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Conversation With A Creator: Matt Brown

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Our latest conversation is with Matt Brown, the driving force behind the Extra Points newsletter and a longtime writer at SB Nation. Extra Points is a newsletter that focuses on the forces that shape college athletics beyond the field, such as media rights, trends in higher education and more, and it operates in partnership with The Intercollegiate. This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.

BTT: One of the things that I hear a lot of writers say is there was some point when they were growing up where they realized ‘hey, I can do this, and I think I can be pretty good at this thing.’ Did you have a moment like that?

MB: This was a running joke in my family, ever since I was a little kid, that this would eventually be the career I would end up in. I remember when I was playing Little League, so I must have been nine — so I’m a nine-year-old, 60-pound second baseman — and I’m getting yelled at by my mom in the stands and by my coaches because I’m sitting there in the infield and everybody else is doing “hey batter, batter!’ and I’m doing Howard Cosell and play-by-play, like loud.

I grew up in rural Ohio where there weren’t really a ton of opportunities to get into this, and even though sportswriting and sports journalism and the behind-the-scenes stories were a passion, coming into college I didn’t really feel like that was a career you could actually do. So, I have this really weird, unique pathway to journalism. I went into school thinking I was going to work in politics.

The Legend of The Hoosehead

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Joe VanHoose looms over ESPN's "College Gameday" crew

ESPN’s “College Gameday” road show is bringing its production to Athens this weekend for Georgia’s home opener against Auburn. While COVID-19 restrictions will shift the broadcast inside Sanford Stadium, meaning no throngs of fans with outrageous signs, this does offer an opportunity to tell a story involving two of your humble editors here at BTT. On September 28, 2013, ESPN visited Athens to host its popular football preview show in advance of a Top 10 matchup between Georgia and LSU. 

The game itself was heralded as one of the biggest ones to be played Between The Hedges in years with LSU bringing Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to the Classic City to tangle with Georgia and its All-American running back Todd Gurley. 

At the time, Joe and Johnathan were working at a regional public relations and marketing agency with an Athens office known for its own brand of shenanigans and hijinks. Joe was knocking on the door of his 30th birthday, and the team in Athens decided to celebrate the only way they knew how — by printing out a massive photo of Joe’s face and getting it on “Gameday.”

Say it ain’t so

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Photo courtesy of Clemson University Libraries

A century later, the details are a bit murky. But one thing we can say with relative certainty is that in the third inning of a game at Comiskey Park on September 26, 1920, Joe Jackson went all out to make a catch on the dead run, robbing a Detroit Tigers batter of extra bases. 

In I.E. Sanborn’s Chicago Tribune account, Jackson stole a hit from Ty Cobb. According to Harry Bullion in the Detroit Free Press, the play was a “phenomenal running catch that killed a certain triple” for Bobby Veach, who batted behind Cobb in the Detroit order. 

Either way, there was little doubt that the pride of Greenville, South Carolina still had it, at the plate and in the field. At age 33, he was in the midst of his best season since joining the White Sox five years earlier. He would end up among the American League’s top five in nearly every offensive category, including his .382 batting average, 218 hits, 20 triples, 12 home runs and 121 RBIs. 

Though the White Sox still had four games left to play after that 8-1 win over the Tigers, the teams’ matchup the following day would finalize all of those remarkable stats. For on Monday, September 27, 1920 — though he couldn’t have imagined it at the time — Shoeless Joe Jackson would play his final major league baseball game. 

The redeye(s) to Mississippi

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Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

I had no good reason to check into a king suite at the Hampton Inn in Tupelo, Mississippi the evening of Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 — well, the morning of Sept. 24. I still had tickets in my pocket to the Florida-Kentucky football game in Lexington scheduled for that evening. I didn’t even have a change of clothes. 

Nevertheless, I slid in the room key, used the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste to scrub away the lingering taste of fried chicken and beer, and slid into the king-sized bed. I looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was way too late. 

But as my head hit one of the five pillows on the bed, I was entirely too awake.

Huh, so that’s what Adderall does.

“Bream to the plate!”

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Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Braves

For the past few weeks, we’ve shared a Thursday essay or story with our full email list that we intend to provide exclusively to our Patreon subscribers. Last week was the time we’ll be sharing that content with our full list, transitioning it solely to our BTT Backers starting this Thursday. In that spirit, we did want to share this brief article that was featured last week for everyone to see what we typically include in this special newsletter for our supporters. 

Supporting BTT through Patreon is important because, yes, it shows us you appreciate the stories we’re trying to tell, but also because that money goes toward our writer’s fund so we can properly and justly compensate our guest contributors for their time, effort and work. As such, if you aren’t already, we’re asking you to consider pledging just $5 a month at our Patreon site so we can build up a healthy, recurring base of funds to support our contributors, and you can keep getting unique, interesting stories through our Thursday newsletter.

Seeing the Braves in first place heading into the final 10 days of the regular season — yes, we’re there already — inevitably gets me thinking about Octobers past. 

And when it comes to the Braves, one October memory inevitably stands out above the rest: Sid Bream rounding third, torso bending forward in an I-think-I-can chug, willing himself down the baseline before sliding across the plate as Mike LaValliere lunges for the tag.

Skip Caray: “He is … SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! … Braves — WIN!

If you look closely at video or still photos of that spellbinding sequence that ended Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series, you can see that the right leg of Bream’s uniform pants is bulkier than the left, an unnatural framework visible around the knee.

A safe space

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This is a guest feature article from Donnell Suggs, who is a staff writer for the Southern Cross and a freelance writer living in Savannah. An active member of the National Association of Black Journalists, his work has been published in the Savannah Morning News, ESPN’s The Undefeated, Atlanta Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Newnan Times-Herald and The Atlanta Voice.

Riverdale, Ga. – Charles R. Drew High School Assistant Principal William Silveri’s silver SUV pulled up outside of Southern Crescent Stadium on a hot afternoon in September. He’s there to meet me to talk about his position as the assistant executive director of the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia (MCAofGA), and it just so happens to be time for the Drew Titans football team to practice.

Titans junior linebacker Kalen Justice walked by wearing a HBCU camp cut-off t-shirt when Silveri pointed his way, “See that shirt,” he asked me. “Come here Kalen.” The shirt was from last year’s Historically Black College and University (HBCU) camp held at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. Justice was one of hundreds of players invited to the camp in order to demonstrate their abilities in front of dozens of coaches.

Coaches from Florida A&M University to Fort Valley State University to North Carolina A&T University and Savannah State University were in attendance to name a few.

“We had commitments from almost every HBCU program,” said Silveri, himself a former high school coach who also worked as a guidance counselor at Riverdale High School. He knows kids and understands what motivates student-athletes at this level.

Where are the prophets?

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This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier this year, he explored the morality of college football returning to play during the pandemic.

When I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia I decided, like a lot of nerdy sophomores in college do, to watch all of the 1001 Movies You Have to See Before You Die. I realized pretty quickly this was a terrible idea because I did, in fact, have to attend class and read books.

I settled instead on the 100 Greatest Movies from the American Film Institute since 100 is less than 1001 and got to work filling in the gaps of my cinematic knowledge.

One of the movies that has stuck with me is On the Waterfront, the Elia Kazan Best Picture winner starring Marlon Brando. You’ll know it as the “I coulda been a contender!” movie, if you know it at all.

The only thing I knew about On the Waterfront going into it was that line. I had no idea that the plot revolved around a mob boss taking over a longshoreman’s union and black balling a washed-up prize fighter — a prize fighter whose career he himself soiled after convincing him to throw a fight.

I’m not sure I would’ve found that all that interesting but for the inclusion of a priest — Father Barry, played by Karl Malden and his legendary schnozz.

Father Barry has stuck with me because he was the first time I saw a fictional representation of a Christian minister advocating for economic justice. I was used to priests and pastors in movies symbolizing a hypocritical hyper-morality that had to be sloughed off, institutional corruption that had to be fought, or a benevolent yet myopic concern for the soul and the soul alone.

The pursuit of belonging, part two

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Photo courtesy of NCTTA

This is Part Two of our exploration of the Anderson College and Augusta College table tennis rivalry. In Part One, we took a look at the formation of both programs, and you can read that here.

Part Two …

Derek May is a chopper.

You’ll need to understand table tennis — competitive table tennis — to know what that means.

It’s a style of play that typically confounds most folks on the table. It’s built on patience, relying on defensive measures to bait aggressive players into making mistakes. 

Today, if you watch table tennis in the Olympics — or, let’s say, on ESPN’s annual “Ocho Day” coverage — you’re likely used to seeing the players slowly and steadily backing up as they deliver stronger and stronger strikes. It’s an intensity that exceeds your likely experiences of the game, cobbled together at your college’s student center or during a rain delay at your neighborhood swimming pool.

It’s fast-paced. It’s forceful. It’s overpowering.

A chopper, however, counters this cleverly. They might retreat, but also may creep up closer to the table. Shots may feature spin … or they may not. Strokes may appear firm, but they might land soft.

“Their biggest weapon is deception,” said Greg Riley, a member of Anderson College’s table tennis teams in the early 1990s. “So they’re just chopping the ball. They’re not attacking, not hitting or trying to smash it past you. They’re just chopping, but a lot of the time they’re using different variations. The same stroke with different spin on it.”

Choppers like Derek, however, didn’t faze Riley.

Darlington won’t be the same without ‘Mr. Raceway’ around

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NASCAR kicks off its Playoffs Sunday evening in South Carolina, wrapping up an abbreviated race week at the famed Darlington Raceway unlike the Pee Dee has seen in the track’s 70-year history.

While up to 8,000 race fans have been approved to attend the Southern 500, there will be tens of thousands of other seats that will remain unfilled this weekend.

This Southern 500 marks the first year I haven’t seen a NASCAR race at Darlington since 1992. I doubt they’ll notice my absence. On the other hand, this marks the first real race week at Darlington without “Mr. Raceway” around. That would be Harold King, my great uncle, who died in March at the age of 96.

Uncle Harold had a career at Dixie Cup, helped launch the funeral service that put him in the ground, and served on both the Darlington City and County Councils.

The pursuit of belonging

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Photo of Augusta College courtesy of Derek May

Part One …

The bus had only been on the road for a few miles when the singing started.

It likely began quietly at first, with the group first settling on a song and testing out the harmonies. It would grow a little louder as more and more people heard the faint tunes passing by them like a breeze, recognizing the melody and then joining in for the chorus.

Who started it? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Pete May remembers that the Butlers often kicked things off. They were a musical family, you see. Now, Scott Butler doesn’t deny these outbursts of singing, but he remembers Derek May, Pete’s son, bringing along a guitar. Derek, for what it’s worth, is a bit murky on all of it.

Still, it’s the early 1990s, and there aren’t iPads or Netflix to occupy your time on a long drive.

Get bored? Well, it’s time to sing. That’ll kill an hour or so.

By the way, have you ever driven to Detroit? From Augusta, Georgia? 

Do you know what that’s like?

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