Thoughts from the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon

It didn't occur to me until very late that I could apply for (and likely receive) a media credential for Big Ten Media days. The benefits would have been simple: increased access to players, real quotes, and the ability to vote on the preseason media teams. I think my way leads to a better article, however.

You see, I was a guest of the Big Ten Network yesterday as part of their Fan Council. This included some extracurriculars (such as previews of their new shows, a tour of studios, additional free food, the chance to bend the ear of the President of the Network, etc). While my background is in more serious journalism, I realize that what has made this blog successful is that I write like a fan. I have been very blessed that it has given me more access than the average fan, but I have always wanted to hold on to that original formula. I mean come on, I parked in downtown Gary yesterday to take the train in. THAT is the mark of a true fan when a red-headed white boy like me parked a blue car while wearing a blue shirt in downtown Gary without being sure it was Crips or Bloods territory. Meanwhile, Rece Davis probably got a private limo from the airport to the Hyatt. The media is pampered.

The quotes will always be there. Media Days are relentlessly covered and you guys are smart enough to know where to get these quotes. Controversial or groundbreaking information is rarely said, anyway. The fun stuff is found in the baiting comments at the luncheon itself. You're not going to hear the following from a one-on-one media interview:

"Yeah, I think he's a pansy and I'll challenge him to a prison-style fight right now!" - Danny Hope on his relationship with Rich Rodriguez.

"I told Davis it was a bad idea to secede from the Union but he just wouldn't listen to me."  - Joe Paterno on the Civil War.

"You'd be amazed at just how good olive oil feels on my nipples." - Jim Tressell on the secret of his success in winning five straight Big Ten titles.

"Do I get to say I took Minnesota to the Rose Bowl if I buy tickets for my whole team?" - Tim Brewster on his expectations for the season.

"In that 2004 season Indiana was just 789 plays and 245 cases of food poisoning from being in the Rose Bowl!" - Bill Lynch on Indiana's success.

"You haven't truly lived until you've had an enema." Ron Zook on... I don't know what the hell that would be on.

You get the picture. Few things are said because much of what we see is more playacting for the cameras. The access given to the fans at the actual signings before the luncheon is what makes the event worth it. Each coach and three players for each team sit in booths for their school and fans get to meet them and have stuff signed. Some notes from this portion of the day:

  • Ryan Kerrigan has a man's grip. The dude could rip phone books in half. I think open threads this year should have KERRIGAN SMASH! When he gets a sack.
  • Keith Smith is a very engaging young man. He was the player's representative at the actual luncheon and he is humble on stage while being bright and positive in person. It was an honor to meet him.
  • You can tell Robert Marve is a kid that is focused on this season. I mentioned that Mrs. T-Mill went to the U and that we have been fans of his since he played there. He appreciated the support.
  • Who the hell is that guy in the blue shirt?
    • I REALLY like Danny Hope after meeting him in person. I was second in line for his autograph after a group getting a football signed for a charity auction. I told him I appreciated what he was doing for the program and that I was a student when we went to the Rose Bowl. He told me that was a hell of a run and we're bringing it back to that. The man exudes energy and you can tell he just wants to win. He is the rare coach that you can tell does not have a bullshit setting. He speaks his mind and that is that. It's refreshing.

    • As a favor to Tim Cary at the Bleacher Report I went to the Wisconsin booth to get his mini helmet signed as well. Jay Valai, Scott Tolzien, and John Clay were great kids. Clay was especially friendly and when I told Tolzien they killed my Boilers last year he was like, "That was all the big man right here," referring to Clay. Just a great group of guys.

    As for the luncheon itself, it was a fun event. I was sitting with other members of the fan council from Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Rece Davis was a solid emcee (though MC Rece would be better), but here are a few things that I noticed from when the coaches spoke.

    • Rich Rodriguez is terrified internally. You can tell the man is VERY uncomfortable. Sure, Tim Brewster, Ron Zook, and Bill Lynch have been talked about as being on the hot seat, but the brash RichRod of two years ago is long gone. RichRod said little of substance and the fear in both his voice and mannerisms was apparent to everyone.
    • Danny Hope had a great jab with the following quote: "We've had about 90 kids on campus all summer and they've been in summer school. We don't have a general studies major at Purdue so they've had to take real classes too." That got the crowd going and caused a Michigan State fan at my table to comment that Hope was his new favorite coach. Of course, when a Purdue fan in the Fan Council meeting later said that Organizational Leadership and Supervision was really Our Lord and Savior in terms of keeping players eligible I lost a little faith in that.
    • Joe Paterno is to the point in his career where he could go off on an extended rant about how Hitler wasn't that bad of a guy and everyone would find it charming and witty while giving him a standing ovation. If I were him, I would start pushing the limits to see just what it would take to even get close to being fired. He needs to coach one game this fall without pants. My favorite quote from his speech: "15 years from now when I'm up here with all you young coaches..." It brought the house down.
    • Jim Tressell is successful because he has a presence. Danny Hope is a guy that won't back down from anyone, but Tressell has a calming, "I am in charge" personality that comes over the room even when speaking. When he walked into the fan signings the number of Ohio State fans tipping their hats to "coach" was impressive.
    • Pat Fitzgerald, like Sippin' On Purple says, is "the Intense-iest man to wear the color purple and not be ashamed about it."
    • Everyone thanks Nebraska and is looking forward to their entrance. They also kept leaving the door open for more expansion.
    • This isn't from anything about what the coaches said, but it should give you an idea about what to expect from Minnesota. At the end of the Luncheon they asked the quarterbacks in attendance to go to the middle of the room. They then drew door prize numbers and each QB had to throw an autographed ball to the winner somewhere in the room. Marve threw a strike that the winner made a diving catch of. Tolzien, Ben Chappell, Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, and Dan Persa had great throws too. Adam Weber, the most experienced QB in the conference, fumbled twice before throwing.

    The rest of the day was great. The Big Ten Network is in excellent hands and we got to preview the ICONS show (which looks fantasic) as well as the new Film Vault show. People are going to like the Film Vault with Dan Dierdorff because they have dug up some really old school stuff to show people. We're talking Woody Hayes mic'd up at practice and everything. There is also going to be a show called The Pulse that will be from the fan's perspective and it expects to draw heavily from social media and blogs like Yours Truly. With enough success they may even looks to bloggers like myself to be in-studio guests. At least that was my suggestion to the execs. They liked the idea, but internally they might have been like, "who the hell is this guy?"

    The Big Ten Network Studios tour reminded me of how far TV has come since I was in school. While at Purdue I technically majored in TV production. Just 8 years later I can tell you that I am envious of those breaking into the field now, because the digital transition makes things so much smoother from when I learned the ropes. The Network is almost totally tape-less. The production value is top notch, so it is no wonder it is making such news. I would love to work there some day, but I fear I am too far separated from my TV past now.

    All in all it was a good day. I hope everyone enjoyed my Twitter updates. Now it is time to get the season underway for real.

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