Matt Sussman / Hustle Belt
I've watched the Toledo-Bowling Green game many times in many venues. I wasn't big on football prior to college, but I watched it a couple times in our family room. I've attended the festivities in Doyt Perry Stadium a couple times and once in the Glass Bowl — that was the coldest night of my life. I've watched this game on TV in my old apartment, in my current home, on my computer, once in a Best Western in Fort Morgan, Colorado ... and now I've seen it from the press box.
The UT-BGSU rivalry never, NEVER receives substantial national traction, but what a wondrous event it is. It combines the geographical proximity of Akron-Kent State, the bitterness of Miami (OH)-Ohio (OH), and the duality sorely lacking in Western Michigan-Eastern Michigan-Central Michigan. It has a nifty name ("The Battle Of I-75") but am still trying to make "The Corn Maze" work. I've always avowed that Northwest Ohio lacks a codified sports identity, being a split demographic for Ohio State-Michigan as well as Detroit-Cleveland-Columbus pro teams, the but Rockets and the Falcons remain their own and nobody else's. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. At this point my hope is that the rivalry is looked upon the way people look at Army-Navy or Harvard-Yale. It's made clear to third parties that they hate each other, yet need each other, and as an observant you aren't emotionally preferential to one or the other.
As mentioned last week, I was picked by the MAC to be one of three correspondents for them on their social media tour stop at Toledo. Wednesday they'll be at Kent State-Buffalo, and Saturday it's UConn-WMU. Actually, the whole tour schedule is right there if you're interested in applying, and you ought to. The MAC dutifully posted a quick summary of what we all thought about watching the game like this, and now I'm going to expand even further.
I knew MAC director of communications Jeremy Guy through the Internet, like many of us know each other, so it was nice to finally meet him (this tour was his idea) and the two other contributors to this experience, Kurt and Eric. It's always nervous spending an evening with strangers, especially those manifesting from Twitter meetups, but what connected us was obviously a love for the MAC and a rooted interest in watching them. I don't think the other two knew, at least until I got there, that I was a Bowling Green guy. (Again, sorry about that.)
After fiddling with my media pass enough to get it to stay on my belt loop, we walked down to the sidelines to watch the teams stretch and the band warm up the crowd. In the spirit of brotherhood, the Rockets marching band played both fight songs, which was great, because BGSU didn't really get an opportunity to play theirs until the second half. UT athletic director Mike O'Brien was on the sidelines, as was head basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk and some recruits. The crowd was just right for a home opener.
THE PRESS BOX
Now I've been in press boxes before. The last time was 2006. I live blogged a Toledo Mud Hens baseball game when they were in the International League championship. Yes, that was my sole intention, and they were cool with it. In many ways minor league baseball was the pioneer of universal press access, because they knew the value of grassroots publicity.
Having a tad bit of experience, I knew there would be press box food. Sure enough, the spread featured pulled pork and chicken sandwiches along with three types of barbecue sauce, potatoes, potato salad and fruit. My selection passed the Jon Bois Sniff Test. Later there were finger desserts: miniature cakes and snickerdoodles and chocolate ch— ahem, THIS IS NOT A FOOD BLOG. Back to the game.
DURING THE GAME
Our mission in this venture was simple: to share the experience and the atmosphere of the game. What we saw, we wanted you to see too. We didn't want to get too much into the X's and O's of the game itself — and for my sake, that was a good thing (tackle someone!) — but as it turns out the other two gentlemen, Eric and Kurt, were very knowledgable UT fans who had seen a lot.
If you ever get a chance to enjoy the action from the press box, do it. They provide you with stats, game notes, rosters, and after every scoring drive an individual in the room announces through the loudspeaker (not to the crowd) the essentials number of plays, number of yards, time of drive, and so on. After every quarter, quick stat sheets are also provided. We also sat a row behind staff members who appeared to be tracking every play, presumably pushing them out to every up-to-date gametracker on the Internet. Multiple people are involved in this process. One of them had binoculars.
During the action (or lulls between plays), we reminisced on MAC matchups of yesteryear, and it's not like we were trying to stay on topic because of the conference who invited us. We wanted to discuss MAC football, not Big Ten football. One of them asked me if I remembered Cole Magner, and I personally wish someone every day would ask me about Cole Magner, the best receiver ever to come from Alaska. We scoreboard watched. We laughed at Indiana. We always laugh at Indiana.
With commentary on the game, two parts stood out:
1. Austin Dantin participating on the punt team. I never would have noticed the backup quarterback acting as a punt blocker, but sure enough, they saw No. 4 out there and it wasn't the other No. 4, Joe Haden. The big saga this year has been the two-QB system starting morphing into the Terrance Owens system, as he again took all offensive snaps and the Rockets are now 2-0 when he does that. Dantin, the senior, is suddenly scraping for playing time.
2. Bowling Green was chasing points as early as the third quarter. Down 24-9 late in the third, facing a 4th and 12 at the Toledo 14-yard line — basically an all-or-nothing decision — Dave Clawson kept the offense on the field and ... that didn't go well. A field goal would've brought the lead down from 15 to 12, but still two possessions. We debated all the reasonings amongst ourselves: did a missed field goal and PAT earlier in the game give Clawson more confidence in a potential touchdown instead?
On the next possession, BG forced a fumble deep in Rocket territory and turned it into a touchdown. They were down nine, but instead of kicking the PAT, they went for two and Jordan Hopgood was stopped at the goal line. The Falcons still trailed by two possessions with 13:29 to play. Why not kick the extra point and be down one possession? Or maybe Clawson thought there was enough time to score twice? These are all points raised by our social media crew.
Of course none of this mattered in the end when UT kicked a field goal and still won by 12. No amount of chased points would've made an effective difference.
But here's where the social media experience kicked into overdrive:
THE POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
By the time we arrived, Clawson was already addressing the media and fielding questions about offense and defense, but someone asked him about going for two. His thought was, down 15, they score a touchdown, go for two, then score another one and go for two again. Our questions were answered: he wasn't playing for a tie on the road, but a dramatic win. I know these videos are available online, but upon hearing the explanation immediately after trying to read Clawson's mind was quite refreshing.
After Clawson spoke, running back Anthon Samuel and defensive tackle Chris Jones, right now the two best players on both sides of the ball for the Falcons, addressed the media. They had apparently come straight from the field as Samuel still clutched his helmet in the front row before stepping up to the mic. Seeing the look on a dejected player's face right after a loss is something you can't calculate in a box score, or in a printed quote, or even in a YouTube clip. Especially for Jones, a senior who was asked multiple times what it was like to lose to Toledo three straight years.
Then it was Toledo's turn. When head coach Matt Campbell was asked about the quarterback situation, and affirmed that Owens was essentially the de facto starter, he mentioned that they will need Dantin this season and that he wasn't sure who in the room noticed that he also played on special teams for multiple snaps. Well, we were in the room, and we noticed. WE'RE SMART FAN TWEETERS. (Well, they are.)
I'm not sure if UT always brings this many players to the media room, but Campbell brought five: Owens (obviously), linebacker Dan Molls, center Zac Kerin, running back David Fluellen and cornerback Cheatham Norrils. Owens was soft-spoken. My favorite part about Molls is that in the heat of battle, the name on his jersey was partially torn off, leaving "LS," and for a split-second as he entered I thought he was the long-snapper. Kerin had his jersey already removed, but they got the offensive lineman to speak. Fluellen was a team player and Norrils seemed humbled to be part of the press conference, being a sophomore and relatively new starter.
This all happened because the Mid-American Conference gets it. They do. They broke down barriers with their fans, opened up their hearts (and free live game video), and now they're investing in the resource that's invested in them for years. I don't know if this is how a conference can survive, but it's certainly a component. Number of butts in seats is important, sure, but so is getting the fans to not only to watch and care, but have the best ones become part of the storytelling.
Just as Toledo and Bowling Green need other to ascertain an identity in the region, as we turn to the MAC for our entertainment, the conference equally needs us. We're glad to help, providing our insight and experiences alongside the beat writers' invaluable duties — and we're happy to give ours for free.