From the Sidelines: A sports writer’s Thanksgiving

Published 3:14 am Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is a very unique time of year. At the high school level, football season is drawing to a close, basketball seasons are getting into full swing, marching bands are switching to concert music and everybody is counting down the days until the end of the semester.

But, the best part is that most everyone gets to slow down just long enough to enjoy time with friends and family while reflecting upon the things for which they are most thankful.

Meditations and utterances around the dinner table today will likely be centered upon health, loved ones and prosperity for most.

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So, to keep with the mood of such a festive occasion, it seemed fitting to assemble a personal list of sports-related things for which I am thankful.

And, like always, here they are, counted down from 10 in true David Letterman fashion.

10. The Atlanta Braves are willing to loosen the purse strings to get a little better this offseason. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t the Yankees or Red Sox and hopefully never will be. But the Braves brass is finally showing a willingness to spend some money in order to improve the team. This has been evidenced by the team’s negotiations with free agent hurler A.J. Burnett as well as its trade talks with the Padres for Mobile native Jake Peavy. And it’s about time after years of watching Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones and J.D. Drew exit town due to the thrifty mentality of the a team with some of the most expensive seats in the big leagues.

9. Drew Brees is a New Orleans Saint. Take away a serviceable defense, the No. 1 wideout, the No. 1 tight end and the No. 1 running back and how does your favorite team stay in contention? It doesn’t. That is, unless your signal-caller is Drew Brees. Yeah, this guy makes Lance Moore look like a legitimate top-tier NFL receiver and has single-handedly made tight end Billy Miller relevant. All of this while shredding opposing defenses to the tune of 3,574 yards and 22 touchdowns through the season’s first 11 games. And, if his line can keep him vertical, he should make Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record a distant memory.

8. The Tennessee Volunteers are going to miss a bowl game. In the Peyton Manning era, I liked Tennessee. It was hard not to do so. Since his departure and the two unfortunate years I spent as a transient resident of the state of Tennessee, it has been virtually impossible to root for the Volunteers. They are without doubt my least favorite team in all of college football and it pains me that they hold membership in the SEC. But, at least for now, the Volunteers are learning what it is to struggle as they carry a 4-7 record into their showdown with Kentucky. Don’t worry though, losing builds character. And it is inarguable that Tennessee has lacked that virtue for years.

7. Theo Ratliff dunked on me…twice. Okay, well more appropriately, he dunked in my vicinity. I can’t with a straight face say that my defensive play was good enough to have myself in position to have an NBA-style slam thrown down viciously upon my head. But I was in the photo. The one-on-one game Theo was gracious enough to play against me will likely go down as one of the highlights of my professional life.

6. My primary fantasy football team is in first place in a 16-team league. Moreover, all five of my squads are currently positioned to make the playoffs. That’s pretty exciting for a fantasy sports nerd such as myself. Again, I am extremely thankful to have the aforementioned Brees involved here. How do you win a fantasy football championship? Draft Drew Brees and work hard not to screw it up.

5. The SEC is poised to have a team in the national title game yet again. Whether it be the currently top-ranked Crimson Tide or the suddenly indestructible Florida Gators, it appears the nation’s best conference will again put a team into the season’s final game, as long as the BCS doesn’t screw it all up. That, however, is entirely possible.

4. Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Moving on.

3. My boss shares my affinity for fantasy football. Okay, so Jason Cannon doesn’t manage five teams like I do, but he is pretty into the one team he does run. And, if this week goes as it should, we’ll be on opposite ends of the playoff bracket with a chance to make it an all Demopolis Times final in our league comprised of Boone Newspapers employees. In addition to his affinity for fantasy football, he is also pretty into sports on the whole, which not only makes him a valuable resource as I grow in my role at The Times, but also makes him pretty adept at shooting the bull or knowing how to relay difficult concepts through sports analogies. Although, I do have to admit that this could backfire. Should he ever decide to terminate my employment, he could easily use phrases like “I think it’s time for you to test the free agent market” or “Do you remember that whole thing with Pete Rose getting a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball? Yeah. In this situation, I want you to think of yourself as Pete Rose.” Yeah. I think either of those would be unpleasant, funny, but unpleasant.

2. Marengo County high school football is some of the best in the state. With Marengo Academy, Marengo High, Demopolis, Linden and Sweet Water all making playoff runs, the county has clearly proven its place in the landscape of Alabama high school football. Moreover, Demopolis is one really questionable call away from making it a trio of county teams playing for a potential trip to Birmingham. On a side note, this week’s clash between Linden and Sweet Water could be among the most anticipated games in the history of the county. I’d recommend getting there early to have somewhere to park.

1. My supporting cast is among the most amazing groups of people anywhere. The task of providing sound coverage as a solo act at a daily newspaper during football season is anything but easy. And it is absolutely an impossible one to pull off without tons of help along the way. Marengo Academy’s Raycelia McIntyre has been more than willing to take photos of the Longhorn games that I have not been able to attend. Michael Clements has provided top-notch photography throughout the year and has been game to hit the road nearly every week. The same goes for Stewart Gwin, who also stepped up in a big way to help revamp the preseason Gridiron publication. The Times’ resident professor, David B. Snow, has been eager to help cover games and configure standings all season long while still balancing his workload on the news side. John Few has volunteered his services on numerous occasions to drive all over the Black Belt and cover teams of which he had previously never heard. And none of it could have been possible at all without Jason’s willingness to put in 16-hour days on Friday nights in order to put it all together.

But that supporting cast also extends to include the players, parents, fans and coaches who have continually offered assistance, advice, cooperation and constructive criticism to a rookie sports reporter still learning to hit the curveballs the newspaper business hurls on a daily basis.

So that’s my list. What’s yours? Happy Thanksgiving.