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ESPN Upstate Blog

Join us here everyday for thoughts, predictions, scores, and more with some of the best sports authorities in the Upstate.  We have blogs from Greg McKinney of the Huddle, Mark Sturgis and Price Atkinson from Straight up with Sturg and guest blogs from Regie Eller!


Even in defeat, Gamecocks past the test against top-ranked Cats



COLUMBIA, S.C. - Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

A visibly fatigued USC head coach Frank Martin plopped down for his traditional postgame interview with the media after yesterday's 58-43 loss to top-ranked Kentucky and began with that exact line.

Martin then quickly added, "And today the bear got us."

But Kentucky is an awfully big bear, especially this year with the tallest collection of trees in college basketball. Only one NBA team sports a taller starting lineup the John Calipari's Wildcats.

This isn't your average UK team nor is it even your above-average. Calipari's squad embarked on something special this fall and so far hasn't disappointed, faltered or done anything to make Big Blue Nation or even the college basketball world think it will be anything but special.

"Special" in this case being the Bluegrass' ninth NCAA national championship. Special also includes the question of whether this merry bunch of Cats can put together a 40-0 season en route to No. 9. It also carries the biggest question of whether this team can in fact live up to the hysterical preseason hype and run the table.

As an objective critic and longtime college basketball observer, I've said several times on-air that I don't think this UK team will go undefeated. I think they'll lose one SEC game this season, whether it's in the regular season or conference tourney, there's a loss looming for this young but oh so talented team.

In full disclosure as a UK grad and diehard Wildcat fan, I hope there's a loss somewhere before the NCAA Tourney begins in March. If not, UK would be sitting at 34-0 before trying to win six straight and cut the nets down. The pressure would be greater than anyone could possibly imagine and law of averages wouldn't exactly be on UK's side (which I know many would be thrilled about).

Back to yesterday, the USC athletic department wheeled out every possible weapon and trick to play into the hype of welcoming the nation's No. 1 team to town before a sold-out crowd and a national TV audience on ESPN.

They handed out white "spirit" towels to students on the way in. There were fatheads, calls for Dickie V, chants and relentless heckling from garnet-clad students and of course the usual endless playings of Sandstorm. "Baseline Jesus" literally ran baseline to baseline at times, working to keep the crowd alive.

They trotted out Steve Spurrier to provide an indirect yet direct message to the football-crazed crowd and more importantly the 20 plus recruits visiting campus for the weekend.

When USC took a 24-23 lead with less than five minutes to go before halftime, the Gamecock crowd nearly took the roof off Colonial Life Arena as Calipari called timeout to settle his troops.

UK returned to the court and scored the next 11 points en route to a 34-24 halftime lead and a run that would effectively end any USC threat the rest of the way.



Make no mistake about it…the Gamecocks fired their best shot.

Martin was pleased his team showed the same passion, energy and grit it displayed while upsetting No. 9 Iowa State three weeks ago in Brooklyn.

"I'm really proud of our guys. I couldn't be prouder of our fight," Martin said. "The fight is where it needs to be."

From the very tip Carolina came out physical, pounding and leaning all over the visitors. Sitting courtside fourth row on press row, you could see Martin's style of play written all over the five Gamecock starters. They did what they had to do in order to give themselves a fighting shot. But against this type of opponent, a team that can virtually win any and every possible way, it wasn't enough.

If you would've told me in advance that USC would outrebound UK (40-28), grab 18 offensive boards, make 16 free throws and hold the Wildcats to 58 total points, I'd tell you that the Gamecocks would likely be enjoying the lead-in SportsCenter highlights all afternoon and into the wee hours of the next day.

Calipari was all over the scouting report, knowing USC didn't have any shooters or anyone who could stretch the floor. He knew Carolina would play inside-out and try to drive it into the lane repeatedly.

UK swallowed up most driving attempts up. The Cats blocked shots out of nowhere. USC point guard Tyrone Johnson even looked around after one Marcus Lee swat out of bounds, seemingly asking himself, "where did that guy come from?!?"

Talent not withstanding, Martin has his guys bought-in to how he wants to play. Slowly but surely, he's getting the type of players he wants. The upward trajectory is clearer than ever.

Whenever you test yourself against the best, it's the type of measuring stick to know where a team and program is. And they'll get another shot to test themselves again on Valentine's Day when visiting Rupp Arena.

Losing is never okay but even in defeat yesterday, Martin's Gamecocks passed this test.




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Can we now officially say its college basketball season?!?



(Below: Five of the top players in college hoops that you've likely never heard of.)

It's over folks. College football's 2014 season officially hit the record books well after midnight last night, as the smoke began to clear from Ohio State's historic dismantling of Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff title game.

I know most of my fellow Upstate sports breathern are in mourning today, crying tears of lost football action with the games now complete. And don't give me this crap about college football not being over with the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine games still to come.

It's now "officially" college basketball season for the football fans reading here. So please let me welcome you to the greatest and most exciting three months of the calendar year. I hear you football fans chuckling, snickering or even cursing me right now.

Yes, the months of January, February and most notably March, are filled with conference buzz beaters, tip-ins, controversial calls and of course everyone's favorite...upsets!

Conference games are now underway across the country and the month of January provides a snapshot of your team early in league play. By the start of February, your team will likely be in or out of the regular season conference title race. However, several teams contenders and pretenders will put together head-turning winning streaks, leaving you excited about a possible championship or bid to the NCAA Tourney.

I'll save March for later because we all know the month of March is special on the hardwood, whether it's conference tourney play or the Big Dance. It's special. And college basketball purists like myself absolutely love and devour every single minute of it.

While you were sleeping, errrrr...sleeping through the first two months of the season, while staring at nothing but the gridiron, I thought I'd bring a few things to the table over the next few days and weeks. Hopefully, these posts will help educate and arm you with more college hoops intel and info.

Here are 5 of the best players in college basketball that you likely have never heard of...

1.) Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) - Combo Guard
Gonzaga (16-1) is ranked No. 3 in the country thanks in large part to 6-foot-2 senior point/scoring guard Kevin Pangos. He can play either guard position and while his scoring is down this season (12.2 ppg) compared to last season (14.4), Pangos is the veteran go-to guy for Mark Few. Having scored 16 or more points in four of the last six games, the Canadian is one of the top three-point shooters in the country (48.1%) and is virtually automatic from the free throw line (87.8%).

UK transfer Kyle Wiljter leads the team in scoring but Pangos provides the Zags with the quality, veteran guard play that teams need to make a run in March. In addition to scoring, he hands out five assist per game and is the only Gonzaga player avergaing more than 28 minutes per game (31.7). Many think this could be Few's best shot at the Final Four since his arrival in Spokane and Kevin Pangos is a huge reason why.


2.) Delon Wright (Utah) - Point Guard
"Sack Lake City" was home to pretty good Utah football team this fall, but it's also home to one of the best and most versatile point guards in the country. Like in football, Utah senior Delon Wright is what I call an "all-purpose" point guard. At 6-foot-5, Wright has got outstanding size and plays both ends of the floor. His scoring this year (14.9 ppg) has dipped a tad since his first-team, All-Pac 12 season last year but one key stat has improved, lowering his turnovers per game from 2.5 to 1.7 per game. He's only committed three or more turnovers in three games this season, which is a big reason why the No. 8 Utes sit atop the Pac 12 at 13-2 overall and the only undefeated team in league play at 3-0.

There are few guards on the defensive end doing what the former City College of San Francisco product is producing. Besides his nearly six assists per game, Wright is averaging almost five rebounds per game to with one block and staggering two and a half steals a game.


3.) R.J. Hunter (Georgia State) - Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Only Clemson fans may recognize and know the immense talent of R.J. Hunter after the senior visited Littlejohn Coliseum in the first round of last year's NIT and dropped 15 points on one of his worst night's of the season (shooting just 4 of 16). The 6-foot-6 is one of the nation's top scorers (21.1 ppg) and is likely the top mid-major NBA Draft prospect in America.

Son of GSU head coach Ron Hunter, R.J. is the leader of the Panthers' outstanding and unheralded, three-man backcourt with UK transfer and point guard Ryan Harrow (19.1 ppg) and Louisville transfer shooting guard (8.7 ppg). GSU (10-6, 3-2 Sn Belt) has dropped two of its last-three games (by a combined seven points). But the Panthers are plenty talented led by Hunter to run thru the Sun Belt Tourney in March and grab the league's automatic NCAA bid, something they came up short on last year after being upset in the conference tourney championship.


4.) Jameel Warney (Stony Brook) - Power Forward
Who in the hell are you talking about? I know you just thought it but let me tell you about 6-foot-8 (255 pound) power forward Jameel Warney. This mountain-of-a-man down low literally anchors a Seawolves squad picked to win the America East this season. Warney leads the team in scoring (16.6) but is the top rebounder in the country (statistically), averaging 12.2 rebounds per game (almost five a game on the offensive end).

Warney went head-to-head against projected first-round NBA Draft pick, Washington seven-foot center Robert Upshaw and more than held his own inside, delivering 15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and three blocks. More importantly, the junior helped deliver Stony Brook a 62-57 over then No. 13 Washington, the Seawolves' first-ever win against a team from a Power 5 conference in school history. He was the AE's Conference Player of the Year last season and is more than on his way again this season.


5.) Bobby Portis (Arkansas) - Power Forward/Center
Sure Arkansas is a household name, especially in the world of the SEC, but Bobby Portis has largely flown under the radar and I have no clue why. Named SEC Player of the Week yesterday by the league office after averaging 26.5 ppg, 8.0 rrpg and 2.5 steals per game in a pair of wins against Georgia and Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-11 power forward could have declared for last year's NBA Draft with just one season of college ball under his belt. Thank goodness he didn't because it's been fun to watch his game flourish during his sophomore campaign.

A homegrown product, Portis returned for another season because he said at SEC Media in Charlotte that his goal is to help return the Hogs to the NCAA Tourney. Arkansas is on its way at 13-2 overall led by Portis, the SEC's leading scorer (18.1 ppg) and fifth-leading rebounder (7.8 rpg)...the only player in the SEC in the top five in both scoring AND rebounding. Expect to hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft this summer.




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Clemson, USC need taste of victory today in key games



The Clemson and South Carolina basketball teams hit the road today with both teams looking for much needed wins for similar yet different reasons. And both are coming off tough losses during the week against teams (Florida and Louisville) that will likely finish at worse fourth in their respective conferences.

As conference play is now fully underway across the country, it never helps a team's postseason chances to get out of the starting gate slow. Years ago my parents used to preach to me, as I was heading off to college, that it's much tougher to dig out of a hole academically so starting strong would benefit me in the long run. Boy...they couldn't have been more right (like most parents usually are)!

The Tigers and Gamecocks have yet to taste victory in a conference game and will face a pair of road tests today. While it's still early, both squads cannot afford an uphill conference climb.

Clemson (8-6, 0-2) is first up on the Saturday schedule with a 12 noon game at Pittsburgh. Head coach Brad Brownell and his staff have to be asking themselves who they pissed off at the ACC office to draw the ridiculous schedule of teams in their first-five league games.

The Tigers were blown out in their ACC opener against UNC that had many people, including yours truly, questioning whether this team had enough ACC-type players to compete night-in and night-out. While clearly lacking elite-level players sprinkled throughout other league rosters.

Full ACC standings

But Brownell's should what an outstanding floor coach he is, as his troops turned in an incredible effort before a hostile crowd at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville Wednesday night. Facing Louisville and Hall of Famer Rick Pitino's team in their first-ever, home ACC game, Clemson took a 22-18 halftime lead thanks to All-America forward Montrezl Harrell's foul trouble.

The Cards came out of the locker room stroking the ball from deep and turned up their fullcourt, pressure defense on the Tigers, who took at least one if not two standing-eight counts, falling behind by 11 midway thru the second half. Clemson continued grinding away and were down just three points inside of a minute before falling to UofL, 58-52.

Pittsburgh (11-4, 1-1) had a down year by program standards and are looking to climb the ladder toward an NCAA bid this season. The Panthers don't have quite the elite horses from year's past, but still present a formidable challenge for Clemson. However, this is a game Clemson could easily walk in and "steal" from Pitt, thanks to their defensive and rugged mentality on the boards, something that's also been a hallmark of every Dixon-coached team.

On the flip side, South Carolina (9-4, 0-1) dropped a tough 72-68 loss to visting Florida Wednesday night. The Gamecocks and Gators were tied midway thru the second half when USC was called for a questionable flagrant foul, which Florida turned into a 7-0, tiebreaking run and the Gators never trailed again the rest of the way.

Frank Martin's team might be the most improved in the SEC so far this season, getting a signature non-conference win recently over No. 9 Iowa State. His squad travels west to take on Ole Miss (9-5, 0-1) in the "Tad Pad" this afternoon at 5 pm.

Full SEC standings

The Rebels took top-ranked Kentucky to overtime before losing a game they should have won, so Ole Miss will be looking to erase a similar taste the Gamecocks also have in their collective mouths. Still, USC is better equipped to compete and battle nightly in the SEC led by their three-man backcourt of Duane Notice (12.7 ppg), Sindarius Thornwell (11.0 ppg) and Tyrone Johnson (10.2).

Rotating five different post players into the mix has given Martin needed depth inside, led by sophomore Demetrius Henry (7.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and a pair of Lithuanians in Laimonas Chatkevicius (10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Mindaugas Kacinas (7.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

Tonight is a huge opportunity for USC to even its league record in Oxford. Two of the Gamecocks' next three games in Columbia are all winnable before UK vistis the Palmetto state in what could be the most meaningful game of the Martin era.

But has USC finally "arrived" under Martin? Are the Gamecocks an outside contender for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament?

I think those are two big questions many are left wondering after USC's strong start. Ole Miss has a strong squad and are one of the four or five other SEC teams that Carolina is battling for an at-large bid.

A great day of basketball is ahead and we'll see if Clemson and Carolina can pull off needed road wins that would give both a shot in the arm.

Other notable games today:
  • No. 5 Louisville at No. 18 UNC (2 pm, ESPN)
  • No. 3 Virginia at No. 13 Notre Dame (6 pm, ESPN2)
  • No. 10 Texas at Oklahoma State (5 pm, ESPNU)
  • No. 17 Iowa State at No. 14 West Virginia (8 pm, ESPN2)
  • No. 22 Ohio State at Indiana (12 noon, ESPN)

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Photos and your vote: Sturg and Price's #bestselfie challenge from Orlando



If you followed any of our posts from Orlando, then you know about the #bestselfie challenge between Sturg and I that was suggested as an idea en route to the Sunshine state. I issued and he accepted, though I think he was a bit skeptical at first.

However, we quickly hammered out the basics and got it started. Basics being very simple: capture a selfie with the most atrractive female(s) but evolved as we went to include most unique, fun and even group pics. At stake: loser buys the winner overpriced, $7 drinks on the hour flight home. 

Started as in I layed down the first skin by asking our "exotic" looking (Sturg's description) Allegiant Air flight attendant (her name being withheld because she was so cool and enthusiatically willing to participate) for a selfie as we were getting off the plane in Orlando. With that one below, #bestselfie was officially off and running...




After several entries the next morning and afternoon, we walked across the street to where the pep rallies for both teams were scheduled to be held in the outdoor plaza at Pointe Orlando. The two of us sat down to grab a quick snack at some Mexican joint when all of a suddent Sturg disappeared. Gone for at least 10 minutes, I started thinking, "where in the hell did he run off to?!?"

All of a sudden, Sturg walks back into the restaurant with a s^%t-eating grin a mile wide. He pulls out his phone and says, enjoy this and declares the contest officially over. Winner winner chicken dinner with his photo at the very top here, surrounded by eight Oklahoma cheerleading beauties...




Loving a challenging and competition, I immediately went downstairs and immersed myself into #bestselfie madness...

    


Things carried on swimmingly until gameday. Knowing the Citrus Bowl and field would provide multiple opportunties to put a nail in each other's coffin, Sturg and I officially declared it a #bestselfie draw after these two games...

 
 

Many of you will likely point out the obvious...that some of these aren't in fact "selfies." Duh, it simply became about the chase! Heck I busted out my iPhone several times, ready to snap a particular selfie, and next thing I know someone is offering to that the picture. Guess it had something to do with being in such a touristy area?

We had several personal favorites along the way, including Sturg with an attempt to get locked up...



And this one because ESPN's Jeannine Edwards lived up to being one of the nicest in the business...



There were just too many "official entries" by both of us to post here, so check out the complete #bestselfie photo gallery below...

 
 


Upon viewing the complete gallery of entries above, have some fun with us and weigh-in and vote for who you think "brough it!"  Maybe we'll have the loser buy a delicious bottle of "Smoke On The Water" labeled wine one night on the show. 

Regardless of the outcome, Sturg and I had a lot of fun with it and something tells me our 93.3 The Planet friend Diesel will be proud!


Who won Sturg and Price's ESPN Upstate #bestselfie challenge in Orlando?
Sturg
Price
Neither!
Poll Maker


Previous: 
ESPN Upstate is heading to Orlando! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Day 1..actually more like 9 pm at night! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty! (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...morning edition/rushing out of the Best Western Plus (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...pep rallies, selfies and Victoria Secret! (12/28)

Orlando blog: Day 3...Gameday morning, a parking boot, Vic Secret layaway, more (12/29)
Orlando blog: We're LIVE at the Russell Athletic Bowl! (12/29)
Orlando blog: Day 4...Celebrating, Allegiant sucks, a Disney visit, coming home (12/30)


 
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Locations : Orlando




 

Orlando blog: Day 4 (Celebrating, Allegiant sucks, Disney visit, coming home)




What a trip. What a win. A win that nobody, including every single person we talked to at the Russell Athletic Bowl last night. 

Clemson’s 40-6 drubbing of the Sooners certainly makes for a fun trip and experience when you haul your butt down all the way down to Orlando, even if you know the Tropicana suntan lotion you packed will be put to use in late December. For the record, I did refuse in fact to apply it to Sturg’s back poolside one afternoon during the 10 minutes of free time we had!

Winning creates great content and excitement for Sturg and I, including outstanding postgame interviews (Mackensie Alexander last night specifically…more below) and calls from our callers on “The Xtra Point” postgame show. 

Looking back on last night and everything we experienced on the field in the final minutes and afterwards, it’s hard to figure out where to start. But there no doubt that you have to begin with senior Cole Stoudt and the poetic, storybook ending he walked off the field. 

I spent all of maybe a second at best deciding who to vote for with my MVP ballot last night before heading to the field…Cole was the CLEAR choice and glad he won it. How can you write it up any better by playing you best career game in your final collegiate game after enduring criticism (most of which was undeserved) all season from your fan base as the legend of Deshaun Watson grew?

Last night I was in the right place at the right time on the field after the trophy presentation when Cole walked over to the stands and embraced his parents before walking off holding his MVP trophy. The video went viral immediately on Twitter because of how special the moment was…





And here’s Cole walking off the field for the final time with that trophy held high…




One of the strange yet high points for us last night was when out-of-the-blue, Clemson stud Mackensie Alexander ran up to Sturg and I saying, “Are y’all doing the post game show on the radio afterwards??? Well you make sure to tell him (WR Sterling Shepard), who I shutdown all night after his trash talking that I’m the best DB in the country and next year I’m gonna show it when I’m first-team All-American."

After he delivered that imperative and resolute declaration of his own trash talk to Sturg, I immediately broke out my digital recorder for an interview right there and asked him to repeat it again. And Sturg captured his animated post game interview with me…




I scored numerous other great shots on the field last night. Photos ranged from Clemson President Dr. James Clements and several the Board of Trustees, to senior Grady Jarrett with his family, Cole and Dabo embracing after their ESPN postgame interview w/ sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards
 
 

Speaking of scoring, I don’t know how or where Sturg scored an official, hot-of-the-press Russell Athletic Bowl championship t-shirt but next thing I know he’s tossing me a XXXL tee that the players were putting on. Yeah, I thought the same damn thing…size triple-fat?!? I might see if my wife, two kids and I can all fit in it this weekend just for the kicks…




Walking off the field to the media post game interview room, I saw text and tweets coming in that several people had seen me on ESPN late in the game, snapping a pic of Clemson DB T.J. Green who had just picked off another Trevor Knight pass and was standing there when he began saluting. 

Here’s a screen cap that our 93.3 The Planet bud Diesel shot me…and I thought it was cool to show what I was actually shooting when TJ saluted on the sideline after the INT…

 


After grabbing audio and interviews for the postgame show, I RAN…actually, more like sprinted my you-know-what-off down to the Varsity Club where Sturg and I hosted “The Xtra Point” for the final time this season. It was actually a massive room that was turned into the photographers (and TV) workroom where our WYFF, Fox Carolina, Greenville News, Anderson Independent-Mail and Tigernet friends among at least 50-60 other news outlets filed photos and cut video.

Special thanks to so many people, including Don Munson who joined Sturg and I in the final hour last night. Don has been a class act all the way and we both really appreciate his friendship. We were a bit struck when he told us on the air that he didn’t know if that was his final game calling Clemson football and whether he’d be back next year. Regardless, he was great by giving us and our listeners time after every game this season.




After we both were screamed at by a security guard that the final media shuttle was leaving the stadium at midnight (keep in mind we didn’t go off the air until right at midnight). We asked him if they’d wait 3 or 4 minutes just so we could pack up and still catch the shuttle. But the security guard was a total jerk and said “I’m sorry it’s leaving at midnight. Period!” 

Shoutout alert: A BIG thank you to Tigernet’s Tommy Crumpton and his wife for having the shuttle driver hold the bus and to Fox Carolina’s Aaron Cheslock for giving Sturg and lift back to the hotel for the festive, postgame fun.

Today, we slept in and got a few winks of rest after several exhaustive days. 

In order to blow off some steam and kill a few hours before our 5:45 pm Allegiant flight home, we drove down to Downtown Disney in search of a few trinkets to bring home...




My wife had me FaceTime her and go piece-by-piece thru all of the Mr. Potato Head pieces that she was unable to grab, while at an Orlando conference last month. Dodging Japanese and European tourists galore and battling the 100% humidity, my wife and I worked our way thru the items as she directed me what to fill the box with. Mission accomplished and my two and four-year old are gonna enjoy their new treat when Dad gets home!

Sturg and I made sure we had a tad bit of fun there before heading back north to Orlando Sanford International Airport for our return flight home...

   


After a rainy search and a delicious made-for-three lunch platter at TGI Fridays near Sturg's old Full Sail University stomping grounds, we went directly to the airport in the rain and traffic (never a good recipe when rushing thru a large city in order to catch a flight).

Upon hitting the Allegiant Air desk, we were rudely informed by the b%*ch working the counter that we didn't have the correct boarding passes. She even decided it was K-5 drawing time and drew arrows on the wrong passes to show we the wrong ones. Sturg was ready to go off. And I was too.

Then she informed us that it would be $5 per person to print our boarding passes and Sturg was none too happy with it (and he shouldn't have been). He was like, "you gotta be kidding me...do you have to nickel and dime everything including down to the cost of paper and ink to print them?!?" And then he looked at me before declaring resolutely and loud enough to make sure she heard it: "I don't think we'll be flying this airline again!"

As soon as we finally finished at the check-in counter, knowing he was a bit ticked, I decided to get Sturg's thoughts on the matter...





Let me say real quick, I can't tell you how much I love Sturg. I don't make fun and have a blast with people who aren't close friends. And Sturg is beyond a close friend...he's family. I love him like a brother, which is why I can joke and jab him with pics, videos and overall shenanigans. And at the end of the day, he's just a great sport and has fun with it.

We had a total blast during these four days but ultimately, this experience was about bringing it all to you and our listeners. It's about what you want and we tried to deliver. 

I'm now home and need to grab a bit of sleep and cold one so for the final time with "Blog Orlando," I'm signing off. Thanks to all of you who took the time to read and check out our ESPN Upstate blog. You all are the ones who make this possible.

And just to conclude in propoer fashion...go Tigers!





Previous: 
ESPN Upstate is heading to Orlando! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Day 1..actually more like 9 pm at night! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty! (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...morning edition/rushing out of the Best Western Plus (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...pep rallies, selfies and Victoria Secret! (12/28)

Orlando blog: Day 3...Gameday morning, a parking boot, Vic Secret layaway, more (12/29)
Orlando blog: We're LIVE at the Russell Athletic Bowl! (12/29)


 
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Orlando blog: We're live at the Russell Athletic Bowl!



Feels like it's taken forever but the eagle HAS in fact landed and Sturg and I are live from the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando!

As a reminder, today's Russell Athletic Bowl is scheduled to kickoff at 5:30 pm on ESPN and we're here live and behind the scenes until we wrapup the season on our final "The Xtra Point" postgame show on 93.3 The Planet

Have some fun with us thru the next several hours pre, during and postgame! Off we go!!

3:30 pm - After a fairly lengthy detour by our media shuttle driver to get into the Citrus Bowl, we finally said screw it, while they talked to a police officer directing traffic and we all just went ahead and unloaded the shuttle to walk the final block. Ridiculous!

3:33 - Here's a quick snippet of our long ride in to the stadium...




3:41 - We did catch our buds from WYFF Marc Dopher and Brad Fralick out the shuttle window on our way in, stopping at an incredibly sketch and questionable gas station. What the heck was Dopher thinking hitting this place up because outside the Citrus Bowl is a warzone...




3:42 - Also, upon hitting the ground and walking in, Sturg and I were immediately impressed and surprised by the large number of Clemson fans outside the Citrus Bowl. The Tigers definitely have more orange outside than the Sooners have red and white. And impressive showing so far by the Clemson fans...




3:55 - Now that we're inside the stadium, here's our stadium viewing spot and seat (from about 30 minutes ago)...




4:02 - And now a smattering off Clemson and Oklahoma players now starting to make their way onto the field for some early warmups and to get loose...




4:09 - Just for the record because we've had several people ask, yes Sturg and I's #Bestselfie contest is still ongoing. There's been debate as to who's in the lead, whether it's Sturg with the OU cheerleaders or mine with our Allegiant Air flight attendant. But the battle rages on and we'll have more entries by the end of the evening!

4:17 - Here's another shot from a bit earlier...Sturg testing out our equipment in "The Varsity Club" here at the stadium where we'll do tonight's "The Xtra Point" postgame show. It's also the photographers' workroom where they'll file photos during and immediately after the game. Just hope it's cleared out a bit by the time we go on around 9:30 pm...




4:25 - Sturg and I are about to head down onto the field, so we'll be back a bit later. Going to try and draw a few #Bestselfie entries as well as photos and videos from the players, coaches and crowd. Back shortly!

5:11 - Okay, just got back up from about 45 minutes on the field and will be posting a flurry of updates.

5:12 - Here's the Tigers hitting the field, including who walked without much of a limp if any...





5:14 - Here's a great group shot of the quarterbacks with Cole, Deshaun and company...




5:22 - Here's the Tiger wide receivers warming up...




5:25 - The Tigers hitting the field, while the orange-clad faithful stand in ovation...





5:29 - OU starting LT Darryl Williams is a MOUNTAIN of a man. Massive...




5:32 - Clemson's defensive line is gonna have their hands full with these guys...





5:34 - We're just about a two minutes from kickoff!

5:37 - Clemson wins the toss and deferred to the second half.

5:40 - And here's the kickoff from the Russell Athletic Bowl!





5:42 - Wow...Clemson's defense forces a three-and-out on the Sooners' first possession. The Tigers' then draw first blood with an Artvais Scott, 65-yard TD pass on Clemson's first play from scrimmage. Clemson 7-0 (1st quarter, 13:26)

5:51 - Thanks to a bonehaded offsides by Oklahoma, the Tigers get a second chance the FG and Lakip drills it from 34 yards, as Clemson builds an early 10-0 lead (1st quarter, 8:21)

5:55 - Sturg is reading off texts from Angry Zack back at the studio, asking him to tell the Indy Colts scout behind us to trade up for Cole Stoudt. LMAO!!!

6:01 - Wow, what a pick by Clemson's Korrin Wiggins and the Tigers are back inside the Sooners' 20-yard line!

6:02 - Stoudt sacked on thrid down. Lakip smothers a 42-yard FG attempt.

6:14 - Clemson LB Ben Boulware picks off a Trevor Knight pass and return it 47 yards for a Clemson TD! Tigers lead 17-0 at the end of the 1st quarter!

6:15 - Clemson has now picked off two passes in the opening quarter today. 

6:22 - From the field before kickoff, Sturg and my battle for the trip's #bestselfie continued. After these we just might have to call it a push!

 


6:24 - Lakip comes back in and this time, knocks home a career long 49-yard FG, pushing the Tigers lead to 20-0. (2nd quarter, 14:00)

6:28 - Dare we say this thing just may get out of hand sooner than later? Wow, what an opening first 18 minutes for the Tigers.

6:32 - Somewhere I can hear ESPN Upstate producer Lonzo fuming and likely throwing up a Facebook post on his page resembling something like: LONZO NEEDS TO GO OUT AND GET SOME AIR. LONZO NOT VERY HAPPY RIGHT NOW. LONZO HOPES THE SOONERS COMEBACK.

6:41 - And the rout is officially on...Clemson WR Mike Williams with a bigtime move to scoot down the sideline and dive in for a 26-yard TD. Tigers now up 27-0 (2nd quarter, 7:34)

6:46 - Speaking of LONZO, I don't think he's gonna end having the "best football week ever!"



6:48 - Turning my head back to the field, the Clemson D forces another Sooner punt. Could it be Nick Schuessler time? Just kidding!!

6:57 - Wow, the Sooners with their third turnover of the half, fumbling the ball and recovered by frosh LB Ben Boulware. Yet another big play from the Anderson native this half. Starter Stephone Anthony waiting in the wings to play in the second half (after having to sit due to his targeting suspension vs USC).

7:03 - The Sooners finally get a show of mercy....by the game clock ticking down to zero. Halftime!

7:04 - HALFTIME: No. 17 Clemson 27, Oklahoma 0.

7:05 - Sorry guys but I'm going in search of food now! Back in a bit!!

7:22 - Does this something odd about this photo from the men's bathroom in the press box? Something missing? 



7:27 - WHAT A LETDOWN! No Buffalo Wild Wings grub at halftime. Was holding out hope that even though they're the sponsor of Thursday's game that some BWW would find its way in here tonight. No dice. 

7:28 - The usual rubber chicken, potatoes and crap as usual. 

7:32 - Here's the media line/scrum for the crappy halftime, non-BWW meal...




7:40 - Second half is underway...I'm waiting on a Rocky IV/Ivan Drago moment, where Bob Stoops yells from the sideline "Stop the fight!" and literally tossing the white towel onto the field. 

7:42 - In typical Sturg fashion, he's nowhere on earth to be found. Maybe he's downstairs setting up our radio equipment for the postgame show? Maybe he caught a cab to a nearby Victoria Secret looking for more last-minute deals he didn't get at Pointe Orlando? Maybe he's at the bar already because he can't bear to watch anymore of this beadown?

7:46 - Quick shot of the secondary press box that includes Sturg (who of course isn't here) and yours truly...




7:52 - Reminder: Sturg and I will have postgame show about 45-50 minutes after the game ends on 93.3 The Planet. Give us a shout 800-774-0093 or hit us on the Carolina Vapor Mill text line: 72341. It's the last one of the season!




8:01 - While Clemson is on the move again, think this #bestselfie just might be "Winner, winner, chicken dinner" for me?!?




8:05 - PS - Still wondering what type of Facebook post he'lll gte creative with and toss up later, congratulating the victors. 

8:09 - Stoudt takes a cheap shot by an OU player ripping his helmet off, while throwing an absolutely gorgeous over-the-shoulder, 24-yard TD to Hopper in the corner of the endzone. Clemson's curb stompin' is now 41-0. (3rd quarter, 4:18)

8:14 - End of the 3rd quarter: Clemson 41, Oklahoma 0.





 
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Day 3: Gameday morning (parking boot, Vic Secret layaway, more)



This is what Sturg and I came for...gameday! As you can see, our fearless leader (above) is ready for some Boomer Sooner. 

It's Clemson vs. Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl this afternoon in the Florida Citrus Bowl with kickoff set for 5:30 pm on ESPN. Last night after we shut it off, we headed over to Pointe Orlando for a nice dinner and nightcap with a few writer buds, including the sharp-dressed Aaron Brenner from The Post & Courier (man, that dude has some stylish flair and swagger). 

I haven't slept til 9:30 am in ages (mostly because I have 2 and 4-year old at home and they're up at 6:30 am daily). It was delightful as I rose to a still sacked-out Sturg over there and headed out for a quick 20-minute jog along International Boulevard where we're staying. And it really is a beautiful flat stretch of tourist scenery...




I ended my run across the street at Pointe Orlando and back to the Victoria Secret where Sturg took advantage of yesterday's after-Christmas sale to see if one of his items he had on layaway was ready to be picked up. The incredibly attractive tall brunette told me the lotion set would be ready after lunch today.

(Call me crazy but something tells me my sidekick has a New Year's Eve party cooked up that doesn't involve Entercom New Year's Eve shindig at the Crowne Plaza in Greenville.)

Anyway, last night Sturg pulled into our hotel parking lot looking for a place to park our Gamecock-red Hyundai Elantra. Hoping to find something and avoid the astronomical daily parking fee, Sturg spotted the Wallgreens parking lot right next door and asked, "you think we'd be okay if we park right here?"  Me: "Sure, looks alright. Go for it bro." 

Famous last words when trying to outsmart the parking police, while attempting internally to pretend we didn't see the typical business sign, "Lot is for Walgreens customers only. Violators will be towed..." You all know the feeling and have been there before.

I was walking back from grabbing a quick McDonald's breakfast burrito when I strolled past the Wallgreens lot and saw our car, safe and out. But it dawned on me I needed something to really rattle Sturg's chain and light a fire under his seat on gameday morning.

I got back up to the room and was on the phone with our program manager Mark Hendrix and told him on speaker for Sturg to hear thru the bathroom door while showering, "Hendrix, we have a problem and need your help. I was walking back from McD's and noticed a boot on our Elantra downstairs....

Sturg thru the bathroom door: "What, the f^$k, are you serious?!?!"

Me to Hendrix: "What do you think we should do?

Sturg again thru the shower door: "Price, PLEASE tell me you are f%*#ing kidding with me?"

Hendrix to me: "Are you serious? Guys, that's not good."

Me to Hendrix (laughing unable to continue this a second further): "I can't do this anymore...I'm totally yanking his chord." (while hearing more offensive language coming from Sturg thru the bathroom door).

Safe to say...I thoroughly rattled his chain this morning. Hehehe. No, I'm not a bad friend I promise because I love Sturg!




Personally, I'm excited to see the new rennovations to the Florida Citrus Bowl that took place in the offseason. We haven't been over to the stadium yet but plan to take the media shuttle up to the stadium around 2:00 pm. But ESPN Upstate will be in the house today...




The Citrus Bowl is about 15 minutes away and one of the first things we need to do at the stadium is find the designated spot we've been given to broadcast the final two-hour postgame show "The Xtra Point" on 93.3 The Planet after the game tonight.

Sturg and I will also bring you another live, in-game blog starting a few hours before kickoff once we get in and settled on press row. We're still going strong to see who can deliver the #Bestselfie at the conclusion of the trip with the loser buying drinks on the flight home.

Who knows what Sturg and I will get into once we get to the stadium but I can assure you it'll be fun and we'll bring it all to you here, via Twitter, Facebook and of course on "The Xtra Point" tonight. Stay tuned and we'll check back in live from the Citrus Bowl in just a short while!


Previous: 
ESPN Upstate is heading to Orlando! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Day 1..actually more like 9 pm at night! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty! (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...morning edition/rushing out of the Best Western Plus (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...pep rallies, selfies and Victoria Secret! (12/28)







 
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Orlando blog: Day 2 (pep rallies, selfies and Victoria Secret!)




Sturg and I finally had a moment to take a deep breath this afternoon as we finished up here at the Rosen Plaza media hotel and then went down the street to get checked into our digs at the Rosen Centre (yeah a lot of Rosens along International Drive).

After checking in, we parked and set out on foot across the street to Pointe Orlando (a.k.a. "Tourist Trap Central") where you can find a good meal for about three times the cost as Woodruff or Pelham Road in Greenville. But that's where the official Russell Athletic Bowl pep rallies for Oklahoma and Clemson were being held.

Sturg hadn't eaten all day, so we strolled thru and found a Mexican joint upstairs around 3:15 pm to grab a drink and afternoon snack. This place has a smattering of Clemson fans on the patio outside but inside it was packed with Minnesota Gopher fans here for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl against Mizzou on January 1.

We asked why there were so many Gopher fans to which they replied two things: 1) They hadn't been to a New Year's Day Bowl in 50 years and 2) DId we know how cold it was back in Minneapolis-St. Paul? Answer: 21 degrees. Yeah guys, I'd get the heck outta there too!



After chatting with the Gopher fans behind us, I turned around to chat with Sturg again...but damn he was gone! Where, oh where did he go? All of a sudden he comes back with a big, large grin on his face...




Alright Sturg, yes indeed...you are now ahead in the #Bestselfie contest between the two of us. No questions asked. I'd have a grin about that wide as well.

We finished up and decided to head outside where the Oklahoma band was firing up and damn were they good. I don't know if it was his selfie with the OU cheerleaders that got him in the mood or the huge 50% sale sign in the window....but Sturg decided it was time to check out Victoria Secret's after-Christmas markdowns and sales by leaving me on the patio solo. 




Leaving me all alone there on the patio while he decides to take advantage of shopping sales, I hope he at least got his wife something good in there!

We moved down into the OU pep rally and were both immediately struck but how few Sooner fans there were but also how damn good their band was...





After OU finished, it didn't take the Tigers' long to get started as Tiger Rag quickly began playing over the loudspeakers. I decided to try and use some of the time before it really got under way to catch up in the #Bestselfie department after his OU cheerleaders pic. So I went for it..



And just for good measure...

 

The Clemson pep rally got going and faithful in Orange really brought it compared to the Sooner fans. Here's some of the sights and sounds...


 


My buddy David Hood from Tigernet told me he got a text from Dabo and that he was on the way. I looked behind a tree over by the stage and sure enough, there he was. Dabo then got up and addressed the crowd...





Stoops didn't make it to OU's pep rally, but huge kudos and props to Dabo for taking the time to come over. He said he had just addressed the team for the last time today before game prep tomorrow. He was fired up in typical Dabo style and had the Clemson crowd lathered up...imagine that?




Here's an overhead view of the action about five minutes before it wrapped up...




Sturg and I are now preparing to go on-air on ESPN Upstate live from the Rosen Plaza outdoor patio overlooking the pool for our "Bowl Preview Special." We'll be live from approx 7:45 pm until around 9:15 pm. Hop in with us and your thoughts on the game tomorrow at 844-GSP-ESPN! 


Previous: 
ESPN Upstate is heading to Orlando! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Day 1..actually more like 9 pm at night! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty! (12/28)
Orlando blog: Day 2...morning edition/rushing out of the Best Western Plus (12/28)


 
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Orlando blog: Day 2 (morning edition/rushing out of the Best Western Plus)




I awoke to my screaming iPhone alarm this morning at 9:05 am. After hitting the pillow around 3 am and 6 hours of sleep later, it was go-time this morning with little time to waste. Lucky for me Sturg doesn't (or at least didn't) snore last night, so I was able to recharge my batteries a tad before an already busy day so far today. 

You've read last night's installment/blog of everything that went down, so let's get today. Because this morning started with a flurry...

Last night at Budget Rental Car, they told us to get up and call at 9:00 am to see if they had a car ready for us yet. I woke up and called over there immediately to check on our vehicle's status (while Sturg milked out 15 more minutes of sleep on me). Time was short because we had to make the 45-minute drive from Orlando Sanford Interntional Airport down into Orlando for the final Russell Athletic Bowl coaches press conference set for 11:00 am.

Quick showers, the free continental breakfast gone (because we were too late) and out of complimentary coffee, Sturg and I caught the 10:00 am shuttle from our Best Western Plus digs back over to the airport to grab our car. Luck was working in our favor with no line at Budget (we were due after last night's hour wait for a taxi at 1:00 am). 

As a former Orlando resident, Sturg knows the tricks to get around this joint. That trick primarly revolves around staying away, far away, from I-4 traveling thru the heart of Orlando with all the tourists, bowl goers, Disney World visitors, etc. 

So after traveling thru at least five-six toll booths (including one Sturg didn't even see and completely blew threw while flapping gums on the phone to a former college roommate now in Texas). The last toll we hit on our way to the Renaissance Sea World hotel for the press conferences was a long one. Try like a 15-minute wait long (see the line of cars below)...




En route I was tweeting to the @RussellAthBowl folks that we were racing there to which they replied "Be safe!" Oh don't worry, Sturg always is when it comes to hauling butt to get from point A to B!  "Sturg speed" is faster than I drive but fast enough where he never gets a speeding ticket...except that one time back in October (watch it all unfold with Sturg and York County's finest).

Only 15 minutes late, we rushed in and who do we say first upon walking into the Renaissance Hotel? Why it's Clemson's famous fan "Clemson Tom!" (below) Okay, that's a 100%, completely debatable point to which I'd agree with the majority of Clemson fans who disagree.

However, I think Sturg may have his first entry into the #ESPNUpstatebestselfie contest during the trip with his Clemson Tom selfie. Here's the deal: between the two of us, whoever scores the best selfie, then loser buys the other drinks on our Allegiant flight home Tuesday afternoon. Sturg think he sees a sure-fire win with the Oklahoma cheerleaders on the sideline tomorrow afternoon. But little does he know I've got another ace in the hole. :)




To be quite honest, I'm not sure if Clemson Tom was signing autographs for Clemson's Cole Stoudt or Joe Gore there in the lobby or if it was the other way around. But all were chummy and in good spirits. 

We rushed into the Coral Ballroom late but in time to catch most of Dabo's press conference, most of which the Clemson media has already heard him talk about before. But he did hit on a few new/interesting things including new co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott calling plays from the booth tomorrow for the first time, his initial phone call to Brent Venables (who he said he didn't know but knew of) that ended up lasting three hours and about meeting former OU head coach Barry Switzer and Coach Bob Stoops during recruiting once he got to Clemson.





It was a pretty packed house with both the Oklahoma and Clemson media contingents in attendance. Can anyone spot our fearless leader Sturg below? 




Dabo was all smiles this morning, especially when asked if he though Oklahoma was a dangerous oppoent (as a journalist, you've GOT to ask something better than a dumb/half-baked question like that because what else is he gonna say?)...




And here's what the Tigers and Sooners are playing for...doesn't it just make you want to play harder to bring back to campus?!? LOL...




We chatted with several of South Carolina's fine media contingent and friends including Aaron Brenner and Gene Sapakoff (The Post & Courier), WYFF's Brad Fralick, David and Nikki Hood (Tigernet.com) and Clemson play-by-play voice Don Munson before making our way out to to the media hotel for check-in. 

Sturg of course goes hob-nobbing and chats with Clemson AD Dan Radakovich and then Clemson President Dr. James Clements and his wife Beth en route to the official bowl luncheon. Sturg lays a "solid" foundation during his 30-seconds interlude with Clemson's finest in time for me to make it over and capitalize on Clements inviting my wife to the President's Box for the Georgia State game as the Clemson Staff Member of the Game. 

I called wifey immediately upon finishing our convo with the Clements to relay (and score major brownie points with her) that Dr. Clements said, "You tell her that she's a rising star." Boom...that made my day, and also made me a proud husband. 




Tonight we'll have our special, live "Bowl Preview Show" presented by Meritus Signature Homes and Southern First Bank live on ESPN Upstate from 7:30-9:00 pm. Tune in as Sturg and I will bring you the latest from the ground here in Orlando, interesting news, nuggets, guests from Clemson and Oklahoma as well as a little fun from our trip so far. Of course we'll be taking your calls tonight as well so hit us up: 844-GSP-ESPN



Sturg has evidently scoped out an outdoor, second-level patio spot to do the show tonight, overlooking the pool. I'll do my best to keep his head-in-the-game during the show rather his attention wandering, scoping for thong-wearing Northern ladies and foreigners poolside, who think this 80 degrees is some kind of Southern heat wave.

We're headed to the Oklahoma (4:00 pm) and Clemson (4:45 pm) pep rallies shortly to score a few interviews for tonight. And I'll be on the prowl for more quality #ESPNUpstatebestselfie, so Sturg is buying my drinks on the way home. 

Anything you want to know or see, hit Sturg (@SturgisSports) or me (@PriceAtkinson) up on Twitter or post your comment below. Catch you all again here shortly!

Previous: 
ESPN Upstate is heading to Orlando! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Day 1..actually more like 9 pm at night! (12/27)
Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty! (12/28)


 
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Orlando blog: Finally, we've arrived and it wasn't pretty!



The eagle has landed! And let me tell you, the eagle had quite a bumpy path to said landing here at the Best Western Plus hotel in Sanford, Florida!

It's about 1:35 am as I sit here and type this and Sturg and I just walked into our lovely and also packed accommodations (see pic below). After an hour delay leaving Asheville, almost lost radio equipment upon arrival at the Orlando Sanford International Airport and an hour wait in line for a taxi and then our cabbie's story about looking for hookers, our shoes are finally off.



Let me start and lead you to how we arrived here at the lovely Best Western shall I?

A scheduled 9:50 pm departure time out of Asheville turned into a 11:00 pm departure and we touched down in Orlando about 12:10 am. During the flight down, I challenged Sturg to who could take the best/hottest selfie during our trip. Sturg agreed and said he was up for the challenge by declaring "Alright, I'll go to the Oklahoma sideline pregame and snap a pic with the OU cheerleaders and it's over." 

Well folks, I drew first blood in our #ESPNUpstatebestselfie contest. Have a look at one of our Allegiant Air flight attendants. Leaving the flight, I told her I had a bet with my buddy (Sturg) that I couldn't get a selfie with her. She immediately declared herself the "selfie queen" and after the second take, here ya go...




Still smarting from drawing first blood, I followed Sturg downstairs to baggage claim where we went to claim my bag and our radio equipment case. My bright Kentucky blue bag was waiting on the luggage belt but our equipment was nowhere to be found. All luggage had been loaded off the plane and they were done. Cue it: Sturg's frustration meter began to register and I mean at a solid level 5 (our former intern Kevin Thomas will know what I'm talking about). 

I said, "hang tight, let's ask somebody" after he belted a few choice words. We found someone who looked the part of an airport worker, she radioed to baggage claim and they said they had an "equipment case." Here came it came directly to us....and crisis #1 was averted. 

Upon walking out of the airport (to what would be our next obstacle/challenge being the taxi line), I "interviewed" Sturg about the equipment case and "what ifs,"...





We then worked our way out to the taxi line. Yes, let me stop right there. I've flown into a lot of airports around the country and have never, ever had to wait at any major city airport to pickup a taxi. That all changed tonight. After getting the radio equipment, we got in line (see below) at approx 12:20 am...



And boy, Sturg was NOT a happy camper...



Almost an hour later at 1:15 am, we got into an open taxi. Yes, one HOUR later, just to go 2.5 miles from the airport to the Best Western. Ridiculous. Sturg even looked into spending the farm just to get a last-minute rental car (and it would've been worth it).

We were lucky passengers in the Mears Taxi Service to finally get to our destination. We made quick friends with our driver named Nick who Sturg joked about getting a hotel on the "OBT" where hookers go to finish their careers. Nick quickl shot back with a story several years ago when he was driving a car-full of buds looking for a prostitute. 

I was like "uh whoa...okay." He continued with his story about cops busting him for making an illegal turn, pouring out his cup of whiskey and then being let go. Sturg and I immediately looked behind us to see if hidden HBO cameras were behind us!

I grabbed a cold one from a nearby gas station, got Sturg a few Cokes and Nick dropped us off at the packed out Best Western. Whew, the eagle has indeed landed. Room 409 down a 1960s feeling hallway painted blue and ugly green is out home for the night.




It's 2:30 am now, so I'm outta here to get some sleep before rising to call Budget for our rental car at 9:00 am tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!


 
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