While the King family has been taking Memphis by force, I have been working every journalistic angle I know to get the Dawg Sports interview to end all Dawg Sports interviews. It was rough going for a while there. I blew through all my buy money, my bribe money, four of my best I.D.'s and I was getting nowhere. Not only was I nowhere, I'm pretty sure I was being followed. But then I was the recipient of a stroke of luck.
While sitting in the Waffle House on Summer Avenue at 4 a.m., drinking coffee and contemplating the disappointments that go with sportsbloggery, who should stagger in but the man I had been scouring Memphis trying to interview: Central Florida Coach George O'Leary. He was flanked by what appeared to be 3 showgirls from a riverboat casino and the biggest golden retriever I've ever seen, wearing a tag inscribed with the name "Goose". What follows is a relatively faithful transcript of our predawn conversation, minus a hot real estate tip and and some bawdy stories about former Vikings coach Mike Tice, Bruce Dern and a Senegalese summer night . Because we promised each other we'd be totally honest about things. Mostly. Kinda.
MaconDawg: Coach, let's get down to brass tacks. Is this Liberty Bowl the biggest game of your tenure at UCF?
O'Leary: Not by a long shot. That would have been when we played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. It was a dark and stormy night. President Reagan was there, only dressed as Helen Thomas so that he wouldn't be recognized. It was electric I tell you. Electric.
O'Leary: Sure have, it's right here in Chapter 6 of my autobiography [holds aloft copy of 25 Years of Greatness: The George O'Leary era in UCF football.] Did you know that I'm 134th in line to the British throne, right in front of David Beckham and right behind a spider monkey named Rufus? I don't like to tell people because it makes it seem like I'm bragging . . .
MaconDawg: Charming. Have you had a chance to watch Georgia this season? As I recall there was a time when you led a bit of a charmed life when it came to playing the Bulldogs.
O'Leary: I don't watch a lot of television. Doesn't win football games. Friedgen, now he watches a lot of television. Used to have a regular man-date with Jim Donnan at the Rio Bravo off Roswell Road to watch Full House and drink starfruit margaritas. They had a lot of fun but look who's still coaching now won't ya? He with the most impressive resume laughs last, blogger boy. Never forget that. Though I do like that show Lie To Me on Fox. Can't get enough of that.
MaconDawg: Who can? You've got a freshman quarterback who received attention during the recruiting process from Georgia, Miami and a host of other programs,Jeffrey Godfrey. He's completed 68% of his passes for 2042 yards, sports a 3 to 1 TD/INT ratio, and even ran for 105 yards against Houston. What makes him so special?
O'Leary: Let me correct you there MD, Godfrey threw for over 7,000 yards this season. Best quarterback I've seen since I coached Joe Namath at NYU-Stoney Brook while I was getting my masters.
MaconDawg: Interesting. Who are Godfrey's main targets?
O'Leary: Our leading receiver's a kid named Jamar Newsome. Jamar's a senior with good size (6'2, 200 lb.) who caught 34 passes for 597 yards this season. Nice kid. He deworms orphans in Indochina during the offseason. Didn't know it when I recruited him, but it turns out he's Mother Teresa's great-grandson. Whodathunkit, right?
MaconDawg: That can't possibly be correct.
O'Leary: Why not?
MaconDawg: Because . . .nevermind. That's fascinating. Tell me about your defense.
O'Leary: We won Conference USA you know. We got invited to join the ACC after that but we turned 'em down because it just wouldn't be fair, plus I enjoy beatin' the crap out of Southern Miss too much to stop now. To answer your question, we're 12th in the country in scoring defense. Only give up 18 points a game but never gave up more than 17 in our last three. Held UAB to 7 points, and when you hold a Neil Callaway-coached team to single digits you're doing work, son.
MaconDawg: Yeah I saw that title game against SMU. Solid effort by the Knights defense.
O'Leary: You may not have realized it but that game was Eric Dickerson's lowest rushing total of the year. And Craig James didn't reach the endzone once. I didn't notice myself until the guy from The Economist who was there doing a feature on me pointed it out afterwards.
MaconDawg: I bet. So how do you feel about your chances this afternoon?
O'Leary: There's a damned good chance we'll sneak up on that motivationally challenged group you guys brought in from Athens and beat them. Half of 'em are too concerned about where they'll be drafted in April, and some of them are so cheesed off about playing time that they're just up and leaving. And boy howdy if y'all lose this one I have no idea what's going to happen to that Dream Team recruiting class of yours. Then again, the closest thing we have to a quality win this season was a shootout victory over East Carolina, so Georgia's absolute best shot may not be required. I imagine we'll know after the 1st quarter how this one's gonna go.
MaconDawg: Now that is 100% true.
Thanks again to Coach O'Leary, a straight shooter with middle management written all over him. I'm just gonna put this right here and samba out the door:
I'll see you all after the game . . .