Posted: Friday January 5, 2007 7:58PM; Updated: Saturday January 6, 2007 1:41AM
With Gatorade in hand, Ohio native Urban Meyer discusses his ritual of carrying a buckeye nut around for luck at Media Day.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Urban Meyer was perched right on the edge. For a moment, the Florida coach seemed ready to say something juicy.
A reporter at Friday's Media Day had asked whether Meyer, an Ohio native and former Ohio State grad assistant who has a framed picture of Woody Hayes hanging at home, carried a buckeye with him. (As in the small nut, not the huge mascot.)
"No, no," Meyer said, cutting off the question. "Those are all stories that have been blown out [of proportion]." Hmmm, this was looking good. The key media strategy at these cattle calls is to try to poke the subjects with a rhetorical stick until they say something colorful or controversial, so a little annoyance was an excellent sign.
Meyer then explained that some people in Ohio carry a buckeye for good luck, that he indeed had done so in the past, that he even had a buckeye at home, but that he had ceased carrying it around with him. Following up, the reporter joked, "It probably wouldn't have worked against the Buckeyes," since presumably the dueling-nut superstitions would cancel each other out.
"You never know," said Meyer, with a sudden gleam in his eye. "Those buckeyes are ..."
The assembled media paused, waiting for the punch line. Could this be our hook of the day, ready to replace the already tired "Florida is faster than Ohio State because it's from the South" angle? What would Meyer say about the buckeyes, and would it be equally applicable to the nut and the football team? Would it be funny? Smart-aleck? Profound?
"Those buckeyes are ..."
Alas, Meyer seemed to come to his senses and stepped back from the ledge, opting to let his statement hang there unfinished. No sense saying anything too inflammatory at this late date. After a beat, another reporter jumped in with a different question, in fact a classic Media Day standby ("What under-the-radar player can be an X-factor?"), and the dance moved on.
Perhaps inspired by Meyer's example, the coaches and players scored a decisive victory in their annual battle with the Fourth Estate on Friday, carefully avoiding each potential linguistic trap. These players might just be college students, but life in college football meccas such as Columbus and Gainesville have made them media-savvy beyond their years. When Gators linebacker Brandon Siler was asked whether he found the media crush that accompanies the BCS Championship Game stressful and/or monotonous, for instance, he just laughed.
"It doesn't hurt me any," Siler said. "You're going to ask me the same questions. I'll give you the same answers. That's the truth."
Indeed. Even when some questions were different, they ended up being the same. One scribe asked Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, "If you were one of us asking you questions, what would you ask you?" Ah, the old shoe-on-the-other-foot routine, asking the interviewee to suddenly change roles, hoping that the brief unsettlement might result in an unexpected answer. Always worth a try!
Unfortunately, as a reporter Tressel turned out to be more Jayson Blair than Jack McCallum, saying that he would have asked a fairly run-of-the-mill query about how the national championship game compares to other bowl games that had already been asked of him just minutes before. Perhaps realizing that he hadn't exactly risen to the occasion, Tressel said, "Again, I wasn't trained to ask questions. I wasn't trained to answer them either, by the way."
Well, that last part likely isn't entirely true, but no matter. Media training or not, Tressel was more than able to successful parry such verbal thrusts as, "Do you think you are better than the Gators?" (It took Tressel just 38 words to artfully avoid that question.)
These days, we expect coaches not named Knight or Saban to know how to play the media game. After all, it's become a big part of their job, and these guys are nothing if not focused on their all-consuming jobs. As Tressel noted at one point in reference to his team's game-week preparation, "Today for us is Wednesday. I don't know what day it is in the rest of the world, but today is Wednesday for us."
The players get the message. Even as the underdog Gators were repeatedly asked some variation of the "Everyone thinks Ohio State is going to win; how does that make you feel?" query, and the Buckeyes taunted with the "Everyone thinks Florida is faster" line, the players remained resolute and uncontroversial.
Some even sounded like coaches. Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez, for instance, refused to accept the premise of one question that painted the Buckeyes as solid favorites. "We watch film," said Gonzalez. "The vast majority of people making those predictions don't watch film."
True, but those people do watch games. That's what we'll have on Monday night, by which time Media Day dramas (or the lack thereof) will have long since evaporated. Though not for a lack of effort.