Chicago — Is that cheesy jokes and repetitive speeches about hard work and high expectations I hear? Yep, it’s that time of year again — Big Ten Media Day.

Michigan Football
Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway was an All-Big Ten selection last season. Greenway and two teammates represented the Hawkeyes at Big Ten Media Day. (File photo)
Michigan Football

This annual two-day affair in Chicago officially kicks off the football season for those of us in the Midwest. I’m not complaining. I mean, I basically got a free trip to Chicago and got to meet a bunch of bigwigs in the Big Ten. But that first day was more frustrating than watching the Michigan basketball offense.

Going in I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was the 11 Big Ten coaches all basically saying the same thing and the fluffing of soon-to-be-retired Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. Alvarez seems like a nice guy — he even cracked a joke to me at the end of the second day — but the lovefest he received was a bit ridiculous. It was like he invented the polio vaccine instead of turning a bad football team into an above average one.

By the time our very own Lloyd Carr spoke — he was the last of the 11 to speak — I thought the agony was over. It wasn’t. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney decided to talk for about 40 minutes. I wasn’t having that — I went out to the lobby to talk to some coaches just milling about.

Although I did get to talk to Carr very quickly, that wasn’t the highlight of my lobby visit — meeting the “fans” was. There were some people just hanging around not doing much of anything. One old man decided to talk to me about the balance of power in the Big Ten. You might be saying what’s the big deal? But the thing is, this guy was slurring his speech worse than any drunken sorority girl. He couldn’t think of the word parody, he didn’t say anything other than “this will be fun” (the season I hope), and he keep shaking his glass and taking a swig. To be honest, I could’ve used a drink also, but that would’ve been “unprofessional.”

Just as I left my alcoholic buddy, I saw two guys jog by asking where all the coaches were. I told them that the Indiana coach was over in the corner, to which they responded, “Mike Davis is here?” Evidently these self-proclaimed sports fanatics forgot it was August and that football season started before the basketball season did. Needless to say, they were disappointed to find out that it was a football convention, because “Michigan is the team to beat and the only good team.” This guy’s friend responded with a bold “are you retarded?” (Thanks for the vote of confidence guys.) They were from Chicago and spoke a little about how good of a guy Jason Avant is, but that it would’ve been be better if their friend J-Hood, who went to high school with Avant, was there, like I would say, “you know what guys, that would be awesome if he were here.”

Tuesday was an earlier day — the roundtable sessions started at 8 a.m. When I got in the elevator I was with the three Iowa players, and I could only think about two things: are they pissed that they have to be here so early, and if I hit one in the groin as soon as the doors opened how long would it take for them to catch me (I say about 30-40 feet).

But that’s beside the point; I was excited that I could talk to whomever I wanted to as opposed to the day before.

Like I said earlier, pretty much everyone was really nice, but there was one exception. Minnesota coach Glen Mason was kind of a jerk. I knew this already since I’m from Minnesota, but I wanted to give him the chance to win me over. Well, he didn’t. Between his not looking at me when there was just one other person at his table, his not answering my questions and his having what appeared to be an incredibly bad fake orange tan, I was not impressed. But hey, I’m a forgiving person. Maybe when his Gophers team comes for its annual loss, he will be cooler.

Other than that, I considered the session a major success. I sat right next to Joe Paterno and asked him a couple questions. He reminded me of every old Italian I have ever met in my life. He cracked jokes, told stories and made everyone feel comfortable, even a 21-year-old “reporter” who about wet his pants when Paterno proved his health by doing squats in front of the assembled group.

After talking to JoePa I wanted to go talk to my favorite coach, Carr (yeah I know I should be impartial, but I’m not a professional). I want to say he recognized me being that we’ve talked a few times, but I know he didn’t. I asked him about the health rumors among other things, and he was very cordial and cool. I think he was impressed by my vast knowledge of Michigan football. After doing the coach thing I spoke with some players and even made a few laugh (tooting own horn).

Mason aside, the couple days there were fun and got me excited for the season. And I really think that with hard work and eyes on the prize I can really make an impact covering the Michigan football team and meet my goals. Thanks for changing how I speak Big Ten coaches.

Matt Venegoni would like to thank the Big Ten coach, who shall remain nameless, that totally checked out his friend (a girl) while they were waiting for the car. He can be reached at mvgoni@umich.edu.

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