For three days every July, a tiny hotel in suburban Birmingham, Ala., gets turned into college football’s version of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
It’s Southeastern Conference Football Media Days, which wrapped up Friday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
It’s crowded. It’s noisy. It’s cold (from the overblown air conditioning cooling down the record 1,000-plus attendees). And it can be hard to get a cell phone or Internet connection because everyone is trying to get connected at the same time.
But despite its relative craziness, SEC media days means one thing: The players and coaches from 12 teams come, then they go, heading back to their respective campuses to start getting ready for football in earnest.
The season is just around the corner.
Before we turn the corner, here’s a look back at some of the more memorable moments of the 2011 SEC Football Media Days:
BEST STORY: Like so many LSU players over the years, linebacker Ryan Baker was asked Friday what it’s like to play for Les Miles.
“It’s crazy. I mean, he’s a character,” replied Baker, who then spun a couple of highly amusing yarns about the high hat-wearing, grass-chewing LSU coach.
Baker recalled a team meeting when he was a freshman when Miles showed up wearing a headband and tight shorts and proceeded to entertain his players with a “Soulja Boy” dance.
Apparently, Miles has become so known for breaking out obscure, multi-syllabic words at meetings that one player often comes armed with a dictionary.
He recalled one particular instance that had everyone stumped.
“It was a long word,” Baker said. “Seven or eight syllables. Then a guy stood up and explained the word.
“It happens a lot.”
And Baker made it sound like Miles’ unpredictability is one of the things his players find so endearing.
“We never know what to expect,” Baker said. “We love it. We know he has our back.”
One last question for Baker: What if Miles gave him a blade of grass to chew?
“I’d give it back,” he replied.
BEST ONE LINER: “I was 8-7 in postgame handshakes last year.” — Tennessee coach and former LSU assistant Derek Dooley, referring to the bizarre wins-turned-into-losses for his Volunteers against LSU and North Carolina.
BEST COMEBACK: From most accounts, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was nearly catatonic at 2010 media days, a shell of his former glib, wisecracking self from his days as Florida’s coach.
Wednesday, the old Ol’ Ball Coach was back, skewering a proposal by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for multi-year scholarships, talking about how he got himself handcuffed at practice as a lesson to his players (“It’s no big deal”) and even taking a slap at his troublesome quarterback Stephen Garcia.
“I guess we don’t want to kick him out for stupidity,” Spurrier said of Garcia, who’s expected to be reinstated in August.
BEST BELIEVER: As expected, Alabama fans clogged the Wynfrey lobby Friday morning as coach Nick Saban and three of his players made the rounds at media days, held back behind a barrier like a golf gallery.
Saban was told one of the fans in the lobby was wearing an “I HATE AUBURN” T-shirt and was asked what he would say to that fan if he could.
Saban, apparently trying to head off more toxic incidents in the bitter Bama-Auburn rivalry like the poisoning of Auburn’s fabled Toomer’s Corner oaks allegedly by avowed Alabama fan Harvey Updyke, replied: “I would tell him, it’s not personal. That’s not really the way we should respect the opponents we have.”
The fan, one Eric Blackerby of Columbiana, Ala., held his fingers an inch apart to describe how big he felt when told by a reporter what Saban said.
“It’s like I went to church and God told me He didn’t approve,” Blackerby said.
BEST OFFHANDED COMPLIMENT: Told that his team was the runaway pick by the attending media to win the SEC championship, Saban went off.
“Let me first say that you all are a lot smarter than we are as coaches, because I could never pick who’s going to win the SEC,” Saban said.
Later though, Saban made his annual thanks to the media statement on his way out.
“I want to express my thanks and appreciation to all of you who certainly do a wonderful job covering college football and providing a lot of positive self-gratification and interest to our football players and our program,” he said.
Maybe Saban does have a point about media predictions. Since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, the media has correctly picked the eventual SEC champion only three times.
RECRUITING NOTE: While Miles and his current players were in Hoover on Friday, they were just miles away from a player LSU hopes will be its quarterback one day: Jameis Winston of Hueytown, Ala. He’s narrowed his final three to LSU, Alabama and Florida State.
Winston’s commitment to one of the three had been considered imminent, but Saturday, Hueytown High coach Matt Scott told the Birmingham News that his star player has tentatively put off his decision until Aug. 3.
Winston (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) is apparently worth the wait. He’s the No. 1 quarterback and No. 11 prospect overall on the ESPNU 150.