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Football Is Back On The Flats And Life Is Good Again

Aug. 5, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

I drive an old car, and even in summer when the heat index is over 100 degrees, it takes a while to get up to speed. I’m older than my car and I thought for a while it would take me longer than my 22-year-old Landcruiser to hit my sweet spot.

But now that football practice is here, I see I was partly wrong. Praise be that football is back at Georgia Tech, for it might not take me long to hit my stride after all.

Keeping feeding me stuff like coach Paul Johnson saying after the first of 29 preseason practices, “our first three games are going to be at noon or 1 o’clock so we’d better be ready [for intense heat],” and, “nobody scored on us yet; it’s been good,” when asked about how the Jackets’ new 3-4 defense is working out, and I’ll build rhythm quickly.

Driving over this afternoon for the first practice of the 2010 season, it took the transmission on the ol’ `Cruiser a while to slip into rhythm, but I was rolling with ideas percolating long before that 285,000-mile transmission had a chance to cough. So many questions . . .

An emotional attachment keeps me in that old vehicle when common sense and my wife have long held other ideas.

Many of us have emotional attachments to college football, too, particularly where the Yellow Jackets are involved. Tech may not have the largest fan base, nor the most vocal, but there is an innate passion that makes it so.

That makes head coach Johnson’s decision to close practice to the media and fans tough to chew for some.

I wish I was at the Rose Bowl this afternoon, even in all the heat. But barely. Instead, I was down the street, waiting.

I couldn’t really smell anything that related to football, nor hear anything interesting unless you were to count the blather of the AJC’s Doug Roberson, Scout.com’s Rod Mackenzie, the Macon Telegraph’s Coley Harvey, Rivals.com’s Kelly Quinlan or any of the TV/radio folks.

Coach Johnson’s said that practice is closed (I won’t be surprised if a few are open in the next few weeks, nor if they’re not) because that’s become standard practice in most places and because the presence of media and fans distracts players (and coaches?)

Truthfully, not being at practice won’t bother me much past Day One, as I’m old enough to generally be thankful to be out of the heat. That first-day buzz, though, is hard to beat. There’s a newness that I miss.

After the first day or two I ceased a few years ago to gain anything substantial from being there. Once upon a time, I used to glean story ideas – and admittedly some choice notes about formations, plays, movement up and down the depth chart, and even injuries – from being there.

Gee, now that I think about it, is it any wonder Johnson doesn’t want media there?

Gone are the days when coach Bobby Dodd would sit high above practice and chat with reporters like the great Furman Bisher. Back in the day, Dodd would come down from on high only if he saw something that truly ruffled his feathers; he let his assistants do their jobs.

Johnson’s prone to let his assistants have it, too, but he’s not sitting up on any benches chatting with reporters. He’s looking for butts to bust. You can almost see players scoot when he’s in the vicinity, like he’s carrying a towel and he’s ready to snap rumps.

I’ll miss that a little. He has a unique approach. We agree on that, right?

I never saw Dodd do his thing, of course, but learned of his styles over the years. Most recently, long-time team dentist Aaron King told me some tales. He should know; he’s been on The Flats since 1965 in an official capacity, since 1960 informally.

Now that is a story. Check the game program for the season opener, against South Carolina State, for more.

Anyway, it’s been a long summer, a long offseason, and a lot longer since football was front and center. We’ve all been bored for months, except for those of us who might have taken amusement in the odd goings-on in other college athletic departments from coast to coast in the past 90 days.

I won’t be at practice relaying what I see. But I’ll be around, relaying what I’m told. Hopefully, I can ask questions whose answers help illuminate.

Maybe you can help.

Send your questions and even random thoughts to our new address: stingdaily@gmail.com.

On Sunday, we’ll publish a mailbag with responses to some questions.

And if you see this, but are not on the free subscription list to the new Sting Daily (six days a week, minus Thursday for now), try this link: http://interact.fansonly.com/nl_sign_up/index.cfm?nl_code=geot

In the meantime, drop us a line at stingdaily@gmail.com. I’ll have some extra time to respond since I won’t be at practice. I hope to get back in my groove quickly.

I won’t miss standing in that heat, of which ever-loquacious running back Anthony Allen said, “The words of wisdom today are . . . When it’s hotter than 10 fire ants in a skillet, you have to decide whether to man up or punk out.”

What he said. I punked out Thursday, but only because Coach Johnson left me – like Allen – no choice.

Again, the e-mail address is stingdaily@gmail.com.

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