I’m a little late to the party on this, but hey, I have the excuse of a new general manager and head coach for the Chargers. 😉 Still … here are some memories from 2012:
Preseason. Takeo Spikes and I got some golf in … And we talked about the upcoming season. He had high hopes.
First game of the season. RAIDERS! Chargers win, 22-14. All was bright and shiny.
A coffin tailgate in Kansas City. Still haven’t seen anything that’s topped this beer cooler.
New Orleans. I still remember how many Chargers fans were in the French Quarter, and how fun it was at this game … Until the fourth quarter, when San Diego lost the lead and lost the game. It was a turning point of sorts, but none that could prepare us for …
This. This was the halftime photo from the Broncos game. Monday Night Football. Chargers up 24-0 at halftime. Note the smiles. At this point, San Diego had this one locked up. That loss will go down in history with me. It was so tangible — You could just feel the energy shift as soon as Peyton and Company hit the field for the second half.
The Cleveland … Another loss. The season started to slip away. Coincidentally, this is where Norv Turner will probably coach in 2013.
Snuck in some Halloween fun with Eric Weddle for one of my “Overtime With Annie” segments.
BREAKING NEWS: Philip Rivers has a mustache! And he led the Chargers to a win with it that weekend. Sure, it was against the Chiefs. But still … the mustache had to have helped.
The losses brought restless fans (again), as evidenced by one who came up to the press box in Denver and held this up for Nick Canepa when San Diego lost another close one to the Broncos.
The team in Times Square for the Chargers-Jets game. Can’t tell you what the laughs are like when the three of us are in adventure mode. I almost pee my pants, repeatedly.
The end of one era …
And the beginning of another.
Can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store. 🙂
Tomorrow, the Chargers will play their final game of the season, effectively closing the door on an era that most will remember as mediocre at best.
Tomorrow, conversations will revolve around change. Tailgaters will lament “what could have been” and fans in the seats at Qualcomm will speculate about the next head coach. Tomorrow is a means to an end. Nobody really cares about a game between two disappointing teams. Tomorrow is nothing more than a doorway to the future. Just get through this last game and wait for things to improve.
Tomorrow, my eyes will be on Takeo Spikes.
I remember my first interview with Spikes after he became a Charger in 2011. It was tough to not be intimidated. Spikes has eyes that pretty much see right through you. He stares at you, almost as if goading the question, and then he pauses before he answers.
Oh, that pause.
Chargers interns this year asked me if it was normal. “Am I doing something wrong? Are my questions okay?” … Because, see, that Spikes pause makes you doubt yourself. “Did I just piss him off?” … “Does he think I’m stupid?” … “Is he going to tackle me now?”
And then, after that pause, comes a deep, introspective thought. It’s always a sweet surprise. I don’t know why. Maybe because he’s so ferocious on the field, maybe because his neck is so large … People just don’t expect the well-thought out answer.
But his answers, like everything he does in his life, are given with effort. Every ounce of effort he has in his thick, sculpted 230+ pound body.
That’s all the guy knows how to do — give everything he can. Like most competitors, Spikes wants to win. He doesn’t want to do anything half-ass. If he’s brushing his teeth, his gums better be getting the most out of it.
It’s one of the things I like best about Spikes. Lots of guys give effort, but he tries to get the edge. He has the mental focus, the intelligence, to know how to bruise the other team physically and mentally. He spends extra time in the film room. He sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber. And most impressive is how IN-TUNE he is with his body. He knows exactly what nutrients it needs, how much massage and therapy, for maximum efficiency. He has devoted his whole life and his 15 years in the NFL to getting everything he can out of every moment on the field.
And in his mind, all that work, all that effort, all that determination, time and grit is worth it … because one day it would lead to the playoffs. And that would be a step closer to the championship.
Except when it doesn’t. And in Spikes’ case, it hasn’t.
15 years. Think about it.
Spikes came to the Chargers thinking it would provide a path to the playoffs. It was the best team for a man in the twilight of his career, the best choice for a Pro-Bowl player and a first-round draft pick, who has, simply, been plagued by bad teams.
Takeo Spikes, with more than 200 games played and 1300 tackles, who left Auburn University with the dream of going to the Super Bowl one day and who has devoted every detail to that cause, has never set foot in the playoffs. Every January has been empty of football. He doesn’t know what the 17th game feels like.
And he’s pissed.
He told me yesterday that the only therapy he has is between the white lines on Sundays. Nothing else clears his mind the way football does. He loves the game. He loves being a player. He loves sharing what he knows with young linebackers, evidenced by how instrumental he’s been to Donald Butler’s success.
Tomorrow, Spikes will probably play the final game of his career. It’s not likely he will play another season. He’s 36, and despite his best efforts (and success) to keep his body young, age and the brutal physicality of the game have caught up with him.
He knows it. The thought haunts him.
Spikes is the last to ask for anyone’s sympathy. This is a man’s sport. You know what you’re getting into when you sign up. But it doesn’t make it any less tough. It’s like a job, or a marriage, or a relationship that suddenly ends. There is emptiness.
It’s rare to find a player like Spikes. He leaves an impression on me. We formed a nice relationship these past few years — even golfing together, at one point — and I have always admired his work ethic and his honesty. The guy is FUNNY. He’s real. He isn’t afraid to call out a stupid question at a presser or to say he’s enjoying a few CABs (Cold Alcoholic Beverage) on a bye week. He tells you when he thinks something is horses**t. He leads by example and never shies away from talking candidly after games, even when it’s clear that the loss hit him hard.
His perspective on football is incredibly tough to come by, which makes him so valuable not only to his teammates, but to the media.
Myself, I have goals I want to achieve — goals that are not on display to the world, as they are with Spikes — and I’ve found myself writing his words down frequently as thoughts on LIFE, which we all know has so many parallels to the game of football. Here are a few quotes from his last presser that I particularly enjoyed:
“I’ve been playing for a long time and at the end of the year you always go back and say ‘if’. And I tell guys that I don’t like to be part of an ‘if’ conversation because I’ve never heard, or I’ve never had a bad ‘if’ conversation. Case in point is ‘if’ we had won just two more games, or ‘if’ this guy would have made that play. Personally, I don’t care to hear about that because in the beginning we all knew what we signed up for. So you never had the opportunity to go back and say ‘if’. ‘If’ can be anything that you want it to be. It’s a waste … If my aunt had a pair, she’d be my uncle. Know what I’m saying?”
“I like to play the game with people trash-talking because that gets me going and it gets me hot. So that’s the reason I like to play on the road. Nobody likes you. I was always told that if you’re doing something and everyone likes you while you’re doing it, you’re doing something wrong.”
So tomorrow, in between the roasting of an old head coach and the toasting of a new one, in between the speculating and the finger-pointing, keep your eyes on number 51, as he plays, one more time, in between the white lines that he loves.
There, my friends, is the meaning behind the meaningless game.
Robert Meachem’s dad built him a basketball court in the neighborhood where he grew up. Like a lot of NFL players, Meachem grew up in a really troubled community with a lot of gangs. Those were the kids who wanted to use the basketball court, so Meachem’s dad didn’t let him play.
“So there was times I didn’t get to play in my own backyard. I’m frustrated, crying, mad,” he said. “My dad tells me, ‘Your time will come.’ And that’s stuck with me for 27 years.”
“Be patient. Don’t rush it. Learn. Learn from the older guys. That was my gift.”
Watch more of my interview with him here.
When I started this beat four years ago, the first two people Kevin Acee introduced me to were Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire.
“Two of the best people around,” he said.
He was right.
At that time, the place now known as “The Zoo” — (the area in the locker room inhabited by the defensive line) — looked a little different. There was no Corey Liuget, no Kendall Reyes. Vaughn Martin had just been drafted that year. Ryon Bingham and Alfonso Boone had lockers.
That was my first year on the beat, my first year covering a professional football team, and, as I call it, my rookie season. It was a fun year but also a tough year. I had to learn as I went. I had to find my identity in that locker room. I had to build relationships and prove I belonged. I did a lot of things right, but I also experienced growing pains.
I became very dependent on Jacques Cesaire’s smile.
Have you ever seen Jacques smile? It’s like a freakin’ Christmas tree just lit up. It’s contagious. It’s genuine.
And it was a constant.
When you’re a woman in a man’s world, you often get tested. That year, I was tested a lot. How thick was my skin? How would I hold up to some teasing? How would I maintain professionalism? Many times, when I walked into the defensive line area — which I coined “The Lair” — I’d get ribbed. Jacques would join in, but then he’d always know when enough was enough. He never let it cross the line. He stopped, or called it off, and the other guys followed suit.
He was, as his teammates call him, their “spiritual leader.” When he spoke, they listened.
Jacques became a guy I interviewed and chatted with a lot. He was always patient, always generous with his time. He was hilarious, but also serious. I got to know his wife, Jill, and their daughter. Then their son, when he was born. Not well. Not close. But enough to share pleasantries with whenever I saw the family at events and games.
Fast forward to last season. I’m working for NBC doing my “Overtime With Annie” segments, where I take players off the field to show their personalities, and I get this idea to surprise a deserving family with a “D-Line Christmas” in December. Okay. It’s tough enough to get ONE player off the field … imagine getting an entire line to agree to a place and time. During the season, players are pulled in so many different directions, and asking them to do MORE than that is asking a lot. But I approached the D-Line, brought it up, and Jacques looked at me with all the other guys around and said, “We’ll do it. Don’t worry about how. We’ll get it done.”
It wasn’t easy, but he found time to meet me and give me money to shop for all the presents. And when the day came to surprise the family, every … member … of … the … D-Line … was … there.
Every single one.
Those kids had a day they will never forget.
I credit that to the whole line for following through, but I know how much of that was because of Jacques.
He is such an identity of that D-Line, such a steadfast part of their cohesiveness. He’s the one who, knowing they were next in line to take his place, “adopted” Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes, showed them the ropes, invited them to his house for dinner, made them feel comfortable and embraced their role as teammates.
He’s the one who paid for sandwiches to be delivered to the homeless each week and passed out turkeys to needy families at Thanksgiving.
I’m not saying he’s the only guy in that locker room that is kind and generous. He’s not. There are so many players who do things for people in the community that you, the fan, will never know about. Make no mistake. But Jacques, like I said, just had an unselfishness to him, and a personality that was so authentic. It was impossible to not like the guy.
I’m selfishly sad that more young players won’t learn from him, how he treated people, how he treated the media and fans. He had an understanding of all the moving parts that go along with professional football.
I wish Jacques the best of luck. I’ll miss him. I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of him. He’s built a nine-year career with the Chargers out of basically nothing.
And he’s done so with a smile that will be sorely missed around that locker room.
I wrote about a certain debonaire Jerry when I first started this blog, so I figured I’d write about another one.
Jerry Coleman. The guy is 87 and has mad game. He played for the New York Yankees, went to the World Series SIX TIMES, won four of those, was the World Series MVP in 1950, served in the Korean War and World War II, is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his broadcasting success … I mean, seriously. What have you done with YOUR life? I gave a few bucks to a homeless guy when I walked into my building today and I was the spelling bee champ in sixth grade. Other than that, I got nothing.
Jerry and I had a nice chat today. He always calls me his girlfriend and tells me I have nice legs (I mean, he says that to all the ladies, but nonetheless, I’m flattered) and he’s always good for a story. He keeps it real. He got a little emotional today, talking about old memories, and I think that’s happening more and more lately as people bring up the past.
The Padres are celebrating Jerry on Sept. 15 with “Jerry Coleman Day” and are erecting a statue in his honor. For as gregarious and public as Jerry appears to be, he is quite humble. He doesn’t like all the fanfare. He doesn’t feel he deserves it.
Ahh, but he does.
I asked him how much fun he had while he was playing baseball, and he laughed and said it wasn’t always fun. It was hard work. “Everyone was after us in those days, everyone wanted to beat us, the Yankees, so the fun didn’t come until AFTERWARD. Because the only thing that matters is winning.”
I asked him how stays so young, and he said something about genetics and diet … but I think it has something to do with being around baseball every day of his life. When you’re around something that is weaved so tightly into the fabric of WHO YOU ARE, I think it gives your soul a little extra mojo.
Or, maybe it’s the clubhouse coffee. Either way.
Anyways, I’m excited to see the statue. The Padres always get the details right. Jerry said he hopes it’s of him in a bathing suit. We’ll see.
On Thursday, August 9, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, history will be made at the Chargers-Packers game.
No, it won’t be the most cheese hats ever seen in one setting (although just thinking about that makes me hungry). It won’t be the longest line for the bathrooms EVER (although listen, those lines are brutal).
Instead, it comes in a 5-foot-5 package by someone who has probably worn makeup in her lifetime.
There’s a hint. I said HER.
For the first time in NFL history, a female will officiate the football game. Shannon Eastin, a 42-year-old former national judo champion, will be a line judge for the preseason opener.
Yesterday, in our office at Chargers Park, my colleague Michael Gehlken had Eastin’s league-wide conference call on speaker. Because I was working on a few other things, I sorta drifted in and out of listening. But, I did catch this:
“Knowing that I’m a female in a man’s world, I’ve always put the most pressure on myself. Pretty much everything I do is going to be magnified. I know what I signed up for,” Eastin explained. ”I have to be bigger, stronger, know that I understand the rules. I have to do things even better than the men that are working. And I’m ok with that.”
Yes! Yes! Yesssssssss!!!!!!
Whenever I speak to students about my job, some young girl will ask me what it’s like to be a woman working in sports. “What does it take?” she’ll ask.
I always answer the same way: You better be willing to work harder than the men, because you’re going to be scrutinized and judged and talked about SIMPLY BECAUSE you are a woman. It’s up to you to prove to the athletes/staff/world that you belong there, that you know what you’re talking about, that you aren’t just eye candy or there to fall in love with a football player or ask uninformed questions.
Because most athletes will think you are.
You will have done nothing to deserve this, except have breasts and curves and maybe some fingernail polish (bright pink, in my case).
It’s just the way it is, baby.
And that’s okay. Cuz you know what? It feels really damn good when you get it right. Sometimes, you get it wrong (I speak from experience) … but often, you’ll get it right because you work your butt off, and you might even scoop the male reporter next to you, who is complacent and lazy and just there for the free soda in the communal fridge. (Not all male reporters are like that. Not even most. But some.)
So get it, women. Go kill it. Put in the extra work, put in the extra time, let them all know that you should be standing in that locker room or on that sideline or in that coach’s office.
Do it in heels while you’re at it.
I spent the weekend in Texas, at LaDainian Tomlinson’s 3-day football clinic, on the campus of TCU.
Holy hot. I have to say that first. I have to get that out of the way.
Here’s the thing: For the most part, I shoot my own stories. Sometimes I get a cameraman, but for this story (as is the case pretty much anytime I’m traveling) I did not. Now, I’m not complaining — being a “one-woman-band” has afforded me a lot of opportunities and is really the foundation of who I am as a reporter — butttttttt … sometimes it’s harder than others. I mean, think about it. I’m out shooting in humid, stuffy Texas heat and pretty much drenched in sweat, running around the football fields, trying to get good shots, but in five minutes I’ve got to go on-camera and interview a superstar.
Wipe off my forehead, throw on some powder, hope I don’t smell, guzzle a little water and smile, smile, smile … all while sweat drips down my back.
Yeah, that’s a good visual, huh?!
That’s how I roll.
Okay, onto the superstar.
Kevin Acee and I decided to go to Texas long before LT decided to retire. We knew he was in a contemplative state about the game, and we knew he started a football academy that he was very involved with, and both of those factors prompted us to book the flight to Fort Worth. But the week of the trip, LT gave up the NFL and went into history books with the Chargers. That sort of changed our angle, but not really. We still wanted to go and see what his mindset was like post-retirement and what this whole LT-Academy was about … so off we went to Texas.
I mean, it’s LaDainian Tomlinson, a prolific running back who defined the Chargers organization for nearly a decade. Given the chance to go, you go.
I’m glad we did.
It was awesome to see LT in this kind of environment — coaching, mentoring, advising — and every once in a while breaking out in a little cut or run against the athletes. 🙂 Kevin and I chatted with LT throughout the weekend and talked to him for about an hour on Saturday. He was relaxed, open, super involved with the kids. He seemed very, very comfortable with retirement.
This example is trite, but it’s all I know, so I’m going to go with it. Most of you know dance was/is a huge part of my life growing up and really was my career path for nearly 12 years. I worked a full-time “real job” — you know, with timecards and benefits and stuff — and then I’d go teach for five or six hours every night. It was my passion. That was after dancing all throughout my childhood, teen and college years.
I loved it. I thrived on it.
When I chose to stop teaching to pursue my path as a sports reporter, I felt the most immense hole in my life … even though I knew it was the right decision. Dance had — and to some extent, does — define me. And when it stopped, I missed the kids, the creativity, the music, the costumes, the culture … “Dance Moms” is real, yo! It’s no joke! And you get used to that, to being a “studio brat” and having that family.
So, I can’t imagine how LT might feel come September.
What impresses me about LT is that he has a plan. He’s gotten advice from former teammates; he’s read books and forced himself to stay on a schedule (get his son ready for school, take him to school, come home, run, etc) … He wants to keep busy and “not sit on the couch,” he told me. But he also admitted he knows he’s going to have rough days.
Here’s the video:
And here’s some pictures from the trip … enjoy!
The hotel we were staying at had one of those waffle-makers, you know, where you pour the batter in and make your own. Except this is Texas! They don’t have ordinary round waffles! No sirree! They have Texas shaped waffle-makers. Kevin made one every morning … And I’d rip off the panhandle. 😉
A little interview action.
Some more interview action.
I couldn’t resist.
I have an awesome job. Really, I hate to brag, but I do. As a “new media” sports reporter, I get to travel, write, shoot videos, edit, report, create and dream up ideas centered around professional sports teams. I meet amazing people and interview athletes daily. I witness the battle on the playing field between success and failure all year long and am inspired by the tiny moments (because it’s those moments that create the big ones) where triumph beats adversity.
And sometimes I complain.
Yep. I know. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.
You know how it goes. In any job, there are complications. Support you don’t get, resources you need, people who are jerks … Those moments when even though you’ve prepared and lined things up and made seven backup plans, life decides to laugh at you anyways and kick you in the shins and make you pull an eighth out of your butt.
Sometimes, I lose perspective.
Where am I going with this, you wonder? Well, let me explain:
Bill Johnston is the public relations director for the San Diego Chargers. His wife, Ramona, has Huntington’s disease, a genetically caused brain disorder that takes away a person’s ability to walk, talk, swallow, eat and think. Slowly, that person becomes just a shell of himself or herself. It’s such a sad disease, because it robs a person of his or her spirit.
Every year, Bill and his family — along with the rest of the HD community — tirelessly raise money to help find a cure for HD. A few weeks ago, I tagged along with Bill and his daughter, Hayley, as they ran the Rock-And-Roll Marathon in support of HD:
My life decisions often include what I’m going to wear the next day, or if I’ll have carbs for lunch, or whether or not I can cover a story. Maybe *sometimes* I might think about my future, and if I’ll marry or have a family or where my career might be in ten years. Hayley faces a decision of whether or not to be tested for a disease that she very well could have … A disease that would make all other decisions trivial. Stop. Think about that for a second. Think about one of your kids having to face that.
And Hayley is so strong.
The thing about Bill and Hayley is that they are two of the funniest, most optimistic, friendly, professional people you will ever meet. They are, for lack of a better word, cool. You’d wanna hang out with them and drink beers and watch the game. Certainly I don’t know what goes on in their personal lives, but I know their courage isn’t an act.
Last night, I went to one of my favorite events of the year — the “Shoot To Cure HD” event. It’s basically a tournament style basketball shoot-off at Chargers Park. People form teams and go at it, and usually they’ve had a few cocktails before they take their shots. 😉 It’s pretty fun. Plenty of Chargers show up, and this year, it was the coaches and defensive line that made it to the end of the tournament. Here’s some sights and sounds (excuse the poor quality — I used my old FlipCam):
Remember what I was talking about in the beginning of this post? How sometimes I forget what an awesome job I have (and life, really) because of a bad day or some jerky egotistical athlete? Well, guess what — my whole family is healthy. I am healthy. I have the choice, every day, to steer my life in any direction I choose.
Ramona does not. And depending on a test result, Hayley might not either.
I’m not trying to give you all the “don’t take life for granted” speech. But I can say that my life is changed because of Bill, Ramona, Hayley and their family. Take a second, go to an event, or simply read more about HD on this website. Help them find a cure.
Side note: I took my first motorcycle ride during the marathon, to try and find Bill and Hayley on the course. Pretty sweet huh???
I’m back from my week-long road trip with the Padres and will give you guys a post shortly about how all of THAT went. In the meantime …