Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chad Conine Hits the Texas Football Trifecta

When it comes to sports, Texas more than earns its bragging rights. The Lone Star State has produced championship teams and legendary athletes not only in football, baseball, and basketball, but in dozens of other sports as well. Chad Conine has covered Texas sports for twenty years—everything from Tuesday night high school volleyball matches to
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Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys games. His new book, Texas Sports: Unforgettable Stories for Every Day of the Year, celebrates more than a century of achievements in a day-by-day record of the people and events—both unforgettable and little-known—that have made Texas a powerhouse in the world of sports.

Chad recently braved an exhausting road trip around Texas in one weekend to cover the three pillars of football: high school Friday night lights, college game day, and the NFL. We asked him to report from the field. 

Chad Conine will be speaking and signing Texas Sports at BookPeople this Sunday, October 15th at 2 p.m. Don't miss it!

Dispatches from the Texas Football Trifecta Road Trip

The first thing I want you to know, dear reader, is that I didn’t decide to cover three different levels of football in three far-flung cities all in the same weekend as a publicity stunt. That would have been fun, possibly. Like a football version of “Amazing Race.”

But no, it wasn’t like that.

It was just the way the schedule worked out and I could see it coming a mile away, so I decided to make the most of it.

When I noticed Texas Tech was hosting an Oklahoma State team that was sure to be ranked on September 30, and the Dallas Cowboys, whom I’m covering full-time for the first time this season, was playing at noon on October 1, I knew it would be an active weekend. I figured The Sports Xchange, my usual freelancing gig for top 25 college football, would like me to cover the Red Raiders versus Oklahoma State and I consider Lubbock my territory and want to keep it. There was simply no reason to duck out of covering a high school game on Friday night, since the college game started at 7 on Saturday night, giving me plenty of time to make it from the Waco area to Lubbock. The real trick would be leaving Texas Tech’s Jones Stadium after midnight and arriving at Jerry World in Arlington, ideally by 11 a.m., while still finding time to sleep a little.

If anything, this trip was a good indication that I’m addicted to writing about football. I clearly can't say, “no.”

But luckily, my friend and fellow creative professional Jacob Robinson, couldn’t turn down the chance to go to three football games in a weekend either, so I had a good traveling buddy.


5:30 p.m. – As I packed for the weekend, I looked into my closet and instead of picking out shirts to wear to the Saturday and Sunday games, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Am I crazy for doing this?”

I like to work long days and I like being up against a deadline. But when I finish doing those things, I like to wind down by drinking a beer and then having a good long sleep. That’s not how this weekend set up, though. But sometimes the fear of sleep deprivation is worse than sleep deprivation itself. So I gave myself a pep talk.

“Just give me 48 hours,” I told my psyche, “and then we can recover on Monday.”

8:05 p.m. – Tweeted: “Fairfield RB (Kadarrius) Walker kept his feet through the hole and sprung for a 41-yard TD. Eagles 14, China Spring 0. 10:08 2Q. #TribFridayNight.”

On the drive home on Sunday, as Jacob and I discussed our favorite plays from the weekend, I picked this one. I liked the combination of Walker finding his balance and realizing he had open field in front of him, plus the fact that it gave underdog Fairfield a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter.

8:30 p.m. – It was homecoming at China Spring, which meant I had a couple of extra minutes during halftime to write up the first-half action. This is a unique function of my job on Friday nights. High school football halftime lasts 28 minutes, longer than college or the NFL. So I use that time by writing as much about the first half as possible. I think I could teach a journalism class on how well this works.

Also, if you think about it, covering high school football is the last real opportunity for sportswriters to be the ones to tell the reading audience what happened in a football game. Once you go up a level to college, every game is televised and all the highlights are available in the palms of our hands. So the men and women covering college and the NFL are trying to tell you more about a game you’ve already seen and digested, probably even by the time a game story hits the internet. But if you like high school football, then reading the Saturday morning paper is fun because you actually get to learn something about what happened on Friday night.

10:07 p.m. – When the clock hits 0:00, I always have this instinctual urge to get to the field as quickly as possible. There’s never time to waste and, even though it had been a quick game, the fact that I got stuck in a slow-moving exit row from the bleachers was making me crazy. This was partially due to an arm rail that divided the steps leading down the bleachers and, as luck would have it, the line on the other side of the arm rail was moving much faster. So I turned and asked a lady who was just behind me on the less-congested side of the arm rail to please hold up. Then I did something stupid: I put one foot on the lower bar of the arm rail and launched myself upward, hopping the upper rail and clearing it with both feet. I didn’t stick the landing, but I didn’t fall down either. It actually worked kind of perfectly, because my reckless move communicated to everyone in the bleachers that I was in a frantic hurry and willing to sacrifice my body to get to the field as quickly as possible.

11:10 p.m. – With my game story written and emailed and provisions gathered at a Stripes convenience store, Jacob and I turned the car onto Highway 6 and our attention to late-night driving conversation. I usually make this drive by myself, so talking to Jacob about rock documentaries for well over an hour made the time go by faster than usual.


1:37 a.m. – We checked in at the La Quinta in Abilene a few hours after a college football team from New Mexico, so there were only two rooms left and they were both smoking rooms. It only took one trip back to the front desk to get a key that worked, though, so I guess we came out ahead in the deal.

3:30 p.m. – We watched the Baylor vs. Kansas State game in my parents’ RV at Texas Tech’s RV tailgating lot. The action on the TV was only slightly better than that inside the motor home as my 5-year-old nephew Evan and my mom raced remote control cars. There was a lot of crashing in both.

6:15 p.m. – It’s been more than 17 years since I graduated from Texas Tech, so I don’t see a lot of familiar faces in the press box anymore. So I was very happy to see Sheila Tucker up there. Sheila was the administrative assistant in the athletic media relations office when I worked there for four years. She was my Tech mom. She retired a couple years ago, which meant I was lucky her husband Neil was making her watch the game in the press box so she didn’t yell herself hoarse in the stands. Sheila and Neil and I caught up on all things Texas Tech and Lubbock and Idalou, where they live. At halftime, I could feel a headache coming on, so I went to find Sheila, who had Advil in her purse. I guess she’s still my Tech mom.

Earlier during pregame, I visited with a student named Curry Wilson, whom I met in January at a basketball game. I always like chatting with student assistants in the press area since that’s where I spent every game day of my college life.

11:15 p.m. – Oklahoma State won a close football game, 41-34. In the postgame interview room, I realized I don’t dislike Cowboys coach Mike Gundy anymore. I know why I didn’t like him in the first place as he made it cool for football coaches to yell at reporters in 2007 when he screamed “I’m a man! I’m 40!” at a female reporter (following a win over Texas Tech, coincidentally). And I subsequently got yelled at soon thereafter. But that’s another story. I don’t know why I’m now at peace with my perception of Gundy. Maybe it’s because he’s hunkered down and done a good job at a school that faces a lot of the same challenges as Texas Tech in competing in the Big 12.


7:30 a.m. – We pulled out of the La Quinta parking lot in Sweetwater right on schedule. When the late-night drive was done and we checked into another hotel, we had given ourselves almost five hours to sleep. Then, at sunrise, we headed for Arlington.

As far as I can tell, people have one of two opinions about West Texas’s natural gifts: it is flat and ugly; and the much more thoughtful opinion that it is rugged and beautiful. I suppose you can guess where I land. Watch the sun rise over a wide valley and a plateau in the distance and see if you don’t lean to the latter viewpoint, too.

12:25 p.m. – I started to drag during the first half of the Cowboys-Rams game. And then I remembered there was coffee. Thank you, Jerry Jones, for having Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in the press box.

5:19 p.m. – The Rams defeated the Cowboys after Dallas’s offense did a second-half disappearing act. I wrote my game story and then a sidebar and went to find Jacob, who was pulling the car around. The sunshine outside of AT&T Stadium felt good, especially since I was riding the relieved, joyful wave of having successfully filed four stories in about 42 hours.

One of my rock heroes, Tom Petty, died on the Monday following our football trifecta weekend. From my college days until now, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Petty’s music and so it feels appropriate to end this story like this:

“I rolled on as the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
There's something good waitin' down this road

I'm pickin' up whatever's mine.”

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