ADDING ONTO THE TOP: Several folks have told me they've heard a Division I quarterback out of Miami, a spectacular sophomore with a spread option skill set, isn't terribly happy with where he is and might want to transfer back home. If he did, it wouldn't be to the offense in Coral Gables.
NOW, BACK TO BOWL TALK...
FIU got what everybody connected with the program wanted because athletic director Pete Garcia got proactive. As I wrote months back, I think Garcia's done an excellent job in understanding what a pivotal year this is for the football team and athletic program overall.
Garcia's been talking to the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl for over a year, lobbying hard the last two months and building an overall relationship with them and the bowl folks at ESPN, owners of the game. If you're a college football program that still could use some broader exposure, there are worse friends to make.
"The fact that ESPN had us on national TV seven times in the first eight games...I keep (talking) about ESPN because they believe in us," Garcia said. "We've got a great relationship with them and we've got to do everything we can to keep that relationship going."
As stated on a blog going into last week's season finale, FIU gives ESPN fun football: big plays, speed, usually some drama. Frankly, if I were ESPN, the only thing I'd want to tell FIU as far as its games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU is let's not do Tuesday anymore -- on TV, the crowd for the Troy game came off as embarrassing for a good program.
I asked Garcia how much he thought he the online fan blitz of the Beef O'Brady's folks affected the bowl's decision.
"I thank all our fans for their enthusiasm and support. We take our hats off to them. But this is something without winning the eight games, I'm not even sure if we had won seven, if we would've gotten the invitation. I've got to give credit to our football team for putting us into position to be invited. The quality of football they're playing...I don't want to single any one player out, but we play pretty exciting football and TV likes that."
"It's a team effort. We're the FIU family."
Garcia kept giving props to the football team, as if needing to hammer home that the team had a good season: "I want to brag on our football team a bit. They're 8-4. That's not only the best record in Florida. They are the only football team south of Orlando and Tampa going to a bowl game."
Earlier, Cristobal was finishing answering my question about comparing the feeling this year to last, he also threw in a reference to FIU's unique position locally. He said the way last year ended, with a tough loss to Middle Tennessee, made it hard to fully enjoy the bowl game invitation that came the next day.
“What makes this one just as special is that we won our last game at Middle Tennessee with a better regular season record. And the ability to play a game right here, in our home state that speaks volumes. To represent the city of Miami and South Florida in a postseason game. I haven’t checked who’s playing where, but I do believe we’re the only South Flroida team representing in the postseason. It speaks volumes of our athletic department, our student-athletes and the university.”
Check out Bowl Central at http://www.fiusports.com for oodles of Beef O'Brady's Bowl information stuff.
Also want to say again -- it's in the comments of the previous blog -- why there wasn't a headlined story online sooner than a few hours afterwards Saturday.
This season, this blog is where I've put breaking news first. On a few occasions, I've updated this blog several times until it's time to write the story that'll appear online or in print, then I've come back to the blog later for a more analytical look at the news. I've done it that way because it's faster, allows more flexibility in posting (a few blog posts, including Saturday's first, were made off my BlackBerry while doing Daddy stuff) and it's the way I've seen it best handled in other places at this paper and others.
That's the way I did it Saturday. Could I also have taken much of the same information, juggled it around a bit and done a regular story that would've appeared online earlier? Yes. But I didn't. I was slammed and felt the news was out there in a blog post that would be noted on the front page of the site and the sports site page. As it was, I wound up filing the last item 30 minutes late, an eternity in this business. If you want to say the "tease" to the blog post off the front or the one off the http://www.miamiherald.com/sports page should've been more prominent, maybe you're right.
I just grabbed the print Sports section. Top story, stripped across the top, Dolphins vs. Raiders. It's an NFL Sunday, folks. Two columns, one by Dan LeBatard on NFL violence and one on Howard Schnellenberger's last game coaching. Below the fold, my column on FIU/Orange Bowl/bowls, focused on FIU. You can say that's playing FAU over FIU, so it's bad story placement. Or you can say that's a column on the last game of, arguably, the most significant figure in modern South Florida college football, without whom neither program would exist (see my postgame FIU-FAU game blog or my pregame print/online story), so it's correct story placement.
To say I or The Herald were trying to "sit on the story" or downplay it is ridiculous. I wrote about FIU's bowl situation several times in stories that ran online and in print -- it was the advance story for the Louisiana-Monroe game -- and even more often on this blog. Though Thursday was my day off, I blogged as soon as the West Virginia-South Florida game ended with the result, a few things about the game and what it meant for FIU's chances to get to St. Pete. Saturday, as soon as the Cincy game ended, a blog post went up saying that alone might've been enough to get FIU into the St. Pete game. I texted, called furiously Thursday, Friday and Saturday, hoping to find out FIU's bowl fate as soon as possible for both professional and personal purposes (in 24 holiday seasons of this profession, I've been extremely lucky to be home every Christmas and all but two New Year's Eves.).
No blog appeared Friday nor story in Saturday's paper advancing Saturday's games and what might happen for FIU. I was on furlough Friday. That means I'm off, no pay and not allowed by company policy to have anything to do with The Herald. My Twitter account is personal. I chose that furlough date back in September.
Some of FIU fans' dissatisfaction with The Herald I understand from living it as an FIU beat reporter back when 70 percent of the buildings on campus now were no closer to reality than being on the Brady dad's architect drawing table. It wasn't a "we hate FIU" attitude at The Herald, but just a mindset that FIU was the other Division I program in town, the one without a football team, with good baseball, soccer and women's basketball teams. I'm not sure anybody cared enough about FIU to hate FIU. It wasn't even a full stand alone beat. I got into some blistering arguments with editors -- all of whom have gone on to retirement, other papers or their reward in the hereafter -- over decisions they made out of habit. ("I did it right the first time. You butchered it. You made the mess, you clean it up!" a 22-year-old me snapped often in a running argument with an editor over one story.)
I'm sure slights have happened that nursed anti-Herald feelings in the many years between then and when I re-took this beat in June. But I'm also sure there's been a plethora of good coverage from each beat reporter and The Herald. Good coverage isn't always pretty. I'm comfortable with most of what we've done since June. Nobody's ever going to be perfect and complain when you want here. You can be mean, just keep it clean (relatively).
But when I or The Herald doesn't handle something in the manner you like, do me a favor and at least assume an absence of malice on our part. I'm not sure who in The Herald has time or energy for malice these days. I sure don't.