Friday, November 22, 2013

How NC State Football Won an ACC Title on America's Saddest Day

Early in 1963, the season-finale NC State-Wake Forest football game was moved from Saturday afternoon to Friday night. State officials didn't want to have a conflict with the big game scheduled that Saturday in Durham between three-time ACC champion Duke and North Carolina.

Friday night games were not particularly rare at that time, as the gentleman's agreement between college and high school administrators that prevented Friday night college games was not yet in place. Future ACC foes Miami and Florida State had faced each other on a Friday night earlier that season.

The anticipated showdown in Durham had an added twist, thanks to NC State's surprising play throughout the regular season. The Pack beat Clemson earlier in the year, thanks to a 77-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jim Rossi to receiver Ray Barlow, the first points the Pack scored against the Tigers since 1958. In its first home game of the season -- played on Oct. 26 at crumbling Riddick Stadium -- head coach Earle Edwards' team beat three-time defending ACC champion Duke for the first time since 1947.

The only blemish on the team's record was a loss at North Carolina.

Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Pack found itself in the unexpected driver's seat in the conference race, for the first time since halfback Dick Christy carried the 1957 Pack to its first ACC championship. All it needed to do was beat the 1-8 Demon Deacons on its home field in the only college football game scheduled for that night to gain a share of the ACC title with the winner of the Duke-UNC game.

So on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 -- 50 years ago today -- the NC State campus was thinking of nothing but football.

That changed about four hours before kickoff, when Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. As a horrified nation watched and waited for reports about the president, the Wolfpack and Deacons tried to prepare to play a game.

There was some talk of cancelling the game. All but 16 of the Saturday games scheduled for that weekend -- including the Duke-Carolina game -- were cancelled. But the Deacons had already arrived from Winston-Salem. There was really no other option than to play the game.

"This is a day of deep tragedy for our nation and for mankind," said Chancellor John T. Caldwell. "Let not the playing of this game diminish our sense of respect for our great president or the office."

Players and fans shed tears during a long moment of silence before the game, but it proceeded as planned. The game itself was less than inspiring. The Wolfpack rolled up 408 rushing yards, including 133 by halfback Mike Clark in the only 100-yard rushing day of his career. But the celebration for only the third conference championship in school history was muted, as the events of the day took precedence.

North Carolina eventually beat the Blue Devils the weekend after Thanksgiving to gain its share of the title and earn the league's automatic berth into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The Wolfpack, which had been denied a postseason berth in 1957 because of a department-wide postseason ban by the NCAA, was invited to play Mississippi State in the five-year-old Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia, the second bowl bid in school history. It was the first time in league history that the ACC sent more than one team to a bowl game.

On a frigid afternoon, when an announced crowd of 8,300 spectators were barely visible in the wind-swept 102,000-seat Municipal Stadium, the 19th-ranked Pack fell 16-12 to its No. 11 ranked opponent.

Edwards was named the ACC Coach of the Year for the second time and receiver Don Montgomery was named first-team All-ACC for the second year in a row, was named second-team All-American and won the H.C. Kennett Award as the school's top athlete.

Winning a share of that ACC title in 1963 put Edwards' program on a roll. It won the 1964 title outright, and shared the title again in 1965, just in time for the long-anticipated opening of Carter Stadium a year later. The gleaming concrete stadium had long been Edwards' dream, the reason he agreed to play most of the teams on the road for more than a decade, traveling to all corners of the country to play against national powers in exchange for guarantees that paid athletic department expenses and helped with the down payment for the stadium.

Edwards led the 1967 team to the first bowl victory in 1967 and won another ACC title in 1968, winning two more ACC Coach of the Year honors before retiring after the 1970 season. He was elected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1974 and tonight highlights the second class of the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

'Squash the Anger. Squash It!'

Copyright 1996, Durham Herald-Sun Company
The Herald-Sun

 -- Greg Ellis walked out onto the field for East Wake High School's 1991 Homecoming game against Triton High School, escorted by two deputies from the Wake County
Sheriff's Department.

When the game was over, four deputies walked Ellis' parents to their car, then escorted their frightened son, a junior linebacker at the time, back to the locker room.

Ellis was in the middle of the most intense battle of his life and it had nothing to do with football.

Some former friends had had just about enough of Ellis' all-star accomplishments in football, basketball, and in the classroom, and they were pursuing him at every turn.

``This guy came up to Greg and said, `Greg, we have a gun out there waiting for you,' '' Ozell Ellis, Greg's mom, remembers from that night six years ago. ``I haven't ever been so scared in my life.''

Neither had her son.

He was distracted in the game and ashamed of what was going on around him. When he saw tears in his mother's eyes after the game, Ellis knew something in his life had to change.

``My mom started crying,'' Ellis said, ``and that really bothered me a lot.''

The feud went on for months. The gang showed up at the house of Ellis' aunt during a party looking for trouble. They went to Ellis' home, armed, looking for more trouble, which was avoided only because Ellis was at basketball practice. Both times, the law had to be called.

These were not average schoolyard bullies. Two of them are serving life sentences now for killing someone during a convenience store robbery, and a third is in jail on other charges.
One day, they cornered him on the grounds at East Wake. As he tried to walk by, one of them slapped him on the back of the head.

He swung back, in full view of the principal.

The instigators were suspended from school and Ellis was punished with an in-school suspension, but the matter was never fully resolved, not until Ellis left his hometown of Wendell to begin his All-America career as a defensive end at North Carolina.

The whole situation changed Ellis' life. He hadn't done anything wrong except stand up to some bullies who, he believes, simply couldn't deal with his pursuit of a better life. But in his mind, he also hadn't done everything right.

``I was doing things that I shouldn't have been doing,'' Ellis said. ``I just decided then that I needed to live for the Lord.''

Ellis, who grew up in a Christian home, became a more devoted follower of Christ after those experiences. It's a devotion he says has helped him through even more difficult days during his freshman year in Chapel Hill.<

Devastating losses
Ellis was two-sport star at East Wake High School, playing football for Johnny Sasser and basketball for Phil Spence. He was a Shrine Bowl selection in football and an East-West All-Star participant in basketball.

He remembers vividly his experiences at the East-West game, not so much for what happened on the court, but because of a brief conversation he had with Spence.

``He told me after that game that Coach Sasser had stomach cancer,'' Ellis said.

Ellis worried about his former coach, who had personally driven him to the Shrine Bowl and driven him to the airport for several of his recruiting visits, during his freshman season as he watched Sasser's health quickly deteriorate.

By spring, Sasser had passed away.

Then, a week later, Ellis' father, Lawrence, died from complications of diabetes, another devastating blow for a young college freshman. It was in the middle of spring football practice, when Ellis was fighting to earn some playing time, but he left school immediately to be with his family.

By the time the funeral was over, Ellis had made all the arrangements for his mother, taken care of the family and said goodbye to his father, one of the biggest influences in his life.

``I was worried about him a little bit,'' North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. ``When
you lose a parent and a high school coach who is very much like a parent, it is a very traumatic thing.''

Instead of being hardened and embittered by the double-barrel blow, Ellis turned to his faith to help himself and his family through the difficult times.

``With me being a Christian, I realized that God is a perfect God and he doesn't make mistakes,'' Ellis said. ``Everything happens for a reason. Even though my dad is no longer with me and my high school coach is no longer with me, I loved them dearly. God had a better plan than I did for them.

``You have to accept reality.''

The North Carolina coaches were amazed how the young freshman handled himself during that spring. It was then they realized Greg Ellis was a special person.
``He is the pillar of his family,'' UNC assistant coach Donnie Thompson said. ``He
is just a strong, strong individual. He puts God first. He is able to handle a lot of things.''
Ellis has always had a strong faith, even as a child.

His mother remembers those days in middle school when he would wake them on Sunday mornings and beg them to take him to church.

"Momma, y'all going to church today?'' he asked.
``No, son, we are too tired,'' they sometimes answered. Lawrence Ellis was working two jobs at the time and Mrs. Ellis was working as a custodian at Carroll Middle School.

``Well, can one of you get up and take me to church?'' he asked.

``If I didn't get up, my husband would and take him,'' Mrs. Ellis said. ``He would come to our bedroom after church and say `Momma, y'all need to give God some of your time. Maybe things will be better for you.' ''

Sacked out
Ellis has squashed more quarterbacks than any player in UNC football history. He broke Marcus Jones' career sack record in the first quarter of the first game of the season, getting rid of a cloud that had followed him since last year's Louisville game, when he blew past Lawrence Taylor for second place on the career sack list.
But he went the final two games without a sack and since bowl game statistics don't count, he spent the off-season wondering if he would ever get the record.

He's only gotten one more since then, as he's faced the same kind of double-teaming pressure Jones got his senior year. That season, as a sophomore Ellis became a star.

This year, other players such as junior Ebenezer Ekuban, Mike Pringley and Vonnie Holliday are building their reputations while Ellis tries to fight off several blockers.

That's fine with Ellis.

``It gets frustrating sometimes,'' Ellis said. ``But it gives other
players a chance to step up and make some plays.''
With Ellis getting all the attention, North Carolina has more sacks
than this time last season.

Still, Ellis is a little itchy in the trigger finger.

``I want a sack,'' Ellis said.

Make them say 'Ouch'

On any given Saturday, during network broadcasts of college football games, Ellis appears on screen, imploring young people to walk away from violence. He obviously has first-hand knowledge of his message.

``When they asked me to do this commercial, I was really amazed,'' Ellis said. ``It was like God was saying `Greg, you are the one to do this.' It is my big opportunity to give back to a lot of little kids and help them.''

Ellis, however, has been giving back for years. He spends many of his Monday afternoons, the only day the football team has off during the week, speaking at schools in the Triangle. So far this year, he has been to Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, East Wake Middle School in Wendell and several other local schools.

Ellis' firm Christian beliefs might seem mutually exclusive for those who see him only as a fierce All-America defensive end for UNC's top-ranked defense. But whenever Ellis knocks someone down, his is the first hand to reach out to pick that person up.

When he sacks a quarterback, Ellis lifts him up off the ground, then pats him on the helmet.

``When I am playing football, I am not out there trying to hurt anybody,'' Ellis said. ``I want to hit people, make them say `Ouch!' and make them think No. 87 is a pretty good player, but it is all part of the game.''

UNC defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, a devout Christian himself who leads chapel services and Bible studies for Ellis and his teammates, sees nothing passive about his star defensive end, despite the contradictory message of ``Love Thy Neighor'' and ``Kill the Quarterback!''

``I have always been a firm believer that if I am going to witness to somebody or get their attention to witness to them, the best thing to do is whip them,'' Torbush said. ``If you keep coming at them, then they will say, `Hey, there is something to this guy.'

 ``Greg is that way. If he knocks someone down, he will help him up. Then he will knock him down again. After the ball game he will hug him around the neck. Sometimes you hear that Christian athletes are a little passive, but that is far from the truth.''

Of course, Ellis sheepishly admits that he's not totally as gentle as a lamb. The gesture of helping up a quarterback is noble and all, but it's also part of a ruse Sasser taught him long ago.

``When you knock somebody down in football, you can go help them up and make sure he is all right,'' Ellis explains. ``That kind of makes them think I might not do it again. Maybe they think I didn't mean to do it.

``It is kind psychological.''
From the Heart

There is no ruse to Ellis' fundamental beliefs, which he frequently shares with his teammates and with kids in the community. He talks about his faith and hard work and overcoming adversity, all topics he knows well. He doesn't really enjoy making the speeches, he just thinks it something he ought to be doing.

``I really don't like it,'' Ellis said. ``I hate giving speeches. I hate talking a lot, period. But I realize it helps people so I don't mind doing it.''

Torbush knows that Ellis isn't the most comfortable witness on the planet. He's seen him squirm.

``I have asked him several times to give a testimony and that is not easy to do in front of your teammates or people you don't know,'' Torbush said. ``He probably sweated more for five minutes than he does in a two-hour practice, but it all came from the heart.''

 When he doesn't make it back to his home church in Rolesville, Ellis attends services at King's Park Christian Fellowship in Durham or, during two-a-days when Tar Heel players aren't able to go to regular worship services because of practice, he joins defensive coordinator Carl
Torbush's chapel services.

``He is a man of God,'' King's Park minister Ron Lewis said. ``He is an outstanding person.''

``I don't think Mr. Webster went far enough in coming up with words,'' UNC defensive ends coach Donnie Thompson said. ``He is so extremely bright beyond his years, as far as having his life in order.''

``He is the ultimate coach on the field,'' Brown said.

Everyone has an anecdote about how kind and sharing Ellis is. Last Saturday during UNC's win over Virginia, a young defensive end was getting a good bawling out by an assistant coach. Ellis went over to the young player and put his arm around him.

Brown came over and called off his assistant, and Ellis leaned over and told his teammate, ``It'll be all right.''

And, even since the decision he made that Homecoming night so many years ago, everything has been all right for Ellis.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm old, square and round...

Just migrating a few old Facebook posts to this location. This updated "25 Things About Me" was from the early days of social media, when we were all getting to know each other.

1. I always wanted to be a writer, even when I was an engineering major at NC State.

2. I’ve published three books and thousands of stories, but will never consider myself a REAL writer until I finish my novel. I have neither started it, nor do I have an idea for it. I’ve worked for two newspapers, three magazines and one publishing company that have either folded, gone out of business or are in bankruptcy. I guess I don’t have a magic touch.

3. I am disorganized, messy and unkempt, and I don’t want to change.

4. I’ve been to 41 states and 21 countries. I love to travel, but hate getting there. Elizabeth says no one, most especially her, could stand to be on “The Amazing Race” with me.

5. I once smuggled blank typing paper and women’s panty hose into the Soviet Union.

6. I was robbed two of the first three times I went to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival. The first time was during a Neville Brothers concert at Tipitina’s and the second time was while I was on stage playing the washboard with the house band at the Maple Leaf Bar.

7. I was on a transcontinental Delta flight once that was canceled because of cockroach infestation in the airplane cabin. I tipped off the newspaper in Atlanta about it, and it was the lead story in the local section the next day.

8. When Kerri Strug hit her one-legged vault at the 1996 Olympics to secure the gold medal, I was sitting beside Mary Lou Retton and just behind Nadia Comaneci and Bart Connor. I hugged Mary Lou, then interviewed her. That event was perhaps the coolest thing I ever got to cover as a sportswriter.

9. Since 2005, I have selected all the Heisman Trophy voters (19) for the state of North Carolina. I have voted for the Heisman nearly 20 times, and two of my first-place votes were for Philip Rivers of NC State (2003) and Jeff Blake of East Carolina (1991).

10. North Carolina basketball player Mahktar Ndiaye once threatened to kick my ass in the middle of a post-game press conference at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

11. Jim Valvano once told me I was a horsesh** reporter working for a horsesh** newspaper who would never go anywhere in this g**damned business.

12. I am a horrible athlete who loves to watch and participate in sports. Baseball is my favorite spectator sport to watch, golf and snow skiing are my favorite participatory sports.

13. All of favorite teams – my high school, my college, my favorite professional baseball, football and hockey teams – wear red. I refuse to have a favorite NBA team.

14. I once made a 15 on the par-3 sixth hole at Pinehurst No. 2, without taking a penalty stroke. The next time I played the course, I made a birdie on the same hole. I also made a 15 on a hole at Augusta National.

15. I nearly died of exposure in the North Sea near an island off the coast of Norway while trying to learn to windsurf from Norwegian teenagers who barely spoke English. Tip: If you are going to learn something semi-dangerous, do it in your native language.

16. I have only taken one sick day from work since starting my first fulltime job in December 1987.

17. God has tempted me in many ways, and I haven’t always resisted. But there are few things I can say I am ashamed of. I don’t want to die with regrets.

18. In the eighth, ninth and 10th grades I was in the marching band and on the football team. I played the tuba and center.

19. My first date with Elizabeth was to see “The Big River,” the musical adaptation of my favorite novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. I love the theater and have a soft spot for musicals. I took one of those online quizzes and discovered I have seen 75 of the top 100 musical movies ever made.

20. I love being around and with people, engaging in conversation and sharing stories. But I always leave a room thinking people are glad to see me go.

21. From about 2000-2006, primarily because of work-induced stress, I did not sleep for more than three hours at a time.

22. I love being from Cat Square, NC. Population: 44. I have an aunt and cousins who live in Dirty Ankle, N.C. I always wanted to write a datelined story from Shit Britches Creek, N.C.

23. My cousin traced our family history back to Germany. The first Peeler (then spelled Bieller) landed in Philadelphia on the cargo ship Robert and Alice in 1738, and moved to North Carolina shortly thereafter. My branch of the Peelers served in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II. My great, great, great, greatgrandfather James Peeler of Cleveland County survived the Civil War, but died from alcohol poisoning after being bitten on the butt by a venomous snake while relieving himself in the woods.

24. I wish my mom had gotten to meet my two sons, Michael and Benjamin. She would have loved being with them.

25. I believe my wife is an angel on earth for loving and living with me.

26. I always write too long.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Frank Weedon Was Involved In The Only Forfeit in ACC Basketball History

There are so many great stories about the late Frank Weedon, who died peacefully on Monday night at his home in Raleigh. This is just one of them. But it's a classic. I originally wrote it for "The Wolfpacker" a few years ago.

Copyright belongs to Coman Publishing. I hope Stu doesn't mind me reprinting it here.

The Wolfpacker

RALEIGH, N.C. – There have only been a couple games in ACC men’s basketball history that have ended before the official game clock expired. One was in 2006, when Duke’s game at Florida State ended with two seconds remaining on the clock.

It nearly happened again in 2012, when North Carolina coach Roy Williams took his starters and scholarship players off the floor at Florida State, leaving five walkons on the court to play the final 14.2 seconds.

But the richest story is of a shortened game between NC State and Maryland, in what turned out to be an odd confluence of bench mayhem and referee's ire during one of the most tumultuous seasons in league history.

It happened on Jan. 7, 1967, on a cold night in College Park, Md., as unrest swirled with a few snow flurries during the ACC’s winter of discontent.
Duke and South Carolina were feuding over the eligibility of one of the league’s best young players, Gamecock Mike Grosso. The dispute was so bitter the league allowed the two schools to cancel their two conference games against each other.

South Carolina and Clemson, the league’s two entries from the state that brought us the Civil War, nearly had a game canceled in the first half because of unrest in the stands, as poor Frank McGuire absorbed abuse from all directions.

There were three other games later that winter that involved fisticuffs between opposing players and fans and a condemnation of Duke fans for throwing heated pennies, among other things, at visiting teams.

But the State-Maryland game was all about a feud with official George Conley, a former Kentucky state senator who was also a well-respected ACC official. At the previous year’s ACC Tournament, which was played at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum, Conley had brought a date to the game he was calling and gave her a seat at one of the tables in the end zone reserved for off-duty officials.

Tournament manager and NC State sports information director Frank Weedon, after being notified by press runner Jim Donnan that there was a lady on press row, kicked her out of the seat that was reserved strictly for game officials. When Conley was told she had to leave, a war of words erupted that ended with Conley saying “I’ll get even with you (SOBs) for this.”
Weedon filed a report of the incident with the school and with the league, just in case the topic ever came up again.

The fiery SID was horrified to see that Conley was one of two officials assigned to call the Wolfpack’s season opener the next season, in head coach Norman Sloan’s debut at his alma mater. Nothing happened in the game that seemed untoward, but then, as Sloan explained, “we were so bad you couldn’t tell anything about the officiating.”
Three weeks later, Conley and Roy Owen were assigned to call the game between the Pack and the Terps at Cole Field House. Heading into the final minutes, the teams were playing a close game, which was unusual for the Wolfpack in Sloan’s inaugural season for a team that finished with a horrific 7-19 record.

Conley repeatedly warned Sloan to keep his bench quiet throughout the game. In his autobiography, “Confessions of a Coach,” Sloan insisted that neither he nor his assistants, Charlie Bryant and Sam Esposito, were saying much out of the ordinary, but Conley persistently told the staff to keep it down. News accounts of the day suggested there was much chirping from the Wolfpack bench throughout the game.

“Who’s talking to the officials?” Sloan demanded during a timeout.
Turns out, the high-pitched, squeaky voice Conley had heard all night belonged to Weedon, who complained from his seat at the scorer’s table next to the Wolfpack bench that Conley was making calls unfavorable to the Wolfpack. When a Maryland player rammed into State guard Nick Trifunovich’s back and knocked the ball out of bounds, Conley refused to call a foul and gave the ball to the Terps. Both Sloan and Weedon, as they were wont to do, went a little ballistic.

Conley called a technical on the bench – meaning Weedon – and charged another to the head coach. They were the second and third technicals of the night against the Wolfpack staff.
Maryland’s Jay McMillen hit one of the two free throws to give the Terps a 60-55 lead. When Sloan reportedly said after McMillen’s miss “Isn’t that too bad?” Conley abruptly cancelled the game with 1:15 remaining and awarded Maryland the first and only forfeit in ACC history.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I’ve taken enough. The game is now over. The score as it stands is official.”
As Sloan stood stunned on the sidelines, Weedon shouted: “I told you not to let him do any of our games!”

Sloan confronted Conley in the officials’ lockerroom, a violation of ACC rules and etiquette. He was later sent a letter of reprimand from the league. Conley explained that he had seen someone on NC State’s bench making a gesture with his fist.

Sloan, following the Everett Case institution of filming all games, watched the game the next day with NC State chancellor John Caldwell and solved the mystery of exactly what happened. After Conley made the call, Weedon made a sarcastic gesture – though emphatically NOT an obscene one – that implied “Well, you got us back.”
Though upset, the coach nicknamed “Stormin’ Norman” could only shake his head at Weedon’s emotional antics.

Dr. Caldwell even issued a statement: “I have reviewed thoroughly with coach Norman Sloan last night’s episode at the Maryland-North Carolina State basketball game. It is neither possible nor necessary that I attempt in this statement to review all that transpired in the game situation Saturday night. Coach Sloan is an honorable and dedicated coach and a man of high standards. On the basis of my knowledge of the situation at present, I do not find that his conduct was in any way unusual or reprehensible.”
Caldwell did say that the coach shouldn’t get so many technical fouls. He didn’t mention Weedon’s conduct. And Conley never called another game involving the Wolfpack.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why This Is Here...

Back in the 1980s, when newspapers were the thing in the written word, I used to write a blog-like column for the NC State student newspaper, Technician. The goal was to be funny, on the front page, three days a week. It was surprisingly hard.

It resulted in a few laughs, along with about $200 in parking fines after I wrote a not-so-kind story about the NC State campus parking attendants (who remain a fine group of extraordinarily nice people even as we speak) and a couple of trips to the Chancellor's office to explain, in Dr. Poulton's words, "just what the hell I was thinking."

The column was called "One Brick Shy" because NC State at that time was pretty much paved in red masonry from one end of Hillsborough Street to the other end of Western Boulevard. Back then, it was mutually agreed that I was about a block short of a load, so the column sig was the overwhelming choice of the two people I asked for approval.

It only lasted for about nine months and, as my wife likes to tell me all the time, the words and column topics were a lot less funny than I thought, both then and now. Humor is in the ear of the beholder, I guess, because some people liked it.

Some people from Sampson County didn't, and that was the cause of the great Raleigh Police Department Stakeout of 1987, which began in the parking lot of the Burger King on Avent Ferry Road and ended up with three of my roommates being apprehended at a Food Lion a couple of miles away in a case of badly mistaken identity. That might make for a good blog post one day when Tracy Fulghum, Craig Moss and Marshall Ratledge sign the necessary release forms.

After graduation, I pursued a career in sports journalism, working at several newspapers in the Carolinas, contributing to wire services and magazines all over the country and getting in on the ground floor on something called "The Internet." Sports reporting took me from the national tug-of-war championships in rural Rowan County, N.C., to the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta to the West Wing of the White House. It couldn't have been more fun.

Recently, though, I left the day-to-day grind of college athletics to take writing and editing position for University Communications at NC State. There were many reasons for the transition, but the biggest was the need to spend more time with the kids (ages 11 and 9) at this critical time in their lives. My days as a newspaper reporter and athletics communications assistant required up to 45 working weekends a year, covering high school, college and professional sports for newspapers and handling day-to-day media relations duties for several varsity athletics teams. That didn't leave much time for fishing in the neighborhood pond or digging up arrowheads and sheets of micah at my family's home in Lincoln County.

There are no regrets about any of the time with The Salisbury Post, The Greenville (S.C.) News and The Piedmont, the Durham Herald-Sun and the Greensboro News & Record. I saw live and reported on Kerri Strug's one-legged vault to win the U.S. women's gymnastics team a gold medal, Payne Stewart's putt on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2 at the 1999 U.S. Open and more than two dozen ACC men's basketball tournaments, my favorite event on the annual sports calendar.

I played golf at Augusta National and Royal Dornoch, put money on the horses at Churchill Downs, saw Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jorge Bell hit three home runs on Opening Day 1988 in Kansas City, covered six Final Fours and, count 'em two Stanley Cup finals, no small feat for someone who grew up so far in the woods of western North Carolina that we got most of our news from reading the weeks-old newspapers used as packing materials for the stuff we ordered from the Sears catalogue. In nearly nine years working with NC State athletics, you can't imagine how enjoyable it was to get to know so many great student-athletes before they hit prime time or went on to be perfectly respectable grownups.

For now, though, that's enough.

Trying to squeeze in that much weekend and night-time work while raising two kids wasn't particularly fair to them or to my wife, and this new gig has adult hours, which means there might be some time to do the things that always got put aside, like traveling, playing an occasional round of golf, putzing around in the yard with tomato plants and aphids and finally forming that long-discussed quartet of fellow sousaphone players (proposed name: The Tuba Four).

And maybe I'll even dig up that brick that has been missing for too many years.

Following the footsteps of former colleagues, rivals and ex-patriate sportswriters and newspaper reporters, I wanted to have a place to house some off-the-cuff thoughts and comments that were longer than a Facebook post or a tweet. Don't worry, there are no plans to go political. I figure enough people dislike me already without knowing my stance on immigration reform or school board elections. There won't be too much sports, either, except for the endlessly boring chronicles of my attempts to run in four or five road races a year. God, I hate exercising.

Mostly, this will be a few paragraphs now and again about things that might make me laugh, even if no one else does.

Follow along, if you like.