gig?
Well… there is one caveat to this dream job — no cheering in the press box.
If ever there is a rule that is sacrosanct in the sports-writing business, it is that one. Get caught cheering in the press box and credentials are subject to revocation.
Which brings us back to Kyle Field circa 1994. From my perch high above the field, I could see for what looks like a thousand miles. But looking down at the field, I barely could pick out hulking Southern Miss lineman O’Lester Pope. He stood about 6-feet-6 and weighed about 350 pounds — back when not every lineman weighed 350 pounds. He was a monster who made strides in controlling his weight, as then-Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower told me, “by getting down to drinking a gallon of 2 percent milk per day from a gallon of whole milk per day.”
Pope looked like a jacket button all the way down there. I watched most of the game on TV and sat on my hands. But one Cracker Jack behind me didn’t get the message. He cheered, cooed, ooohed and aaahhed at every big A&M play. Each time, I would give the classic quarter-turn of the head, to express my dismay.
Having never been the hall monitor, I didn’t turn him in to the sports information department and he cheered throughout the game. But I refused to ever cheer — no matter the brilliance of the play nor my allegiance to the school in which I was covering.
It’s now been at least a decade since I covered my last college football game. It’s been almost that long since I attended a game as a fan. I choose to watch the game on the big TV in my living room with a bathroom and beverages nearby.
What I don’t do, though, is cheer. Years and years of sitting on my hands has morphed to how I watch games now. I will clap on very rare occasions, but will not get worked up over any game no matter who is playing.
Last Monday night when Tua Tagavailoa connected with Jerry Jeudy on a long TD pass, I let out a big clap. The dogs looked at me funny. That was the last outburst of emotion of the night — mostly because there were not many highlights for the Crimson Tide during the national championship game.
I know of many close friends who jump, scream, cover their eyes, sit in a squat for an entire quarter to turn around the “juju” and even have taken out a TV or two cheering for their teams. I am wholly amused by their outbursts and sometimes wish I could just be a fan instead of diagnosing pass defenses and calling out penalties before the flag even hits the turf. It sure would be nice to just let loose.
No cheering in the press box has become no cheering in the living room.
I love the game of football, but, damn, do I get disappointed at what all those years covering college football has done to me.
Sports writing has its perks — but it is not all gravy on the free Thanksgiving turkey.
Sean Murphy is editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at email@example.com.