From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip–Ole Miss
It’s been a rough week and a half.
Trying to keep things going with basketball and prepare for Louisiana’s first bowl game in 41 years has made for a lot of work and a lack of sleep.
And, there’s the daily radio show to do as well as handling these stories on the website.
I was ready to get out of town.
First stop on the six day trip is Oxford, MS, home of the Ole Miss Rebels. While Steve Peloquin handled the radio shows from New Orleans, I had basketball duty. And the thought of a road trip appealed to me. A lot.
I had planned to leave around 9 on Tuesday morning, but things don’t always happen the way you plan it. By the time I put out a fire or two at the office, it was 10:30. By the time I got the rental car and actually hit the road it was eleven.
That meant there would be no lunch at the Dinner Bell in McComb. But that was okay, because there was a burger at Nyla’s Burger Basket in Osyka, MS in my future.
If you read the blogs regularly, you’ve heard me mention Nyla’s before. It’s at the first exit when you cross the Mississippi border on I-55. It’s the tiny restaurant with all the pictures of Britney Spears. When she was a young teen living in Kentwood, this was her hangout.
Lots of Britney posters. And just about the best burger I’ve ever had. I got there around 1:15 and I was ready to attack one of those burgers. With battered fries. And sweet tea.
Back on the road with a stop for gas, the drive up I-55 isn’t exciting. In fact, it’s pretty boring. But I made sure I didn’t go over the speed limit (the company pays my expenses, not my speeding tickets) and made it into Oxford at 6:00.
We stayed at the Inn at Ole Miss, right on the edge of campus. It’s an old building renovated into a hotel. The rooms are suites and was really pretty impressive. Nice sofa and two chairs along with a television and desk in the living room, a refrigerator and microwave as well and a spacious bedroom.
And, a large bathroom. With two toilets.
The way it was set up there was a half bath off the main living area and a full bath off the bedroom. So, pick your potty.
After checking in and doing a little web work, I headed to the Oxford Square to pick up dinner. If you’ve never been to Oxford the downtown area just screams Old South. Around the courthouse there are many stores and restaurants. I found a place to park and picked up a pizza to go and brought it back to the room so I could do some work while eating. Sports Info guru Matt Hebert stopped by with credentials and game notes and we watched a little television and visited. Before I knew it, it was after eleven and Matt headed to his room, while I headed to bed.
From a business standpoint, putting a bowl broadcast together, especially if you’ve never done one before, is no small task and there were a few sponsor issues that had to be worked out on Wednesday morning. I got after those after a breakfast downstairs in the Inn’s Cafe. We finally were able to work things out and get everyone on the same page. Then it was some web work and game prep before lunch.
It was suggested that I try the Ajax Cafe for lunch. That was one helluva suggestion. My thanks to Brad Logan with Star Custom Athletic Uniforms for the tip via twitter (you can follow me @jayespn1420.) The choice of plate lunches was pretty difficult. I asked my waitress what the locals eat. She told me they liked the meat loaf and chicken and dumplings best, but suggested I get the grilled pork chops. I’m telling you, if you go to a place for the first time, always ask the waitress what’s good. You’ll rarely get a bum rap. So, grilled pork chops it was. They were marinated in a homemade barbecue sauce that was outrageously good. Rice and gravy, white beans, cheese grits and jalapeno cornbread. CHER!!!
After lunch it was back to the hotel for more game prep, for both basketball and football. By 4:00 it was time to head to the arena.
Now, I usually like to be at the arena two hours before tipoff. That gives me an opportunity to set up equipment, check phone lines and do a few other things before recording Coach Marlin one hour before tip in the locker room.
When we got to the arena, a women’s game was in progress. Ole Miss was playing Central Michigan and it was a tight one. I couldn’t set up anything because CMU radio was in my spot (well, for the time being, it was their spot.) So I waited. And watched as CMU hit a shot with five seconds left to send the game into overtime.
And, as you might expect, it went down to the wire with lots of free throws shot at the end. By the time the game ended (with CMU winning) it was nearly 5:00. Tipoff is at 6. The CMU announcers went into a break and then informed me there would be about a 15 minute postgame show so they could interview some players.
I went into the locker room and recorded Coach Marlin’s pregame and went back into the arena. The CMU announcers were about to wrap up. To their credit, they didn’t take long to get their stuff packed. We exchanged pleasantries and I got the equipment set up and texted the phone number to our producer, Scott Prather.
It was fifteen minutes til airtime.
Then I saw Sergio Rouco, the former FIU head basketball coach who is in his first season as an assistant at Ole Miss. I asked him if it was true he was one of three Cubans in Oxford. He asked who the other two were. “Your two boys,” I told him and we had a good laugh. Sergio might be my favorite all-time opposing coach. A great, mostly self-depreciating sense of humor. The last time I saw him was just after little Sergio was born about three years ago. He told me he was in the delivery room and the baby, upon arrival, looked at him and said “Hello Grandpa.” We both became parents later in life and shared that common bond.
After the game, Matt and I went back to Ajax Cafe. Matt had the chicken fried steak sandwich with gravy, potatoes and butter beans on the sandwich. And some fries on the side. I had the double bacon burger. Nyla’s has nothing on Ajax when it comes to burgers.
Back to the hotel and some web work before turning in. Finally finished packing and got to bed around 11:30.
Then up at 4:30 for the trip to New Orleans. Press Conference at noon.
Finally, it’s bowl time.