Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Memorable Lesson on a Forgettable Night

During four years as a public speaking instructor, one of the finest lessons I ever taught my class regarding feedback wasn’t even in the lesson plan.

It was midway through the semester when things drag a little, but this particular night felt electric. I was making points left and right. I was using analogies. I was employing multimedia. I was sharing relevant stories from my background. Surely, students would be speaking of this night for the rest of their academic careers.

Early in the class, I noticed one student trying somewhat timidly to get my attention. I dismissed it. In my mind, I could not possibly be interrupted on such a monumental night. Undeterred, he became more brazen as class continued, finally holding up a notebook with six giant letters scribbled on it.

Deeply annoyed, I glanced at the letters and started to read them to myself, one after the next. Starting from the left, I read: Z … I … P … P … E … R. As I finished the last one, the gravity of the situation hit me.

As it turned out, this lecture had been literally off the hook.

I moved closer to the lectern, quickly fixed the wardrobe malfunction and continued on. Now that’s how you respond to audience feedback.

And, chances are, the moment had been just as memorable for the students as I thought, just not for the reasons I had hoped.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Howard (Stern) and Me

Howard Stern is my guilty pleasure. As soon as he announced his move to satellite radio, I bought a subscription to Sirius, listening for months before he finally arrived. I’ve had at least one Sirius radio ever since.

Over the weekend, my loyalty was rewarded as I attended Stern’s 60th birthday party in New York City as a winner of a SiriusXM listener contest. Kim and I were treated to four hours of top-notch entertainment, along with free booze and a little swag. Following are a few of my thoughts from that epic evening.

That’s cold. It was a long, cold wait outside the venue for those not on the red carpet, one of the evening’s few hitches. Sirius must’ve known this since it pretty much abandoned its stated security policy to speed things up.

Caw. Caw. Screeching voice aside, legendary Stern caller Mariann from Brooklyn is actually a pretty attractive woman.

Tuning In. Sirius provided attendees with an earphone like device to amplify the sometimes sporadic sound in the Hammerstein Ballroom. That thing worked like a charm. I wish I would’ve used it earlier.

Clowning Around. Stern guest “Yucko the Clown” supposedly hung up his red nose earlier this year. Yet, there he was at my bar area in full clown regalia. I guess the hottest ticket in the city can make you want to clown around.

Shredded. Who knew Adam Levine could shred a guitar like that? He was a beast, both vocally and instrumentally, on a “Purple Rain” cover with Train.

The most interesting man in the world? Forget that drunk old guy. It has to be Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters who performed awesome acoustic versions of “Everlong” and “My Hero” before stepping behind the drum set for the concluding “Walk this Way,” along with Steven Tyler, Slash and a few others.

Not as interesting. With so many superstars packed into such a tight, high-energy agenda, performers had to capture the imagination quickly. David Letterman just didn’t. Maybe it would’ve helped if I had used my amplifier sooner. Host Jimmy Kimmel tried to pull the plug, but Stern wouldn’t let him.

A piano, but no piano man. They rolled a piano on stage and Tyler made the most of it during a terrific version of “Dream On.” I figured Stern friend and piano virtuoso Billy Joel was bound to be next, but it wasn’t to be. Too bad because I was definitely in the state of mind for “New York State of Mind” after recently seeing this YouTube clip.

Regardless, it was a terrific evening of entertainment. For a night, I was a part of the Stern universe. Now, it’s back to just listening to it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Marking Nearly 30 Years of Louisville Football

My friend, Ken Sumner, and I have just survived another University of Louisville regular football season together, marking nearly 30 years now, but it’s been no picnic. Then again, maybe it has been. After all, sitting around eating, drinking and talking is pretty much the very definition of a picnic.

When it's cold on game day, you have to earn it.
We never had a checkered table cloth, although we did carry the same bumper-sticker covered cooler for decades. There were never any ants to deal with, but there were a couple of coaches we considered nuisances.

So, without further ado, and captured here for the benefit of future generations of football fans, are lessons learned from nearly three decades spent in the parking lot, food lines, restrooms and in or adjacent to the student section.

Generate your own shorthand. Kenny and I developed a few phrases that have stood the test of time. One of my favorites, “that was 10 plays ago,” basically means “I’m tired of you and/or your harping.” Credit goes to an unknown and frustrated section mate with coming up with that one. Also, any head adornment, other than a standard ball cap, must always be greeted by “nice hat.” “You gotta earn it” means it’s cold / raining/ snowing, while “Howard (Schellenberger) would be disappointed” means you’re running late.

Speaking of rain, once you reach your 30s, it’s OK to trade garbage bag protection for some honest-to-God emergency ponchos. It’s only a buck.

Bring the right tools for the job. Sure, necessity is the mother of invention, but I don’t condone pouring pure grain alcohol onto a fire. This might help explain why there were so many raw hamburgers in the early years.

Leave the real football to the real players. I cannot over emphasize how many misunderstandings have been caused by wayward footballs. Nerf footballs make for better tailgating neighbors.

If the ticket is stamped “obstructed view,” believe it. This lesson brought to you by the ugly pole running through the temporary bleachers at old Cardinal Stadium.

If you’re scalping tickets at a Louisville game, then you really aren’t at the top of your profession. Feel free to hustle the hustlers.

Never rush the field. I should amend this to say, “never rush the field when the police don’t want you to,” particularly if you’re with a guy in a leg cast.

And while we’re reminiscing here, let me close by telling you about a few of my favorite moments over the years. These aren’t necessarily important moments, just amusing ones. Since this is an oral history only, I will not let the facts get in the way of a good story. 
  • In one of the first seasons at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, we were still tailgating at the old stadium when some confused Oklahoma fans wandered through and asked, “which stadium do we play at?” I thought it was a funny, but fair question. 
  • For us, one difficult season seemed to be epitomized by a single, bad play as the center inexplicably hiked the ball off the running back’s head, while he was in motion. After that, whenever trickery was needed, we would suggest the “hike it to (Ralph) Dawkins’ head” play. After all, no one would ever see it coming … including Dawkins. 
  • Speaking of bad football, Kenny and I were some of the last left in old Cardinal Stadium for Ron Cooper’s final game as Louisville’s coach. I was so frustrated with the predictability of the play calling that I yelled to the opposing defensive coordinator: “If you haven’t figured it out yet, he’s going to run it on every first down.” The coordinator turned, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I guess he had already figured it out. 
  • Kenny and I were at the new stadium for one of Louisville’s first big wins, a victory over Florida State, played in the remnants of a hurricane. At halftime, we saw my sister and her husband in the concourse. We were soaked, but excited. We knew we had a chance for a ground-breaking win. I called her midway through the third quarter to compare notes. They were home. Kenny and I stayed until the water-logged, jubilant, end. Fans were allowed to rush the field afterward, although we stayed put, perhaps reluctant from the earlier incident. It took days to dry out. As any old tailgater will tell you, sometimes “you gotta earn it.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Even Without BCS, Cards Shouldn't Lack Motivation

For the University of Louisville football team, this season pretty much shaped up as “Season Impossible.”

Bolstered by a rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and the return of Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, as well as wealth of starters on both sides of the football, the Cardinals were expected to sweep their depleted conference, return to a BCS bowl and possibly compete for a national championship.

Even a single loss would be a huge disappointment. Those were heady expectations. And they were never realistic.

For starters, Louisville’s previous season was overrated because of the way it ended, with the stunning victory over the Gators. In reality, Louisville backed into a BCS spot after losing to Syracuse and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks. Earlier that season, the Cardinals barely survived by a touchdown and less in adverse weather in consecutive weeks at Florida International and Southern Mississippi.

So the idea that U of L would easily run the table this year were always overly optimistic. Perhaps it felt like everything would always go U of L’s way following the “Year of the Cardinal,” in which pretty much everything did. That’s why U of L’s loss to Central Florida, and UCF’s subsequent win over Houston, which all but cemented the American Conference’s BCS bid for them, and not Louisville, was so devastating.

But make no mistake about it. Even with the BCS bid likely gone, there’s plenty left for Charlie Strong’s club to play for. If UCF loses just once, and Louisville wins out, the Cardinals can still share a conference title, which would be their third straight. Additionally, if Louisville wins out, they would play in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla., against a very attractive opponent in the ACC’s third-best team, currently Miami. Many of Louisville’s peer schools, including its most hated rival, would kill for such a spot. Even Florida, the top-five team Louisville beat last season, is fighting for its bowl life this year.

Conference affiliation is the third and most important reason for Louisville to close the season, excuse the expression, strongly. The Cards need momentum to springboard into the ACC and tougher competition next season.

In closing, this year’s Louisville team probably won’t win a BCS bowl, but the 2013 Cardinals haven’t lost to inferior competition either. Even their “close calls,” were comfortable victories. They led a solid UCF team for most of their only loss.

With Bridgewater likely gone next season and the ACC looming, including the aforementioned Miami, as well as Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, expectations will be more rational next year. That’s good because this team and its coaches all need to grow to be successful in the ACC. In the meantime, I’ll be at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium Saturday night rooting for a team that might not be perfect, but is still pretty good.