NEW ORLEANS -- Baylor's secret to making it out of the Big Easy and into the Sweet 16? Being the adopted team of the Saints.
The day before the Bears faced Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA tournament, they were visited by two of the Super Bowl champs' assistants: associate head coach Joe Vitt and secondary coach Dennis Allen.
The Baylor-Saints connection is somewhat random -- Vitt's daughter, Jennifer, owns a company with a former BU athletic department employee -- but it was enough to get them to come to Baylor's hotel on Friday, bearing a gift: one of the "Bring the Wood" bats that running back Reggie Bush carried onto the field before their playoff win over the Cardinals. The Bears took the bat to New Orleans Arena because, as forward Anthony Jones explained: "The Saints had 'Wood Games,' like special games where if you bring the bat, you've gotta bring the wood. We knew that Old Dominion was a good offensive rebounding team, so we had to bring the wood and get them off the glass."
Freshman A.J. Walton brought the bat out to allow me to record some FlipCam video:
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The Saints coaches gave Baylor an inspirational message other than "Bring the Wood," and that message was posted on signs in the locker room prior to the second-round game. Walton said that they read, "Play harder than any team can play."
He then was forced to admit that he hadn't really read the signs -- because fellow freshman Oscar Griffin, whose locker was next to Walton's, started cracking up and said, "That is not the message. You messed that up."
Griffin urged me to check out one of the actual signs, which was still up on a far wall: