One of Auburn’s favorite sons nearly transferred to hated Alabama. So says Charles Barkley in the upcoming documentary “Bo, Barkley and The Big Hurt," a rollicking hour-long examination of three of the greatest athletes (Barkley, Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas) in Auburn history. The doc is part of the "SEC Storied" series and debuts Aug. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on the SEC Network, which makes its own debut a week earlier.
ESPN's Dec. 2012 documentary You Don’t Know Bo, the 30 for 30 film chronicling Jackson's athletic career, ranked as ESPN’s most-viewed (3.6 million) documentary ever. As a result, ESPN Films executives Connor Schell and John Dahl approached "Bo, Barkley and The Big Hurt" director Larry Weitzman and executive producer Jonathan Hock more than a year ago about doing a film on the era (1981-1989) when Barkley, Jackson and Thomas were all student-athletes on The Plains.
“None of them needs the publicity, but they really opened themselves up because it was for Auburn, not for themselves,” Weitzman said. “Coordinating their schedules was a challenge, but they were all terrific to work with. They all have very strong feelings for Auburn. It was a formative time in their lives and the Auburn family is very important to them. They still talk very passionately about that.”
Much of filming occurred on Auburn's campus last year, including during the "Kick Six" Iron Bowl, when Tigers cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama field goal 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Barkley and Jackson had planned to attend the 2013 Iron Bowl as they attend the rivalry game every year. Thomas initially had scheduling conflicts but Weitzman said when Thomas heard Barkley and Jackson would be there as part of the filming, he switched his schedule around. "Then we got pretty lucky that it turned out to be one of the greatest games in college football history," Weitzman said.
In addition to filming at Auburn, Barkley did a series of sit-down interviews with the filmmakers at Turner Sports' studios in Atlanta. The doc offers rare footage of Barkley as a high school basketball player and it's interesting to hear him talk about his early development as an athlete. (Barkley believed he was destined to play at Gadsden State Community College in Alabama before his senior of high school). Equally fascinating was the clash of wills between Barkley and former Auburn coach Sonny Smith -- who thought Barkley was significantly overweight for college basketball. Things got so bad between the two that Barkley quit the team in his second year and was serious about leaving for his rival. "I called the coaches at Alabama after my sophomore year and told them I was transferring to Alabama," Barkley said. "I had just had enough." Recalled Smith: "He loved Auburn but he did not like the way things were going between us."
Barkley and Smith eventually had a long talk and figured out a way to make things work.The doc also has some great footage of Jackson and Thomas as collegiate baseball stars.
“I think the stories they tell are really interesting,” Weitzman said. “Bo telling us that he would have gone to Alabama except they told him he wouldn’t play until he was a junior and then finding out they wanted to convert him to linebacker. Charles’ conflicts with Coach Smith and also the origin of his nicknames. Frank actually going to Auburn on a football scholarship and then walking on to the baseball team and Coach [Pat] Dye still letting him keep his football scholarship. And of course all of Bo's crazy athletic exploits. One gets the sense that college athletics was a smaller world then, not exactly pure or idealized, but less cynical. These Hall of Fame athletes remember their college ups and downs with such emotion, really as college students, even though they had pro aspirations.”
It's a very cool slice of history, and highly recommended if you get the SEC Network.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the more notable stories of the week in sports media.
1. In order to offer readers insight into how NFL media members approach covering training camp and the preseason, I assembled five respected NFL media members for a roundtable discussion.
Josina Anderson, NFL reporter for ESPN’s SportsCenter and Sunday NFL Countdown
Robert Klemko, Writer for The MMQB
Alex Marvez, Senior NFL reporter at Fox Sports and SiriusXM NFL Radio
Mike Reiss: ESPN NFL Nation reporter covering the New England Patriots and reporter/analyst for ESPN Boston.com.
Adam Schefter, NFL insider for ESPN and ESPN.com
The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. Part 1 ran on Monday. Here is Part 2.
What is the most enjoyable part of covering NFL training camp?
Anderson: The most enjoyable part is watching the evolution of the competition and then sharing what I see with others. I connect with the hustle as a former athlete (at North Carolina) myself. It's dramatic watching NFL players fight for their keep especially when the window to perform is so small. For fans it's a sport, for us it's another story, but for them, it's their livelihoods underneath it all, which for some can be over in just a matter of weeks. I like attempting to identify which unheralded player can emerge from the shadows and become really special, to watching veteran players try and make a comeback. I still remember one day when Brandon Marshall made some dynamic catches in camp his rookie year with the Broncos as a fourth-rounder, and Champ Bailey referring to Marshall as "baby T.O.” There was genuine surprise at seeing how good he was in person. I also remember when running back Ronnie Hillman came into last season as the No. 1 back in that group, but by season's end, old faithful, Knowshon Moreno, had a renaissance as the starter leading the pack. It's always fun to say you saw things like that coming from miles away.
Klemko: So many things! First of all, I love meeting my current and former colleagues and other media friends on the road. This job is competitive, but you make some awesome friends along the way. It’s always a thrill to see a [Fox’s] Mike Garafolo, [USA Today’s] Jarrett Bell or Lindsay Jones pop up at the camp you’re at. Secondly, camp is a great setting for building relationships with sources. I met more coaches and GMs one-on-one in a month of camp last year than I did during the entire regular season. I’m not all about breaking news; I just want to tell a good story. The more people you know, the more good stories pop up. Lastly, it’s just a joy and a privilege to see so much of this beautiful country. Last year I remember driving from the airport in Minneapolis to Mankato with those sweeping views of the evergreen hillside and wondering how I got so lucky.
It’s getting face time with player, coaches, executives, etc. You can call, text and email sources or do all the telephone interviews you want. There’s nothing that can replace what comes with human interaction from both a reporting and personal standpoint.
The access. Once training camp ends, reporters covering the Patriots are restricted to a small segment of practice for the rest of the year. In training camp, you get to see it all and that is invaluable to better understanding the team you cover. There’s also the Tom Brady Factor. Watching one of the best who has played the game work at his craft, and how he is such a stickler for the details and treats practices like games, is enjoyable. One of the unforgettable training camp moments for me covering the Patriots was Aug. 1, 2007, which was Randy Moss’ first year with the team, when Brady and Moss decided to turn it on. It was a dynamic show, you had a capacity crowd of 10,000-plus roaring at each big completion as Brady and Moss took over the practice. I remember thinking, “If it’s like this in training camp, imagine the regular season.” Moss ended up tweaking his hamstring later in that practice and the Patriots put him on ice before unleashing him in the season opener against the Jets when he split triple coverage for a long touchdown in the first chapter of a record-setting season for both Moss and Brady. Anyone who was at that training camp practice, and felt the optimism and chemistry between the two players, knew those fireworks were coming.
The excitement of a new season, the new storylines that unfold in front of us every day. Every summer, there are players who emerge and others who struggle. With the explosion of fantasy football, fans want to know who's standing out not just for their favorite team but for all favorite teams because any player can wind up on their fantasy team.
What person/persons or outlets do you consider your biggest competition during training camp and why?
Anybody who is credible at breaking news and has knack for identifying the most important unanswered questions across the NFL. At training camp, you can see reporters watching their phones as much as they're watching what is happening on the field -- whether they're being mindful of injuries or changes to the depth chart. I think the competition aspect of getting news out first in camp or in NFL coverage overall is a good thing, so long as accuracy isn't compromised.
My competitive juices start flowing when I see a Grantland writer at the same camp as me or hear he or she was there just before me. Same goes for Sports on Earth. There are some great local feature writers in the towns I’ll pass through as well -- Tyler Dunne out of Green Bay is one. When I get ready to do a Packers profile, the first thing I do is make sure Ty hasn’t done it first. My job isn’t as competitive as others. It doesn’t matter so much if somebody has done the angle before me, provided I believe I can do it better.
ESPN, simply because they have so many reporters (and some very good ones in many instances).
The Patriots beat is loaded in terms of outlets – newspaper, web-based, TV, radio – covering the team on a daily basis. The team’s own website is also a significant part of that. There are anywhere from 60-80 credentialed media members (includes camera operators, photographers, team-based media) each day. They are all competition, even though each covers the team a bit differently. With so many people covering the same thing, you’re always asking yourself, “What can we do to distinguish ourselves?”
Training camp is a bit different because of the advantages local beat writers have -- and good for them. They get to go to every practice and see first hand who's winning a starting job, who's winning a roster spot, who is shining and who is not. Our 32 ESPN NFL Nation reporters do a tremendous job -- and I'm glad I work with them, not against them. They track all the issues that training camp is about for ESPN.com. And to get back to those injuries, they're there when it happens. I remember flying to Chicago this spring for a sports management conference, and when I landed, I read from all the Cowboys beat writers on Twitter that linebacker Sean Lee had been taken off the field with an injured knee. No way we can report that before them. But we can find out how severe the injury is, exactly what it is, how long he'll be out, how that affects the team going forward and what it can do to replace him.
Regarding restrictions on media at training camp, what is something you would like to see the NFL change and why?
Klemko: I'd say access is pretty good. Most camps make a lot of players available and are pretty relaxed about where you can be during practice. Most of the stories we do are set up through media relations members, and while they can be bristly during the season and playoffs, camp is a very different setting.
Marvez: Media access to assistant coaches remains spotty on a league-wide basis and some teams are more cooperative than others. Having a policy that allows more access on a league-wide basis would help give reporters -- and consequently fans -- a more informed perspective on how players are performing and progressing from those coaches who spend the most time with them in the meeting rooms and on the field.
Reiss: More access to assistant coaches, scouts and executives would be ideal. The idea is that the more informed you are about your subject, the better your finished product is. For teams with fewer reporters covering them regularly, that's probably a little easier to do. But if the NFL mandated that assistants/executives made themselves available multiple times per week, that would be terrific.
Schefter: One thing I'd like to see - and maybe some teams do it - is provide regular access to assistant coaches. It gives assistant coaches good experience and exposure, which is helpful to them on so many fronts. Many times teams are concerned that assistants will say something that compromises the organization but in this day and age, I'd like to think there isn't an assistant who doesn't know what he should and shouldn't say.
Anderson: The only thing I'd like to see changed during training camp is for media outlets to have the ability to shoot more of practice, as the best video of the day usually comes from portions that can be restricted. But for the most part, I find teams are more lenient with media access during camp overall. What I prefer more than that, is for the press to be allowed to watch the entire practice without any social media limitations during the regular season. I know not every team enforces this discretion to the fullest extent. But the spectrum of permission is wide enough across the league to raise the point. I know this is when teams delve more into game day preparations and installations, and that organizations have legitimate concerns about teams deriving secret details about their schemes. I just feel the same trust that is employed during camp not to reveal strategy, can carry over to the period after camp as well. In this regard, I think we can attain more middle ground.
2. Fox said its average audience for the All-Star Game was 11.34 million viewers, up three percent (10.99M) over 2013 and the most-watched All-Star Game since 2010. The game averaged a 3.2 rating in adults 18-49 (the key ad demo), which was flat against last year, It was Fox’s top-rated telecast since a Feb. 12 episode of “American Idol.”
2a. The top-rated markets for the game were: 1. Minneapolis/St. Paul; 2. Detroit; 3. St. Louis; 4. Pittsburgh; 5. Milwaukee; 6. New York; 7. Cincinnati; 8. Kansas City; 9. Cleveland.
2b. ESPN sent out a release last week saying the network was averaging 1.242 million viewers through the first 42 games of its national baseball coverage, up 11 percent over 2013 (1,123,000). Sunday Night Baseball had averaged 1.983 million viewers through last week, up nine percent over 2013 (1,826,000).
3. Fox Sports 1 will air 14 soccer matches over 21 days between July 23 and Aug. 12, including a friendly between the LA Galaxy and Manchester United (the first game under new coach Louie Van Gaal) on Wednesday at 11:00 pm. ET. The next day, Fox Sports 1 starts coverage of the Guinness International Champions Cup, an eight team tournament featuring AC Milan, AS Roma, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Olympiakos and Real Madrid. AC Milan meets Olympiakos in the opener on Thursday (7:30 p.m.). The schedule (a strong lineup) is here:
3a. Sports Media Watch had a chart of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2014 through July.
3b. NBC Sports Network will have 16 cameras (13 covering game action) at Fenway Park for the friendly between Liverpool and AS Roma on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).
3c. Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz examined the work of ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte.
4. The Professional Bull Riders and CBS Sports extended their partnership agreement, meaning CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network will continue as the exclusive television home of the PBR on broadcast and cable.
5. Two stories I missed noting in Monday's column: One of the best pickpockets in New York City explains how he works to the New York Times, and Deadspin on the trouble with Floyd Mayweather.
5a. Howie Schwab, the longtime ESPN researcher and occasional on-air personality jettisoned from network last year, is joining the staff of "Sports Jeopardy," a new show hosted by Dan Patrick on the Crackle network.
5b. File this story away from The Tennessean about how the SEC Network will cover the SEC editorially.
5c. MLB Network will air the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on Sunday (the class is Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Joe Torre) beginning with MLB Tonight at 12:00 p.m. ET. The network said Bob Costas with interview all six electees, followed by the induction ceremony at 1:30 p.m. ET.