NEWPORT, R.I. – As the sun slowly started inching toward the watery horizon of Narragansett Bay and the smoky smell of steamed lobsters and corn on the cob rose into the air, it suddenly seemed as if all eyes were focused on one table at the annual American Athletic Conference clambake on Goat Island.
It was still the cocktail hour in Newport. Drinks were being enjoyed as waiters passed through the crowd with their trays of appetizers.
The festivities did not stop as UCF coach George O’Leary walked toward a table where Connecticut coach Bob Diaco had just enjoyed a bowl of chowder with a couple of his players. But there was a bit of a buzz.
There was no tension.
Nobody made a scene.
But as a small paparazzi of photographers gathered to snap shots on a grassy carpet, this portion of AAC media days may have reduced itself to an episode of Entertainment Tonight.
Nothing to see ET; move on to the next set of divorce rumors. This was just a couple of college football coaches greeting each other before a new season begins. If there was any mention of Diaco’s effort on Twitter back in June to create a “Civil Conflict” rivalry game against UCR – complete with a trophy to the winner – it could not be heard.
Reporters who want to know what the men discussed will have to ask Tuesday at the formal interview sessions. The annual clambake is an informal affair with unwritten rules: No notebook’s, no tape recorders, and no discussions for publication.
The “Civil Conflict” story, started by that tweet from the UConn football office, may not have made headlines in your hometown, but it did in Orlando and Storrs. It will probably carry a shelf life until the teams meet on October 16 in Orlando, because Diaco seems determined to make this happen.
The bottom line is that the clambake is a good chance to renew friendships after the summer break in college sports. And it is a night to start thinking about the opening of football camp.
With Navy joining the conference and giving the AAC 12 members, there will be a championship game between two division winners on Dec. 5. The new championship trophy was on display at the clam bake.
Players from Temple and USF began the night with a friendly game of Cornhole.
It was a beautiful Newport evening to socialize.
Everyone was treated to a classic Newport sunset. Players and families were snapping photos with their smart phones and cameras.
The tradition of a clam bake started with the Big East Conference football media day at the Eisenhower House in Newport. The AAC has moved the festivities to the Hyatt Regency on Goat Island. This is a New England style clambake, with food steamed in a fire pit in the ground. There are lobsters, mussels and steamers, along with sausages, potatoes and corn on the cob. For those who prefer Turf over Surf, there is steak and chicken, salad, pasta, etc.
First the Hyatt Regeny chefs give some history of the clambake as players, coaches, bowl representatives and media crowd around.
Then the bounty is unveiled.
Dinner is served. Players from Tulsa were ready to dig in.
Players from UConn and East Carolina dined together.
And the Naval Academy was welcomed into the conference. Good to see some men in uniforms enjoying a great meal – lobster bibs and all. Nose guard Bernard Sarra and quarterback Kenan Reynolds are representing the Midshipmen in Newport.
We will ask around Tuesday and see which player endulged in the most lobsters. There have been some epic performances in the past, especially by linemen.
Tuesday, everyone gets down to the business of football.