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Insider

Planes, trains and rental cars

2/14/2008

When I was coaching, my friends would say to me, "I wish I was doing what you are doing." I would think to myself that they had no idea how much pressure and aggravation I was dealing with, even when my teams were winning.

Now, when they tell me that they wished they could do what I was doing, I say to myself, "You're right. I sit courtside every night, and I never lose a game."

But, the hardest part of my job at this time of the year is traveling an average of six days a week. Packing and unpacking is a pain. I lose track of what city I wake up in all the time. So, I thought I'd give you a sample of my recent 10-day road trip.

Friday, Feb. 1

I leave Dallas for Denver to work the Kansas at Colorado game on Saturday. Jeff Bzdelik's team is playing hard but coming up empty, so far, in the Big 12. You wouldn't know it from watching his practice, because it's one of the best I have seen this year.

I notice when I check in to my hotel that I have forgotten my running shoes, which means I can't work out or wear my warmup suit. So, although I have about 50 pairs of brand new running shoes at home in my closet, I have to buy a pair from the local Foot Locker store. There goes today's per diem.

Saturday, Feb. 2

The Buffaloes give Kansas a tussle for 35 minutes before running out of steam. Because tickets at the famed Allen Fieldhouse are hard to come by, many Kansas fans from the western part of the state and from the Denver area help to fill the Coors Events Center, as the crowd is a 50-50 split.

Since I can't get to Kansas City for Big Monday between Missouri and Kansas, I stay in Boulder Saturday night to watch a good Big 12 women's contest between Oklahoma State and Colorado. It helps me get ready for covering the NCAA women's tournament in March. The Cowgirls have a terrific sophomore guard in Andrea Riley, who plays an awful lot like T.J. Ford. She's from Dallas, and I know her family. I got to see if she's the "real deal" and she is.

Sunday, Feb. 3

I'm up early and am heading from Denver to Kansas City through Dallas. My office is 35,000 feet above sea level. I try to get as much of my preparation for upcoming games done on planes because I hate to waste time.

Since it's Super Bowl Sunday, our crew will meet for dinner at the Eldridge Hotel. Since it's a quiet night, we have the entire bar area to ourselves to watch the game and eat dinner. There's some good-natured razzing because we have some members of the crew from New York (including myself) and one guy from Boston. He gets it pretty good, especially when Plaxico Burress waltzes into the end zone for the Giants.

By the way, the Eldridge Hotel is a pretty cool, old hotel that has been refurbished a number of times. In fact, it was first burned down in the Kansas-Missouri Border Wars by William Quantrill's raiders in 1863. And, room 506 is allegedly haunted by the original owner, Colonel Shalor Eldridge. No wonder few visiting teams stay here.

Monday, Feb. 4

Game day usually means that we go to both teams' shootaround practices to talk to the coaches and players and try to get a pulse for the game. The practices are light and entail mostly shooting and walking through the opponent's plays and tendencies.

I get back to the arena about two hours before the game. Allen Fieldhouse is my favorite college basketball arena (followed closely by the Palestra and Cameron Indoor Stadium). It doesn't matter if the Jayhawks are playing Pepperdine or a Big 12 foe, the 16,300 fans are always into the game.

Kansas has the best food in the Big 12 too, and because Allen Fieldhouse has so many big games, NBA scouts are in abundance. So, tonight I have dinner with one of my favorite people I see on the road -- Indiana Pacers scout and all-time great player, Mel Daniels. We exchange info on what players we've been impressed with and who is playing well. I am always looking for info from scouts, other broadcasters and writers that will give me insight for my broadcasts.

This is the night that Bob Knight, unexpectedly, resigns so the media dining room is buzzing with speculation. I have to finish up dinner quickly because "SportsCenter," "ESPNNews" and "ESPN Radio" are looking for instant reactions. It's no surprise that Coach Knight is done because he had mentioned on our numerous trips to Lubbock in recent years that he was tired. Forty-two years is a long time as a head coach.

Back to the game. Missouri-Kansas is one of college basketball's greatest rivalries, and it still carries the historic bitterness that goes back to the Civil War. On this night, however, the Jayhawks overwhelm the Tigers, and Bill Self's club continues its impressive start to the season.

Tuesday, Feb. 5

I get home for half a day. It's just enough time to change out some laundry and dry cleaning. I think I am putting my dry cleaner's kids through college with all the money I spend there during the season.

After my son's game, I head on up to Norman, Okla. for a game the next night between the Sooners and the Texas Longhorns. It's the first time we are staying at a place called the Sooner Legends Inn and Suites. It's decorated with Sooner memorabilia (mostly football), and every room has its own theme. The last time here, I stayed in the Wayman Tisdale suite. There were so many pictures of him hanging on the walls, I felt like I was rooming with "big Wayman."

On this trip, I am in the Kelvin Sampson suite, and, when I told an OU athletics department official that, he wanted to know if the suite had extra phones in it. That's cold.

Wednesday, Feb. 6

Texas wins a hard-fought battle with the Sooners, and I am off to bed quickly because I have a 4 a.m. wakeup call.

Thursday, Feb. 7

This is the toughest day of the week because I head east to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. for studio work. So, the early morning flight goes from Oklahoma City through Dallas to Hartford. I arrive on campus at 4 in the afternoon and am slightly bleary-eyed. I meet up with my studio partners, Dari Nowkhah and Stephen Bardo, at 6:30 where we watch about six games at a time from our bank of monitors and pop on TV for each of our two halftime shows. The late night wrapup show, "College Game Night", ends at about 2:30 a.m., and I arrive back at the Bradley Airport Sheraton at 3:45. It's now almost 24 hours without sleep.

Friday, Feb. 8

Saturday, I am scheduled to broadcast the Texas-Iowa State game in Ames. When I get to the American Airlines counter at 9:30 for my trip to Des Moines (through Chicago), I am informed that my flight to Chicago has been cancelled. It's time for a quick audible so I am rebooked to Des Moines through St. Louis. This is where my travel philosophy kicks in: Hope for the best, but expect the worst. There is absolutely nothing you can do about travel issues, especially in the winter time. You just go with the flow. Unfortunately, the cancelled flight puts me on two small commuter flights for a total of five hours, so it is hard to inhale and exhale, let alone get work done.

When I get to Ames, I meet up with our producer, Eric Posman, and we make plans to go to our favorite place in Ames for dinner, Wallaby's. If you need any restaurant recommendations in Big 12 cities, let me know. It's an area of expertise for me.

The wait for a table at Wallaby's looks to be about an hour, and Eric drops my name to the hostess. "I'm here with ESPN's Fran Fraschilla. We're here for the game tomorrow."

"Who?," she says.

We wait for an hour.

Saturday, Feb. 9

I am running out of underwear but that's information you don't need to know.

I have a tight connection after the game to South Bend, Ind., through Chicago. The game should end at 4:40. Then it's a 40-minute drive back to Des Moines and I have a 6:40 flight. There's only one problem: overtime! That connection just got a lot tighter. Without pulling a "Cannonball Run" move, I manage to get to my gate about five minutes before they close down boarding for my flight.

A connection through Chicago gets me to South Bend and to my hotel at 1 a.m. I am working a women's game between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh in eleven hours.

Sunday, Feb. 10

Wow! It's snowing and zero degrees outside. It's a typical "lake effect" snowstorm around South Bend in the winter. The game is still a go and about 5,000 people show up to root on the Irish. I enjoy the game, and it gives me a little more working knowledge for the women's tournament.

Since we were pretty sure before the game even started that our flights out of South Bend were going to be cancelled, we rented an SUV limo for the trip to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Some of our crew are working the Georgetown-Villanova game in Washington D.C. the next night, and I have to catch my flight to Austin for the next night's Big Monday matchup between Texas and Kansas.

All goes well on the trip to O'Hare. I get to change out of my dress clothes and into my warmup suit or, what my broadcast partner Ron Franklin refers to as "legal pajamas." There's no meal on the late-night flight, but I had time for a sumptuous meal at Chili's at the airport.

The flight lands in Austin at 12:30 a.m. (do you see the recurring theme here?) and I am off to bed by 2 a.m.

Monday, Feb. 11

It doesn't matter how tired I am. It is easy to get up for a matchup like the one we have tonight. Texas-Kansas has become a great rivalry in the Big 12 because both teams have been really good in recent years and the coaches, Rick Barnes and Self, have genuine respect for each other. The Longhorn crowd is particularly fired up tonight. Vince Young is in the house!

Texas wins a close game. It's a great game for TV. Afterwards, the only place open for a sandwich in Austin at that hour is Katz's Deli (no relation to Andy) where I meet up with Barnes, The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy and some NBA scouts. Kansas assistant coach Danny Manning is in there with his dad, as well. I get back to my hotel at 1:30 a.m. and pack for the trip home to Dallas in the morning -- and two days off with the family. I reintroduce myself to my dog, Blizzard, and then start preparing for my next trip.

It sounds like a crazy schedule, but I have no complaints. I love the game and I love being at games. I know the rhythm of the season. For broadcasters, it starts in November, it builds in December and January and gets wild in February. The next eight weeks will be nuts, but it all ends on April 7. But, believe me, I can wait for the finale.