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A Sportin' We Will Go

Cobras bite, 49ers strike gold

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"It better be packed," I kept telling myself. "It better be packed." Friday night -- St. Valentine's Day -- I went to a Carolina Cobras Arena Football game with my ladyfriend. "It's all for the paper," I kept telling myself (and her). "I'm doing this for them." After also grabbing a cursory hot dog and beer "for them," we took our seats. It quickly became obvious that, while interesting and a hell of a lot of fun, arena football isn't your father's football. Especially if your father is Jerry Richardson.

First of all, the dancers, uh, cheerleaders -- the not-so-subtly named Snake Charmers -- can actually dance, and not all of them are stick-thin.

Second, guys can kick field goals from their own end zones, smash each other into padded walls, and get a running start before crossing the line of scrimmage.

Third, most of the stands were filled, with fans staying hooked until the bitter end, when the Cobras finally conceded victory to the Detroit Fury and wound themselves back into their comfy wicker baskets.

However, on a night which saw the home debut of Charlotte's newest pro sports franchise, just as big a draw was country music jingoist Lee Greenwood, who was set to perform at halftime. I had remembered Greenwood -- who's a dead ringer for scary actor Anthony James, the saloon owner in Unforgiven -- was to perform, but I went anyway. What says Valentine's Day better than a heavy-handed, star-studded tribute to nationalism? After convincing the folks around me that the soldiers up in the roof of the Coliseum were there as Greenwood props and not for his security, I settled in for the show. Greenwood then launched into "God Bless The USA," his chart-toppin', flag-wavin' hit. Bouncing around the Astroturf in his Tony Lamas, Greenwood sidled right up to my section and sang: "I'd proudly stand up. . .next to you and defend her to this day-y-y-y." Oy. Well, so would a lot of us, were this country actually being attacked. That's what "defend" means, the last time I looked. Greenwood's ballad made a little sense post 9/11, but it doesn't in these present circumstances. As Greenwood walked off between four soldiers, camouflaged only in acid-washed denim, the announcer drummed up cheers for the soldiers. "Fort Bragg supports Lee Greenwood!" said the announcer. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Thankfully, Greenwood missed the big UNC-Charlotte/Cincinnati tilt on Saturday night at a jam-packed Halton Arena. The Niners' biggest rivals by default, Cincinnati doesn't just walk into an arena, they swagger. As such, they're hated -- the final comprehensive exam of UNCC basketball foes. And Cincy coach Bob Huggins, the focal point of most of the crowd's abuse Saturday, is the unquestioned leader of the bunch. When he recruits a kid and tells the parents that he'll give him one-on-one guidance and motivation, he ain't kidding -- Huggins provided spittle-flecked instruction only inches from his players' faces the whole game. UNC-Charlotte's coach, the underrated little fellow named Bobby Lutz, does just the opposite. Lutz is more likely to just sit a player on the end of the bench and forget about him. Having not been to a college basketball game in a long time, I was pumped to attend a game at my new school. "Soak up the college experience," I told myself. "Fit in with your classmates." (I talk to myself a lot.) After running out to Abercrombie and Fitch to get some new baggies and a ball cap, I stood in the pre-game concession line. What? You mean they don't serve beer at college basketball games? And people still come? Where's that college spirit? Frankly, if being a student after hours is about anything, it's about drinking, for better or worse. It's a rite of passage, like the Freshman Fifteen or taking at least one semester of Golf. Like most institutions, though, colleges have two sides. They have the party side that everyone -- the dean, the teachers, even the parents -- knows goes on, and they have the fundraising, put-on-a-good-face-for-the-alumni public side. As such, everyone drinks before they go in, which, in a different form, is called tailgating. But I digress. The Niners beat Cincy going away, and crazy tee-totaling students rushed the floor in a mad scramble to cavort in the confetti with mascot Norm The Niner. Soon, of course, they were back in their rooms studying.

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