The author, in a selfie, contemplates the whack on his head, and the impact to his writing.
ORLANDO (WDRB) -- Every once in a while, after these NCAA Tournament trips, or other big sports stories, people have enjoyed a few behind-the-scenes glimpses I've been able to share. So, in a rather stream-of-consciousness way, I post this dispatch from Orlando, Fla., the happiest place on earth. Or whatever. If you're not interested in personal reflections on matters of likely no interest to anyone but me, you can move on to the next story.
I can tell you that, years ago, with one child asleep over my shoulder and another dragging behind as we left Disney's Magic Kingdom, it was here in Orlando that I think I felt the oldest I've ever felt.
That was nothing. Last week, I finally had to bite the bullet and start wearing glasses. Bifocals, even. They've made their TV debut when I needed them to look at a statistic or two.
Maybe they played a role in my spill before U of L played Saint Louis on Saturday, and the new clubhouse leader for moment I felt the oldest I've ever felt.
I blame the NCAA. All right, not really. I happened to be courtside talking to my friend Jody Demling (host of The Early Birds on WKRD and publisher of the CardinalAuthority.com website), and while doing so was looking along press row to see if anyone hadn't shown up or might not be sitting in their seat.
My seat was in the top of the arena. And new eyeglasses or not, it's a crappy place from which to cover a game. I don't like to mention this, because it slides into the "whiny sportswriter" genre a little too easily. But it does impact the job you're doing. And it leaves the playing field not-quite level. I watch Twitter during games. I see people Tweeting about what Pitino is saying to players. From my assigned seat, I can't even see Pitino's face, much less make out words.
Had I stayed in the newspaper business, I'd have been seated right behind the Louisville bench. I'd also be looking at small word-counts, furloughs and not being paid for video commentary or for several blog entries a day. When I feel like complaining, I realize that a worse seat on press row is a small price to pay.
Regardless, what I write here is, frankly, in spite of the conditions we're working under, not because of them. It's the way of the NCAA. More and more media are being moved away from the court. The public is fine with it. So we're going to have to be too. I watched last season's NCAA championship game on TV in the press room.
That, it turned out, was good training for Saturday. I moved down into a sideline seat at halftime of U of L's win over Manhattan, and was there scouting before the second game, but had no luck.
So as I started to head back to the media work room, and then on up to my perch, I stepped off the small riser for second-row media seating and onto an uneven floor. It had been there all week. Several people told me they'd tripped on it too. I'm proud to tell you, nobody tripped as spectacularly as I did. My left ankle rolled, I fell onto it, I hit on my left knee, and the left side of my head slammed onto a plastic case there for camera equipment or some such.
The new glasses, I'm pleased to say, were unharmed! My head had a decent little knot around my left eye (that case probably saved me more trouble. If I'd hit the concrete I'd have gotten a concussion). But my ankle, which had suffered ligament damage before, was not in good shape.
I pulled myself up, waddled back to the media room as best I could, asked the kind folks running the snack counter there for a bag of ice, and sat myself down by my laptop with my left leg in a chair and the ice sitting on it. From there, I watched the game on a television about 20 feet away. Another television, across the room, had a feed that was about 10 seconds faster than the CBS broadcast. I tried to watch as much as I could on that one.
You gotta play hurt. I'm just glad it hasn't found its way onto YouTube.
After the game, I waddled over to the U of L locker room. I limped in, interviewed Chris Jones for a story, talked to a couple of other players, and some other folks. Vinny Tatum, equipment manager, saw my wet shoe and my limp and asked me what was going on. I showed him the ankle, and he shook his head. Dr. Chris Pitcock asked me if I'd like him to take a look at it.
I didn't have to think about it long to say yes.
Pitcock examined it, but there was too much swelling for him to know whether there was any kind of fracture. He told me it felt "pretty loose." Fred Hina, U of L's trainer, wandered in, no doubt confused at seeing a writer on his table. He whipped out a walking boot, and gave me instructions for how to handle the boot, and the ankle. Ice and elevation. Ice and elevation.
So it's iced and elevated, even as I'm writing this. With grateful thanks to both Pitcock and Hina.
I wandered out with the boot, and able to move a little better, joined in on some interviews with Luke Hancock and others, then started the long walk back to try to catch some of Rick Pitino's news conference. I got there for the tail end of it.
The best time to talk to coaches is on the walk back to the locker room after those podium appearances. Several reporters joined up with Pitino and headed out, but I wasn't in any position to keep up. Even as I tried to catch up as they wandered through a hallway and out toward the court, a security guard stopped me and wouldn't let me through, even though she'd already let several people through wearing the same credential I had. Occupational hazard.
I headed back out, got to the locker room area in time to see the last managers leave. And that was that.
I texted Steve Andress and told him I was ready to do TV whenever he wanted, and from then it was a typical postgame. Write the game as best I could. Do some TV stand-ups. The usual. Steve mentioned my little fall in our 10:45 p.m. sports report, which you can watch above (but the best part was him working in Rick Pitino signing a copy of "The One-Day Contract" after the game).
It struck me that most people I was hearing from were so turned off by the ugly basketball early that they failed to see what happened in the final 10 minutes of that game, so I wrote that the win was probably a better win than it looked. You can read that story here.
What will I remember from the weekend?
I'll remember Russ Smith not quite being himself, even in the locker room.
I'll remember the weather (nearly 90), watching Ohio State lose to Dayton in the ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk, and Andress being "that guy" rooting for Dayton amid a group of Ohio State fans. He wasn't feeling as good when Dayton bounced his alma mater, Syracuse, on Saturday, as we watched the end of the game on his laptop.
Paul Rogers has voiced the line most U of L fans would agree with when asked who they would rather play next week, Kentucky or Wichita State. "I don't care who we play," Rogers said. "But if we had to lose, I'd rather lose to Wichita State."
The players don't plan on losing.
I'll remember Luke Hancock standing there waiting to be interviewed by an attractive CBS sideline reporter and a fan yelling, "Get her number, Luke!"
I didn't have much interaction with Pitino this week. I had the feeling he was on edge, about both games. He didn't like playing Masiello. They'd rather have faced N.C. State than Saint Louis. Still, he has moved on to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in seven years.
But this always will, I'm afraid, for me, wind up being the tournament at which I fell. There's no avoiding that.
Austin Lassell, an industrial engineering major at U of L who also is a fine photographer, snapped the picture that runs with this blog post in the press room after the game. He emailed it with the mock headline, "Win it for Eric." I don't see it catching on. But I appreciate the photo.
I do have one regret. All weekend I'd made a mental note to say something to New York Times reporter Juliet Macur. She was at the regional covering it for the Times, and covering the Manhattan Jaspers. If you don't know Macur or haven't followed her work, you should. She's one of the four or five best sportswriters in the country. She's best known for her coverage of the Olympics and Olympic sports, and just had a book about Lance Armstrong published, entitled "Cycle of Lies." I meant to at least introduce myself and tell her how much I'd admired her work for a long time, really since I saw a stunning series of stories she wrote about an anorexic distance runner many years go. Then I sprained my ankle and did not get to do that. So I'll do it here.
You want to know what it's like to be a sportswriter? You're getting it here.
It is a special time to be doing this job, in this place. It's possible I could be covering my second UK-U of L game in NCAA Tournament competition next week. Even if it's U of L-Wichita State, it'll be a national blockbuster of a game.
We'll leave the hotel at 8 in the morning, fly out of Orlando at 11, sit at Chicago Midway for about three hours, during which we hope to catch most of UK-Wichita State, then start all over again Monday morning.
If you have made it this far into this little blog foray into the dark underside of covering the NCAA Tournament, I also want to thank you for reading, and reading faithfully, because you'd have to be faithful to read this much.