If you make the same mistakes I did when you decide to cover Pac-12 Media Day for the first time, your day might go something like this.
You're out the door in five minutes, which is a record, and soon enough you're sitting in traffic but moving quickly enough that you're not worried. You might miss the splashy video introduction
and the commissioner's opening remarks, but you'll get there in time to see what you're interested in.
So you pull into the parking structure of the Fox Plaza Hotel at about 9:15, and you wonder to yourself why you would have to park so far away, why Fox Studios does not have a parking lot. But the thought drifts away when the parking lot attendant accepts your story about Pac-12 Media Day and reminds you to get your parking ticket validated. No problem.
You leave the lot and start walking towards the studio entrance, but for some reason you choose to walk to the main entrance, which is roughly three-quarters of a mile on foot. When you arrive at the guard shack your name isn't on the list, but a quick phone call gets you in and the security guards laugh at you for walking onto the lot rather than driving. Their smiles disappear, however, when you tell them you've parked in the Fox Plaza lot, and they tell you that you'll end up paying a steep price. They strongly suggest that you go back and get your car and park it in their lot, where parking is free. You don't want to do this, of course, because Andrew Luck is waiting, but the guards are very convincing. They tell you to walk through the lot towards a giant mural of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Somewhere there's a joke about the hills being alive, but you have no time for frivolity. You run.
When you finally get back to your car and pull up to the parking attendant, you reach into your shirt pocket for the parking ticket but it isn't there. This isn't possible, of course, because you had just looked at it minutes ago. You check every single pocket. The attendant has seen this show before, and he's unimpressed. He motions you aside so that other more responsible drivers may pull through. Just when you've given up and you're imagining a conversation in which you're explaining to your wife why you had to pay fifty dollars for a lost parking ticket, you spy a small square of paper beneath the passenger's seat. It's the ticket.
The attendant asks you for nine dollars. For thirty minutes. You tell him your story, a story that stars this very same parking attendant who had listened to your previous story about attending something called Pac-12 Media Day and simply waved you in, but he is not interested. Nine dollars.
As you slide a twenty dollar bill into the machine the attendant warns you that it will only give change in dollar coins, but you remember that your youngest daughter has a perilously loose tooth and that these coins are the exact coins the Tooth Fairy likes to bring. You gather your change and move on.
Minutes later you're finally there. The first person you see is Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson. He's wearing his national championship ring from his days at the U, and you wonder if it's for inspiration or validation. Not too far away is Erickson's quarterback, Brock Osweiler. He's ridiculously tall, probably 6'5" or 6'6", and he's wearing some ridiculously comical sunglasses doing his best Vincent Chase impersonation.
No time for star gazing, though, even if it's an incredibly dead-on (if unintentional) impersonation of a fictional star. You head to media registration, and you pick up an assortment of Pac-12 swag: press badge, breath mint, a pen and note book left over from January's Rose Bowl, and media guides from each of the twelve school. You note with disappointment that USC's is slick and glossy while Stanford's is xeroxed and stapled.
And then you hit the press room, where two thoughts occur to you. First, you notice that you and every other guy in the room is wearing khaki pants. Second, you remember that it's 2011, not 1981. You're the only person without a laptop.
But you carry on. Everything is running behind schedule, so you haven't missed Stanford's slot. Oregon Coach Chip Kelly is yammering on about how he wishes he could talk about the Willie Lyles situation, but that he's been advised he cannot. He promises that when everything blows over, he'll talk plenty. You note that this is exactly what every accused person in the history of crime has said. You're not sure of the exact scripture lines, but you're fairly certain you remember reading something like, "And so Cain spoke and spoke thusly unto his father, "Dear father, verily I wish that I could explaineth this in full measure, but advisors doth suggest that silent I should remain." Or at least that's what he would've said had William Shakespeare written the Bible.
The Oregon contingent gives way to the Oregon State group, and you notice that no one else in the room seems as interested in the proceedings as you are. A reporter two rows in front of you is checking his fantasy baseball team. You're certain that your team is better than his because you've got both Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels, but that's a story for another day.
When Coach Shaw and Andrew Luck enter the room, you notice a definite uptick in interest. Suddenly cameras are snapping and keyboards are clicking as the media gets ready to listen to the conference's newest head coach and his Heisman hopeful quarterback. You notice Andrew Luck's beard. If his beard was a puppy three weeks ago at the Manning Passing Academy, then now it's a full-grown dog, ready to bite. (Over the course of the afternoon you'd hear at least six questions about the beard and several references to the Bay Area's other famous beard, the one worn by San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson.)
Even though you're not a real reporter, you figure that since you've gone through all this trouble you should probably ask a question, so you raise your hand and ask Coach Shaw about analyst suggestions that the Cardinal will miss the edge Coach Harbaugh had given them. Shaw agrees, but embraces the challenge.
When you leave the press room through the side door you stumble upon a strange sight, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen, sitting alone on a bench, checking his email. After a few minutes current coach Lane Kiffin sits down and joins him, so you head over for a quick hello. You introduce yourself as a Stanford guy, and tell them how excited you are for the game in the Coliseum on October 29th, and they smile and shake their heads, probably wondering how things had gotten so bad that other teams were actually looking forward to coming to their stadium. Quickly, though, you tell them that you're rooting for the Trojans, that even though others might prefer to kick them now that they're down, you realize that the Pac-12 needs the Trojans to be strong, and this brings them around. You turn to leave, but Allen calls after you and says, "We need the Pac-12 to be the top conference again. I'm tired of hearing about that other conference, that SEC." He spits those last few syllables as if they were seeds from a bitter fruit.
From there you wander back amongst the masses and you notice the breakfast buffet. Even though the bagels are slightly toasted and the cream cheese is slightly curdled from two hours of California sun, you're hungry, so you take the risk. You grab a bottle of water and another of orange juice, and you wonder only briefly about how much the Pac-12 is paying for all this.
You take a few steps and a woman summons you into a tent to take a look at something called the Pac-12 Interactive TV, a 103" touch screen that lets you choose your own highlight footage from each of the conference's twelve teams and their marquee players. You make a mental note to add it to your Amazon wish list.
You run into Coach Shaw, who's walking from one interview to the next, and you ask him about how his first media day is going, and he gives the same response USC quarterback Matt Barkley would a few minutes later: "It's not bad."
You wander around for a while before heading in for the Pac-12 South portion of the press conference and listen to bits and pieces of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and UCLA. Somewhere around Arizona State or Colorado you notice a reporter standing next to you with a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl polo shirt stretched taut around his 300-pound frame, and you wonder if this man has ever fought hunger a day in his life.
UCLA's Rick Neuheisel is highly entertaining and unflinchingly honest. He acknowledges the struggles the program has endured, but thinks the fans will come back. "It doesn't take long to win back your constituency," he says. "You just have to give them reason for optimism." Later he gives a glimpse into how much this all means to him when he admits, "I have a stake in this. This is not just a job, this is my alma mater... my dream job."
But you don't hear everything he says, because standing next you is your new friend Marcus Allen, and he's talking to you about his college days. Since his college days are much more interesting than Neuheisel's, you listen to Marcus.
After all this it's lunch time, and because you're an overachiever, you're quick enough to be the second person in line at the buffet. You make a thick sandwich, fill the rest of your plate with a salad, and squeeze in a Stanford cupcake. There are no tables available on the media side of the dining area, so you boldly sit down at the one empty table, the one with a placard that reads "Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott." You tell yourself that you'll happily move if he shows up. He doesn't.
You finish your lunch, which is delicious, and you find a table where Andrew Luck is talking to four or five reporters. After a few minutes you find a chair to his immediate left. Luck is doing his best to eat his lunch while fielding questions from eight different guys, and he's nothing if not patient, answering different versions of the same questions, one after the other. It will be like this for Luck for the next six months.
You look over your shoulder and notice David Shaw sitting alone, so you join him and fire a few questions his way. You talk about tight ends and offensive linemen and game planning, and then you thank him for his time.
With the day finally finished, you put your notebook away and get up to leave. On your way back to the parking structure, you notice something that wasn't there on your way in: the Pac-12 Trophy. It's small and understated, but somehow it seems about right. You flash forward to December 2nd and imagine Shaw and Luck celebrating a championship, each of them with one hand on this trophy.
You smile, then head for the freeway.