You're all familiar with my trip to Chargers Training Camp before this season began. You're all probably also knowledgeable of the fact that I met Kevin Acee at said event. Beyond that, I've never revealed much. Partially because it's pretty boring, but also because I felt like it was more of a "Kevin Acee Day" kindof story than a middle-of-the-season thing.
The story starts with me thinking I wasted a lot of money. Actually, the real story starts with just how difficult it was to get a media credential to attend Chargers Training Camp. They don't want to let in just any ol' blogger, because half of us are nitwits and the other half are drunks. Also, I'm sure the team thought to themselves "Bloggers? Why would we need to allow those guys in. Don't we have Acee doing that stuff now?" Not to mention Casey Pearce, who does a wonderful job over at the Chargers Blog. But we'll skip right ahead to the part of the story where I bought a round-trip ticket to San Diego, flew cross-country, drove to Chargers Park and got stopped at the gate.
I walked up to said gate, after parking, and told the girl at the gate who I was. She seemed perplexed. I didn't have any sort of credentials with me (I had to get them still), she had never seen me before (because I had never been there before) and I probably look a little bit more like a blogger and less like a journalist than I'd be comfortable admitting. So there I stood, at the gate with security standing nearby incase I turned out to be a crazy person, while this young woman radio'd for help. I don't know if she knew I could hear her, but I had to chuckle at the fact that I might be turned away after coming 3,000 miles after hearing her say into the radio "Does anybody know a John from Bolts From The Blue?"
Just as I'm chuckling, another media member comes walking up to the gate. I should rephrase, gliding up to the gate. I immediately recognized it as Kevin Acee. He had a cup of coffee in one hand, I believe a newspaper under his arm, and was pulling some luggage on wheels behind him. I looked down at what I had brought (digital camera, phone for Tweeting, voice recorder) and thought "Crap, now I know why they stopped me." Not surprisingly, since he's there every day, the girl at the gate glanced up and saw it was Kevin without saying a word or looking for some sort of credential from him.
Part of me was tempted to say "Hey Kevin!" After all, for the few days prior to my visiting training camp, Kevin and I had been passing e-mails back and forth trying to set up a day and time for me to interview him. First it was going to be an in-person interview (SDUT Roll!), then our schedules clashed and it got moved to a phone interview. After he missed the phone interview, he was very apologetic even though he had a perfectly good reason (I forget what it was), it got switched to an e-mail interview that was returned to me about 5 minutes after it was originally sent. The man is a machine.
Anyways, like I was saying, I was tempted to grab his attention and introduce myself on the rare chance that I wouldn't be let into Chargers Park. He wasn't quite a Chargers player, but he was somebody that I looked up to and I'd like for him to be aware of our blog as well. I thought better of it though (I kindof thought they wouldn't let me in if I pulled that) and eventually somebody showed up and gave me my media credential wristband. Woohoo!
I walked right to the practice field and saw the players warming up. I think I was the only media person out there at that point, which definitely made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I had thoughts about going the direction Kevin went (left, over the hill, to one of several buildings....the sound of his luggage wheels humming a tune behind him) and trying to find him to introduce myself now. I was, after all, a credentialed member of the media. He'd have to greet me as a colleague! I thought better of it though, and soaked in the opportunity to watch my first ever in-person stretching and warm-up session.
Eventually, as practice began, other members of the media started emerging from over the mysterious hill. (I still have never been over there, but in my head they were in one of those media tents with a stocked bar like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Next year I'm finding it.) Kevin was one of the last to come out, and seemed to time his walk to the field perfectly with the beginning of practice.
For the next hour or two, I found out why Kevin is as good as he is. This was a training camp practice in the middle of August. It hardly meant anything without an injury. This was evident as you mingled around the rest of the media. It was like being at a cocktail party without the cocktails, little cliques chit-chatting and occasionally roaring together in laughter. This was the opportunity for old friends to catch up and new friends to tell stories.
Mr. Acee was a small part of this, and seemed to have a time limit for conversations. I watched as Josh Lewin, Casey Pearce and others would go over to Kevin (separated from the rest of the media members and never taking his stare away from the field) and rope him into conversations. After a few minutes though, a goodbye would be said and again Kevin would be all alone....staring at the football field as if he were a coach trying to watch every single player out there. Every play, even in the middle of training camp, was important to him. Again, I'm not easily impressed and that impressed the hell out of me. That's the type of guy I was planning on being at TC, but mostly because I don't know any other media members and partly because I don't have any connections that can write my story for me.
At one point, I lumbered up to Kevin and introduced myself. The conversation wasn't much. He said he was looking forward to doing the interview, I said I was loving his video reports from camp. He was about the nicest person I met that day, and I met a lot of nice people, but it was very clear that he was there to watch practice and not to socialize.
(Funny story, jumping ahead in time a little bit. I won't say his name or the site, but there was another blogger at the afternoon practice that was obviously there to socialize. In the afternoon, Kevin actually brought a chair to sit in and stare at the field from. The chair was tiny, and if you wanted to talk to him you probably needed to crouch down. It was the perfect conversation deterrent.
Anyways, this other blogger comes up to me and asks me if that's Acee. I say yes (I talked to him in the morning and was keeping my distance now), and the guy walks right over and seems to try to bait Kevin into a conversation with lines like "So who looks good today?", "What did I miss in the morning?"....those types of things. It was friendly enough, and I'm sure Kevin would've responded like the nice guy he is if he had heard the guy but he clearly didn't. With each passing question you could see the guy wondering if he was being ignored, and he eventually gave up and walked away. I think later on he went back and got a handshake or something.)
Anyways, the next (and final) part of this very long story is in the locker room. We've been over my experience in the locker room, but one of the coolest parts that I never discussed was walking in directly behind Kevin. For whatever reason, there are just certain times on certain days when players cannot stick around and do interviews. Unfortunately, on the day I was there, Philip Rivers was busy. How do I know this? Because as he was nearly running out of the locker room, he just about ran into myself and Kevin. He took another step before stopping, turning around, cracking a joke at Kevin and promising to talk to him later.
Here's what that 10 second exchange told me: Philip Rivers is a great guy, and Kevin gets an incredible amount of respect from the face of the franchise. Kevin also gets a ton of respect from the blogosphere, Twitterverse and even from the old-school readers of the newspaper (and probably the old-school journalists as well). None of that is by accident. It's because Kevin works harder, and smarter, than just about any other NFL beat writer today. We're really lucky to have him, San Diego. Now let's hope the NFL Network doesn't try to steal him away.
Coming up a little bit later this afternoon? The thing that scares Kevin Acee the most. Also, for all of you readers with a Twitter account, let's see if we can (gently) persuade Kevin to join BFTB and either posts a few comments or a FanPost. It would be a huge statement for a newspaper guy to give a blog like ours acknowledgement, but he's just the guy to do it.