Road Trip, Western Kentucky – From The Bird’s Nest
Truth be told, it's one of my favorite road trips.
Even though, through scheduling snafus the Sun Belt Conference never cared about, the Cajuns were being sent to Bowling Green for the sixth time in nine years, I was looking forward to the trip. I've made friends there. And I like Diddle Arena. I was looking forward to it.
I noticed about ten days before I was scheduled to leave, I had made a mistake when booking my flight. Instead of booking my return for Sunday, I booked it for Monday. Now, I've always tried to be a good steward of the company's money and felt badly I was going to have to spend an extra day. I asked my boss if he wanted me to change the ticket and he said no, that would be even more expensive.
So I checked with Neil Hardin, Cajuns' assistant basketball coach who handles travel. He gave me a copy of their travel itinerary and I noted they were scheduled to arrive in Nashville about an hour after me on Wednesday. So I made an executive decision that I wouldn't rent a car for this trip. I'd wait for them to arrive, then jump on the team bus. I would book a room for Sunday in Nashville next to the airport, ride with the team to the airport and then take a shuttle to the hotel. That would save about $200 bucks and more than take care of the extra expense and the extra day.
I flew out of Baton Rouge on Wednesday morning. I got a text from Coach Hardin when I arrived in Atlanta. Their flight out of Lafayette was delayed and they were going to miss their connection. There was another flight later but no guarantee they would get on it.
Looked like that rental car might have to happen, after all.
My layover in Atlanta was pretty long. I had some lunch (and a Yuengling) and boarded my flight to Nashville. I arrived about 1:30.
I decided to wait and see if the team would get on the next flight out in Atlanta. Coach Hardin texted me. They would be on the flight and get to Nashville at 4:35. I decided to wait for them.
I read to kill the time and it wasn't a bad wait. The team arrived with no further problems and we loaded the bus for the hour ride to Bowling Green.
In the past, we've always stayed at the Holiday Inn-University Plaza...in just about every sport. But on this trip we were at the Hilton Garden Inn. It's a nice place. And, it's right across the parking lot from my favorite Bowling Green restaurant, the Montana Grille.
I had made plans to meet some friends for dinner. WKU Sports Information Director Chris Glowacki, his wife Celya, who works for Russell Athletics and our friend Pam Elrod all got together and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Chris handles football and women's basketball. WKU is suffering through an uncharacteristically tough season in women's hoops. I asked Chris if their coach, Mary Taylor Cowles, was in any trouble and he said he didn't know. I hope not. I really like Mary and consider her to be a friend.
Anyway, dinner was great as always. We took our time and talked about a lot of stuff, including the Cajuns' bowl win and the fact WKU did not get a bowl bid. My three friends totally got the whole concept. They understand WKU has work to do in fan support.
Back at the hotel, I wrote the gameday piece for the website and turned in fairly early.
Had breakfast with the coaching staff Thursday morning and then went back upstairs to write. I met the team and coaching staff for pregame meal at 3. They were watching WKU film and going over the scouting report. The team was going to leave just after five to head to Diddle, which gave me a chance to take another shower and change clothes.
When we got to Diddle I called into a local radio station for an interview and chatted for about ten minutes with the hosts about the game, the bowl and the rivalry. When I got inside I visited with Glow for a minute and Michael Schroeder as well. Michael is the SID for basketball. He's a good guy and a hard worker. He's going to be a head guy somewhere one day. I set up equipment and visited with longtime friend and colleague Wes Strader. Wes did WKU basketball on the radio for 36 seasons before being unceremoniously dumped by the administration a decade ago. He now does a pregame show on the Big Red Network. He asked me to come on the radio with him at 6:15 which was a can-do.
I was about five minutes away from recording pre-game with Coach Marlin when I saw 'beed.
David Carter is from Bowling Green. He's been a Hilltopper hoops fan since he was a kid. He participates in message board fodder under the screen name dahbeed. He writes mostly in dialect and he's downright hilarious. He showed up early so we could visit for a few minutes and brought me a Western Kentucky red towel. That's going to go right next to my WKU baseball cap former coach Chris Finwood gave me last year. I wish I could have visited with 'beed longer, but I had to go and get Coach Marlin's interview done. When I came back out I joined Wes on the radio for about ten minutes and then visited for a couple of minutes with Randy Lee and Hal Schmitt. Hal and Randy handle the radio broadcasts for WKU and they simulcast all their games on television as well.
Now, there's so much to talk about concerning the game and the aftermath, but that really needs a blog all its own.
After the game I went to have a burger and a beer with Paul Just. Paul was the longtime SID at WKU who retired awhile back. But he still works most of the games as needed. It was off to Double Dogs, which is right near my hotel. We had a great visit for about an hour. While we were visiting I got a call from John McElwain, the Sun Belt Associate Commissioner, giving me an official statement from the league about what had happened at the game.
Back at the hotel, I wrote a game story for the website and it was pretty late when I got to bed.
Friday morning we had breakfast and, at midday, said goodbye to Bowling Green.
It was, needless to say, a trip none of us will forget.