The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. Monday, signaling the end of the most ambitious – and draining – weekend your faithful correspondent has ever spent during his checkered career.
On Friday, I was part of the radio broadcast for UK vs. Ouachita Baptist – basketball, in Rupp Arena.
On Saturday, it was UK vs. Georgia – football, at Commonwealth Stadium.
On Sunday, it was Tennessee vs. Georgia – women’s soccer, in Orange Beach, Alabama, for the SEC Radio Network, to be heard world-wide on XM Radio.
Draining? You bet. Fun? Likewise.
As many of you know, the UK network is producing a series of specials called, “Inside Kentucky Basketball: All Access,” which airs in Lexington on WKYT each Saturday night.
It’s a project I’m privileged to be a part of, but it’s one that has me working shifts almost as draining as the ones that led to the production of “Adolph Rupp: Myth, Legend and Fact” back in 2005. That project required 18-hour days, for nearly four months.
Steve Moss, Greg Gorham and I work on the “All-Access” show virtually around the clock. And all the while, Steve and I have to make sure our daily duties are covered; he as the Executive Sports Producer for Channel 27, me as the jack-of-all-trades for IMG College, including the host of “Sports Nightly,” heard 6-8 p.m. on WLAP-AM.
That’s what made this past weekend all the more challenging. It shook out like this:
In my office at IMG, editing sound bites for the “Kennedy Bookstore Wildcat Preview,” the pre-game show heard on WLAP and WBUL-FM prior to UK basketball games. I’d already put together sound bites for the “ADI Wildcat Tailgate Show,” which airs prior to Kentucky football games.
I was already sleep-deprived from yet another long night at WKYT, working on the second installment of “Inside Kentucky Basketball,” and my system was further compromised by a bad head cold I’ve been battling ever since I caught it from Steve early last week.
Friday, 4 p.m.
I head for the Civic Center Shoppes downtown. That’s where Leland Conway, Cameron Mills and I host the basketball pre-game show, on a set in the middle of the food court, next to Rupp Arena. We spend 45 minutes of the hour previewing Kentucky vs. Ouachita Baptist; I bail for the final 15 minutes, so I can enter Rupp Arena and prepare to anchor the network pre-game show.
The “Texas Roadhouse Countdown to Tipoff” show begins, with Oscar Combs. We take phone calls from fans for the first 30 minutes; Oscar predicts a UK rout.
Women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell drops by, to describe his team and make a pitch for season tickets (pretty good deal – 15 games, 45 bucks). TV analyst Kyle Macy sits in for an interview, describing what he anticipates Billy Gillispie will be looking for in tonight’s game.
6:15 – 7 p.m.
We hear Gillispie’s pre-recorded comments, with Tom Leach, about the upcoming game; I interview Leach and color analyst Mike Pratt about what to expect, and then turn it over to Tom, who calls the play-by-play of the first half.
Steve Moss informs me that Gillispie, upset with his team, asked him and Gorham to leave the locker room. BEFORE the good stuff happens. So much for All Access.
Game over; Greg and I head for the locker room. The players wait for the coach to come out of his office and berate them; instead, after a 15-minute wait, he pops out and simply tells them, “Practice tomorrow morning at 9:30.” They know they’ll hear the worst of it after daybreak.
Post-game interviews begin. Gillispie says he liked the effort; the players admit they’ve heard nothing yet from their coach, that the scorching will come Saturday morning.
I head home to try to get some rest; this head cold is killing me.
Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
Basketball is behind me, so I make my way through early tail-gaters to Commonwealth Stadium. UK is scheduled to play Georgia at 12:30 p.m. on regional television. Our pre-game show begins 3 ½ hours before kickoff for home games.
Leland, Joey Couch, Larry Vaught and I host the tailgate show from WLAP’s set outside the stadium, where the chilly winds test our “studio audience.” Nobody sits in the bleachers for the first 90 minutes of the two-hour show.
We hear comments from Rich Brooks and the football Wildcats and commiserate on what it will take for the Cats to pull off the upset of 14th-ranked Georgia. Peggy Johnson of Travelhost, as usual, drops off a tailgating feast for us which includes sausage casserole and hot spiced apples.
11 a.m. - Noon
Oscar joins me again for the network pre-game show and predicts a Georgia victory. Mitch Barnhart drops by for an interview; Jeff Piecoro issues a scouting report on the Bulldogs; Tom updates us on what we can expect, based on what he observed at practice all week.
Noon – 5:30 p.m.
During the pre-recorded Rich Brooks interview segments, I make my way to the sideline, where I spend the game reporting on what’s happening on and around the UK bench. I have a front-row seat for Kentucky’s comeback, as well as the ill-fated interception thrown by Randall Cobb. A disappointment, but an entertaining game nonetheless.
After the game I head for the hallway outside the UK locker room. That’s where we interview a UK player, and Brooks, following the game.
Once we sign off, I head home, where I go over (again) everything I could find on the SEC women’s soccer championship, as well as soccer in general. I’ve covered soccer before, but play-by-play? Never.
Neil Price has handled the assignment each of the past two years, because I was tied up with UK football. He was able to fly to Alabama on Saturday, and work the game on Sunday. This time it was Neil who was busy, with women’s basketball. So…
Sunday, 4:30 a.m.
My alarm goes off and I’m up and about, heading to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight to Pensacola, Florida, the closest major airport to Orange Beach.
After changing planes in Atlanta, I land in Pensacola, grab a rental car and a sheet full of directions from the home office. Orange Beach is less than an hour away.
I arrive at the Sportsplex in Orange Beach, a massive facility which includes baseball, softball and football fields, as well as the soccer “pitch,” where the Lady Vols and Lady Dawgs will play for the SEC Tournament championship and the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Neither team likely would make it without the title. Tennessee is 9-9-1 going into the match, Georgia, 8-9-1. But each pulled upsets en route to the finale.
The match begins. I attempt to call the action. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Trying to describe on radio the way the ball is headed back and forth, stolen, kicked out of bounds, bounced off arms, legs, chests and backsides, is like trying to paint a mental picture of the action of a pinball. I can only hope to get the names right, and that SOMEBODY scores. In one semi-final match, Tennessee had played through two overtimes with second-seeded LSU (110 minutes), only to win on penalty kicks.
Georgia, which had upset top-seeded Florida in the other semifinal, had the game’s best player - All-American Carrie Patterson. But just as strong defensive teams often do in basketball, the Lady Vols double-teamed her all day and pretty much kept her out of the action.
UT’s best player, Kylee Rossi, had been sidelined with a stress fracture in her hip a week prior, but Tennessee got a goal early in the second half and took a 1-0 lead.
No, I did not yell, “Goooooaaaal!” I’m not sure what I said, but it wasn’t THAT.
One of the blessings about soccer is that while they play 45-minute halves, the clock never stops, except for injury (there was one, not serious). So the match kept moving.
Tennessee made the goal stand up, and the Lady Vols had won their fourth tournament championship in seven years.
I sign off. My audience on XM Radio Channel 144, and on secsports.com, knows that Tennessee won, and that I don’t know diddly about soccer. But I got the names right. I head for the hotel, order room service, watch the end of the Steelers-Colts game and most of the Eagles-Giants game. I turn in early because…
Monday, 5:45 a.m.
The alarm goes off and I’m up and about, heading back to the Pensacola airport. Two flights later (changing in Atlanta, of course), I’m back in Lexington.
I walk through the door of the Wildcat Den at Commonwealth Stadium, just in time for Rich Brooks’ weekly news conference. The week begins anew. The upcoming weekend, again, includes a basketball game on Friday night and football on Saturday. But no soccer to broadcast on Sunday.
No, this time – it’s volleyball. But that’s another story…
(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m.ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)