Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Media days have transformed over the years
Today after lunch, your trusty scribe will crawl in the back seat of a rental vehicle and head to Birmingham, Ala., for my 42nd football media days.
Tom Murphy and Bob Holt will do most of the driving, so this is unlike my first media days when the Southwest Conference was considered the wild, wild West of college football.
We’d meet in Dallas, get on a bus driven by a stranger and travel most of the state visiting the SWC schools before flying to Fayetteville for the final stop.
The bus was mostly full. There were inky wretches, throats and talking heads.
Each stop was unique, although for some reason College Station used to have the most sidebars to the coverage.
We were wined and dined at every stop but Waco, where we just dined.
The SWC provided a three-ring binder, and each school dispensed several dozen blank sheets of three-hole paper. Trees were wasted because no one ever used all the paper provided.
During Johnny “The Ranger” Keith’s first year as sports information director at Texas A&M, there was no paper.
“What, your newspaper doesn’t provide you with notebooks?” he asked.
The news conferences almost were informal with coaches and players. They often lasted longer than necessary.
Then the coach would show up at dinner.
Even before the coronavirus, SEC Media Days were held in one city. The coach speaks from a podium, usually to a packed house, for less than an hour.
Then he’s shuffled off to the TV folks or radio folks. They have their own room but are quite sneaky about invading our territory.
This year things are stricter, although Tom, Bob and yours truly were cleared for every interview session this week.
Seating has been reduced by about 35%, and that combined with the recent surge in virus cases had me considering staying home.
I’m fully vaccinated but still don’t want to run the risk of bringing it home to my 6-year-old grandson. That’s why I’ll wear a mask.
I wish everyone would get vaccinated. This is a medical issue, not a political one, and young people and people suffering from things such as cancer are unprotected.
Anyway, instead of riding around Texas in what was sometimes referred to as a “Rolling Honky Tonk,” we’ll stay in the same hotel every night.
When we visited Rice, we stayed in a motel ran by Dicky Maegle, who recently passed away. For several years, I got to hear the story of how he was running for a touchdown at Rice when an Alabama player jumped off the sideline and tackled him.
The SWC tour generally consisted of breakfast, bus ride, lunch, news conferences, dinner and then the media gathering around the pool to listen to Dan Cook tell war stories.
When Dan retired, the bus split. In the front were the milk drinkers and the back the beer drinkers.
It became a rivalry, even during a miniature golf game when the milk drinkers sent an observer to make sure the beer drinkers weren’t cheating.
That happened in College Station. The same night of the annual poker game.
Jackie Sherrill came to play, and by the night’s end he had a wrinkled shirt and a reporter had a swollen eye caused by the fist of an assistant coach who felt the reporter was being too personal with Sherrill.
Once on the way to College Station, Charlie Fiss — then a member of the SWC office — stopped the bus and ordered 40 ham and cheese sandwiches, half wheat and half white bread.
The sandwiches had one slice of white and one of wheat.
On Monday there won’t be ham and cheese sandwiches, just three undefeated coaches speaking positively about their teams while socially distant from us.
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