By BUDDY MARTIN
“Bury Me In An Old Press Box” was the title of the late Fred Russell’s autobiography as Nashville Banner sports columnist. My daughter Lori first spied that title on book’s spine in my library as a curious pre-teen back in the late Sixties and never asked me about it until nearly 30 years later. As Lori found out, more than anything, the title actually tells the story.
The next time I make that familiar walk to the press box elevator at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, I will indulge myself in the reasonably tasteful cuisine, say hello a half dozen friends, then assume my usual seat in the second row about halfway down.
Time was, before the decline of newspapers, when I made it to the press box on a Saturday or Sunday, it felt like getting off the elevator in my own Trump Tower.
Strolling into a football press box used to be like grabbing your favorite pew at the church, an outright reverential experience. Or on some certain Saturdays, it was like going to The Sistine Chapel.
In my early days, back when the Gators attracted the state’s top columnists for big games, a novice landing a press box pass was like a ticket to mingle among greats from Cooperstown as they came alive and walked through cornfields: Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald, and sometimes his beat-writer colleague and my friend Neil Amdur, who would go on to become sports editor of the New York Times. Bill Beck of the St. Petersburg Times. Tom McEwen of the Tampa Tribune. John Crittenden of the Miami News. Perhaps Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal or Benny Marshall of the Birmingham News. Men who made rat-tat-tat music on their typewriters.
A few times over nearly 40 years I experienced sports writing nirvana – once on a Sunday at Amen Corner during the final round of the Masters; several time in a front row seat of a college football press box. They could have buried me right there in Fred Russell’s self-described tomb.
Honestly, sometimes felt like you were wearing cloak of royalty, only better.
But the Age of Innocence has expired.
Because of the cancellation of the LSU-Florida game I will return to My Cockpit Saturday, aka the recliner, where there are no Hurricanes except the ones playing vs the Seminoles. And now FSU-Miami have center stage.
The truth is I would rather be in my recliner at home, my “Cockpit” — no reference to South Carolina intended.
I eschew the cliché term “Armchair Quarterback,” because it portends some type of rank amateurism from the peanut gallery. The “Cockpit” should be revered as a safe harbor for viewing excellence by intelligent journalist/fans. It’s 100 percent better than Fred Russell’s press box, with connectivity to every big college football game and every major sporting event – the perfect spot for binge-watching college football shows and games from 9 a.m. to midnight, with the flexibility to pause it for a dinner break. A clean, empty bathroom is 12 paces to the North. The fridge is six steps West.
Many fans have already discovered that it is not only a lot cheaper, but maybe better to tailgate at home. The Hi-Def football experience is just too convenient or too good a bargain to pass up. And last weekend, with the explosion of high drama finishes, plus the college football-like environment at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, it was a Moveable Feast.
I’ve seen a lot of golf in my career, but the three days of matches between the U.S. and Europe were epic. Firebrand Patrick Reed emerged as the next American star in his head-to-head final against Rory McElroy is what was hailed by some as “possibly the greatest golf ever seen” on TV. And the Phil Mickelson-Sergio Garcia birdie-fest was one for the ages.
If you know the secret handshake with the TV clickers, you can actually watch two football games and the Ryder Cup simultaneously until the golf ends; and then you can tape two games while watching two others. Staggered kickoff times helped make that possible.
When it came to football, the shootout at noon began with Baylor clipping Iowa State, 45-42 and Florida struggling in Nashville – what else is new? – in an ugly 13-6 win over Vanderbilt. However, high value-hours normally spent driving or parking or barbecuing were instead spent flipping around the lethargic Florida-Vanderbilt game.
The filet mignon was served at 3:30, with the Miracle in Athens. It was all over – wasn’t it? — with 10 seconds to play when Jacob Eason had hit fellow freshman Riley Ridley on a beautiful 47-yard bomb and Georgia appeared to have slammed the door on Tennessee, 31-27. But wait! Amazingly Josh Dobbs connected on a Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings, 43 yards, for a 34-31 win to keep the Vols unbeaten. And Dobbs became a Vol immortal.
After missing the PAT kick that would have given North Carolina a 29-28 lead, Nick Weller drilled a field goal from 54 yards to beat No. 12 FSU, which had crawled back into the game with a 21-point fourth quarter. Hardly got a blip on the screen, though, after the Miracle at Athens.
Oh yeah, in case anybody cared, you could catch a few plays of No. 4 Michigan beating a stubborn No. 8 ranked Wisconsin, 14-7.
And right after that in the 4 p.m. slot, No. 9 Texas A&M had all it wanted from Will Muschamp’s improving South Carolina Gamecocks before prevailing, 24-13.
In the 5 p.m. game, Oklahoma drew away to beat TCU 52-46.
I could have turned off the TV right there and been happy with the entertainment value. But wait!
And the table was set for the nightcap, a delicious, raucous evening in Clemson, S.C. where Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson brought his No. 4 Cardinals into “Death Valley” in hopes of knocking off the No. 5 Tigers – and perhaps cementing himself as No. 1 Heisman Man ahead of DeShaun Watson.
But, we all know what happened there.
My cockpit is the right place to be
(Buddy Martin has been one of America’s great sports journalists as a columnist, editor, broadcaster, author and TV producer for five decades. He has won close to 200 awards, including an Emmy. He co-wrote the best-selling book “”Urban’s Way” with coach Urban Meyer and has just released his latest book, co-authored with recently-retired coach Steve Spurrier, titled “”Head Ball Coach. My Life In Football, Doing It Differently — and Winning.” The book is available on Amazon and already is a best-seller.Buddy’s columns can be read on gridiron.com and southernpigskin.com, and he is the anchor of Southern Pigskin Tonight heard in nine markets in three states.
He is a third-generation Floridian and journalist, having begun his early career at the Ocala Star-Banner where his father and grandfather also launched their careers. From there, Buddy had a distinguished career in newspapers as editor/columnist at Florida Today, Gannett News Service, the St. Petersburg Times, The New York Daily News and The Denver Post. As managing editor of The Charlotte Sun in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Martin directed coverage of Hurricane Charley which won many state and national awards — and was one of three finalists in the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.
For his role as an associate producer and editorial consultant for the NFL Today Show on CBS, Buddy was awarded an Emmy.Returning to his hometown a few years ago, Martin has served as editor in chief of Ocala Magazine and a columnist for Ocala Style.
Martin is the author of eight books. He also wrote the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes – Terry Bradshaw and Dan Issel — and was awarded an Emmy while working with Bradshaw on “The NFL Today” at CBS Sports.
Among the awards he or his newspapers have claimed were best Best Lifestyle Section nationally (Penny-Missouri), Best Sunday Sports Section nationally (APSE), Best Feature Writer New York State (Associated Press) and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news (2005). He has been named best columnist or sports columnist in Florida for both magazines and newspapers six times.
Buddy is a Gator through-and-through. He was educated at the University of Florida. He will occasionally contribute The Buddy Martin column to woodypaige.com.)
Check out Buddy’s latest book, written with Steve Spurrier, “”Head Ball Coach. My Life in Football, Doing It Differently and Winning.” Find the link to Amazon for this book and Buddy’s other books in the book section of woodypaige.com.