Well, I’m back from paradise. At least, that’s what it felt like. I spent the last five days out in South Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border, which was pretty awesome.
The goal was to get a bunch of material from the NFL-related dudes playing in the celebrity golf tournament, and that’s exactly what happened. You’ve read a lot of it already in this space, and there is more coming before we head off to training camps.
How was the trip?
— First things first. The scenery was everything you’d expect. Just insanely beautiful. You always wonder when people talk up a place so much if it’ll live up to expectations. Yup, this one did. Every day was spent on the golf course surrounded by massive mountains, blue water, and a bluer sky. I could see that if I was a skier or hiker or something, I’d want to come here every year. The Banktress came for the first two days, and we traveled up to Emerald Bay. We took a winding road up a mountain, nearly died with her driving (kidding, kinda), and wound up at the most photographed spot in Tahoe. I guess South Lake Tahoe isn’t supposed to be as nice as North Lake Tahoe, but you can’t complain about Emerald Bay. Crazy.
— As for the golf, the tournament is definitely a cool deal. All these athletes and celebrities (including Peterman from Seinfeld and Carlton from Fresh Prince) come to play, but they are all thrown out of their element. I was interested in how seriously the football players all take it. Sebastian Janikowski said he was more nervous playing golf than kicking. Miles Austin’s family had to tell him to calm down his expectations because seriously, he’s not a professional golfer. Kicker Robbie Gould ramped up his practice schedule to be there. Receiving great Jerry Rice spent hours on the putting green, telling autograph seekers “I’m working” when they wanted him to sign. Often on the range, players were spotted with teachers and pros provided by the course. On the other hand, some of the more accomplished baseball players (Fred McGriff, Joe Carter) just crushed the ball with their tweaked baseball-style swings.
— It was a mixed bag between players who took the week to get away from football before the madness starts and guys whose minds were already thinking of camp. Broncos exec John Elway said, “This was always kinda the last hurrah when I played also. The excitement’s there. We’ll enjoy the rest of this week and be ready to go Monday.” Meanwhile, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “It’s a lot of fun. For a guy that can’t play football anymore, it’s great for a guy to compete in another arena. I’m thinking about football.” Cowboys TE Jason Witten said he felt, “It’s there now. This is fun, but training camp’s where teams come together and I’m exited for that opportunity.” Guys did stay in shape, catching a run or doing some throwing before teeing off.
— There’s not much that rich and famous athletes deal with that make people feel sorry for them. But man, I sympathize about autograph seekers. That was nutso. The tournament banned bringing in pictures and stuff that might end up on E-bay, but no one listened. Players were hounded and yelled at all week, and almost everyone signed. A bunch like Aaron Rodgers signed after his round, and Tony Romo did the same. But almost all spent time with the fans. But it was never enough. No matter what, guys left after signing and got yelled at by the people waiting who didn’t get a turn. I don’t get the lure of the autograph (it’s just a scribbled name), and I’d so much rather have a picture with a dude if I was a fan. But I wish there was a way for the process to be better. It’s bad for the athlete, and it’s bad for the kids who get left out. Really, I guess I wish adults would just step out of the way and let kids get autographs and have that be it.
— I always wonder who will be the coolest among the big-time athletes who are at events like that. Like, who walks on the driving range and makes other greats in their sport turn? Clearly, Michael Jordan is number one on the list. Charles Barkley is up there, too. Everyone wanted to make a joke with him. Elway made people turn all week, and fans treated him like a rock star. Whereas Rice did not. Kinda kept a low-profile, despite being the Jordan of his sport. He seemed to like it that way, not chit-chatting very much. Also, Oscar De La Hoya was a major, major draw.
— I wasn’t that pumped about the restaurant selections in South Lake Tahoe, honestly. It felt like a tourist town (I guess it is) with over-priced stuff all over the place. Riva Grill was decent, and Stateline Brewery was average but creative. Ciara Steakhouse, where I ate with Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times (pictured), was really solid with great service. Oddly, the best place I ate was at a little dive called Blue Angel Cafe. It was kind of a nature-y type place with tofu on the menu. But it was awesome.
— Finally, the scene at night at Harrah’s was pretty hilarious. That’s where everyone went to hang out afterward, and the fans knew it. To the people who pulled Shane Battier away from the craps table to take a picture, that wasn’t cool. Same to the yahoos who booed 49ers QB Alex Smith at the blackjack table. Joey Porter, the recently retired linebacker, seemed to be losing at craps. And Barkley took a gallery of patrons or whatever with him wherever he went. A fun scene… except when I lost at the poker table. Sigh.