28 October 2014

Experiencing an SEC football game on the plains of Auburn

I was in Auburn, Alabama last weekend to call the Iron Bowl of Soccer - Auburn vs. Alabama - and got a dramatic finish in a 1-0 Tiger victory in overtime.

The night before, I had the chance to take in my first conference football game in the SEC - Auburn vs. South Carolina - and go behind the scenes with the SEC Network broadcast of the game. It was a really fun experience, and I thought I'd share some of my pictures and my impressions:

20 October 2014

Pictures from my latest Georgia trip, ESPNU broadcast

I made my second trip of the year to call a game at the University of Georgia last weekend, including what felt like my umpteenth flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. Many more still to come, of course!

With a free Saturday night and no college football in the area, I went to see Silverbacks Park in north Atlanta, home to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League. Small stadium (c. 5,000 capacity) with a large youth-soccer presence in the crowd.

I was very surprised by two things: 1. The wind made it quite a cool evening. 2. T-shirts for 'MLS Atlanta 2017' were sold side-by-side (from a third-party vendor) with those of the home team, a member of a league often considered in competition with MLS. Very interesting.

My partner for Sunday's game, airing on ESPNU this time instead of the SEC Network, was former US women's national team star Shannon MacMillan, who won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation's top player in 1995 while at Portland, then was a key player as the US won the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup and later played in the WUSA.

What had not occurred to me was that the 1996 Olympic soccer competition culminated in Athens, Georgia, with MacMillan scoring the semifinal game-winner and a goal in the final in games played before capacity crowds in Sanford Stadium, the Georgia football stadium! This was Shannon's first time back to Athens in 18 years, and even though she was performing in a much smaller venue, I think she had a great afternoon.

Most of us working on the broadcast were shadowed by University of Georgia broadcast television students as part of ESPN's Campus Connection program, and Shannon and I had the chance to talk to a bunch of them before things got too crazy, so that was a lot of fun.
The game itself was a little hectic. A half-marathon held in the morning had limited our crew's access to the site, so there were a few things that wound up being done on-the-fly. In taping our opening segment, we were about to complete our best take when the stadium PA system launched into The Star-Spangled Banner, a definite no-no. So we did the open live, and except for one word stumble on my part (which I fairly successfully worked through), it still went great!

Afterward, with flights from Atlanta scheduled for Sunday night, we both high-tailed it out after the game, but not before I changed clothes and took a quick selfie with the stone Uga (pronounced like Uggla without the L) that keeps watch over the UGa Soccer Stadium!

Once I got to the airport, I could not convince TGIFriday's to switch any of its televisions away from Sunday Night Football, so to catch the first half of LA vs. Seattle for the MLS Supporters' Shield title, I used their wireless signal instead.
Finally, here's a link to our post-game segment, including both of the game's goals.

05 October 2014

Calling battle of SEC heavyweights on Sunday: No. 6 Florida at Arkansas

Only two women's soccer teams remain unbeaten in SEC play through four rounds of play, and those two will go head-to-head Sunday morning (noon ET) in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when No. 6 Florida (9-2, 4-0 SEC) takes on Arkansas (6-2-4, 2-0-2 SEC). I'll have the call on the SEC Network with 1999 World Cup-winning coach Tony DiCicco (nice resume, eh?).

Where we'll be watching from.
Florida's won five games in a row, including a dramatic 1-0 win at Texas A&M on Friday night in a battle of the conference's top two teams. Arkansas is no slouch, though: The Razorbacks made a Cinderella run to the NCAA Round of 16 last year in the first NCAA tournament appearance in their 28-year history! They play a rough-and-tumble polar opposite of Florida's smooth passing game, so it will provide yet another game featuring a contrast in styles.

You want stars? Florida has US U-20 forward Savannah Jordan, who scored 22 goals as a freshman last year and had the game-winner against A&M (and scored to eliminate Arkansas in last year's SEC quarterfinals). The Gators have 6-foot-1 goalkeeper Taylor Burke, a dual soccer/high-jump star who is one shutout away from tying the Florida career record. They also have a 6-foot Slovenian international with crazy hair and one of the best center-back tandems around. Fun team to watch.

You'll be happy to know I got a lower-key rental car this week.
Arkansas has US U-23 attacker Ashleigh Ellenwood, whose long throw-ins are a vital part of the Razorback game plan -- sometimes it looks like her arms are more tired than her legs at the end of a game! Senior Tyler Allen has already been on SportsCenter twice this year, thanks to her habit of sending in dangerous free kicks from deep positions. The Razorbacks also have bright underclassmen in goalkeeper Cameron Carter and attackers Sparky Fischer and Nicole Ortega. (I use the generic term "attackers" because trying to assign consistent spots to Arkansas's formations is extremely difficult.)

Moving planks one at a time. to support the lift
When I landed this afternoon, I went straight to Razorback Field, where our intrepid crew was setting up for the 11 am (local time) kickoff on Sunday. That meant I got to see how they lined up the scissor lift for our end-zone camera without messing up the stadium's grass: CAREFULLY.

Well worth it for a great view on Sunday.
Coaches love to talk about chess matches on the field ... this one was at the airport.