A Bowl Banquet, Featuring John Feinstein
Wake Forest's pre-game walkthrough at RFK Stadium was canceled this morning. So was Navy's pre-game pep rally at the Navy Memorial this afternoon. No worries, though.
"I will commit to this: It will be football weather," promised Mayor Adrian Fenty, after calling Jim Grobe "Jim Grobee."
And the festivities rolled on. The keynote address at today's EagleBank Bowl pre-game banquet--the first pre-game banquet in the history of the EagleBank Bowl, we were told--was none other than John Feinstein. This was tremendous if you're a fan of Patriot League or ACC basketball. It's unclear what it meant if you were a fan of, say, the Wake Forest football team.
Before the banquet started, the Wake Forest cheerleaders and marching band marched into the banquet hall, full of fire and fight songs. On their way, I asked one male cheerleader about the EBB; "it's better than the Boise Bowl," he said. As the cheerers and music-makers entered, the crowd spontaneously rose to its feet, clapping. Or, at least, six people from the crowd did.
Then came Navy's cheerleaders and drum and bugle corps, blasting Rock and Roll Part II and then Anchors Aweigh, and then chanting "Go Navy, Beat Wake." Then there were speeches, with Deputy Mayor Neil Albert telling the players that "we're about as excited about this game as we are about the Presidential inauguration in a couple weeks."
There was some sort of beef, and salad, and fruit tarts, and a Q&A with the coaches held by an ESPN broadcast team more anonymous than Mark Felt ever was. (Terry Gannon, David Norrie and Quint Kessenich, though Gannon wasn't technically there today.) Napoleon McCallum made some remarks; I grabbed him later to try to discover the meaning of bowls.
"For the seniors, this is their last shot to be a gladiator and to perform for just a massive audience," McCallum told me. "You're in a massive coliseum and you're battling and you're fighting and you're scratching and you're clawing, hitting people with all your might. It's not pattycake, it's a massive collision. To get your mind to do that to your body, to throw it with reckless abandon, heck yeah you're a gladiator."
Then finally Feinstein took the stage, promising to keep his remarks brief. To the best of my memory, here were the highlights:
* "If they predict snow [in D.C.], women are literally wrestling over bread in the Giant."
* "I drove by Lincoln Financial Field on the way here. The Army football team is still there, they're still in their camouflage uniforms and they still haven't scored."
("So cold," whispered the stunned Navy players who were sitting at my table.)
* "The thing that I am most proud of is that I can say the name of the Navy quarterback."
* "The coaches haven't watched film for three hours, they're all twitching."
* "When [Season on the Brink] came out, it sold very, very well."
* "[Bob Knight's] favorite word rhymes with luck."
* "Ahmad Rashad, we all know him, he's surgically attached to Michael Jordan."
* "Coaches are, for the most part, insane."
* "No offense, guys; none of you are Brett Favre, none of you weigh 385 pounds like most linemen in the NFL today."
* He also told a story about when he was once speaking with Bob Knight in front of Gary Williams. "After all the names he called you, why would you speak to him?" Gary asked Feinstein. "Because he built my house," Feinstein explained.
So, like I said, I've been wondering why these earl-season bowls even exist. Several players this week gave me earnest answers about entertaining the country, rewarding their seniors, getting to see the country, etc. That's all fine. But the ultimate reward is something grander than that: it's getting to hear John Feinstein talk about his life and Patriot League basketball for 15 minutes.
(And he was actually fairly funny, at least for all the 30-something Jewish sports yakkers in the audience.)
Anyhow, if you want to find players who think the meaning of an early-season early-morning first-year bowl game is metaphysically unclear, you better hope the participating teams aren't Wake and Navy.
"You work an entire year to come out on top," Navy's Tyree Barnes said. "You might not win every game, you might lose some games here and there, but it's kind of a reward. No matter what the bowl game is, who the sponsor is, it's just a good reward, a good way to end the season."
So there you have it.
"We're good, Scott, we're good, right?" Barnes said, looking at Navy's PR guy with a laugh.
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