Column: "The Sports Trail"Arkansas-LSU game, Ettinger weave, cast pall on Turkey Day odyssey

Thursday, December 1, 2005

The ball hung in the air, poised over the basketball goal, ready to drop or bounce as the not-well-conditioned athletes underneath jockeyed for position with grunts, groans and comments unfit for family consumption.

The ball bounced, as so many before had, and a mad scramble was on.

"Quick! Grab it before it rolls into the road," several shouted as they watched a younger sibling dash up the driveway to retrieve the basketball from sure death on the neighborhood roadway.

No, it wasn't the Maui Invitational in Lahaina Hawaii, where the Razorbacks exhausted themselves playing three top teams. It was the annual Ettinger halftime basketball game, played during the break of the Arkansas-LSU football game.

Hurricane Katrina made a mess of everyone's plans for Turkey Day, as no rooms were available in New Orleans, so the big Ettinger get-together was set for Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Our youngest, Amy, married into the Ettinger clan, and we've done Thanksgiving in the Big Easy ever since -- until Katrina.

Worse, the Hogs were going into the game with just four wins, while the Bayou Bengals were 9-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country.

So, in spite of balmy weather in the 70s and sunshine, it was gonna be tough to sit through the game. Tough for us, but not for Bobby, Amy's husband, and his three brothers, Howard, Lee and Brian, all LSU grads.

Heck, even their mother is an LSU fan. The dogs were wearing purple and gold. You get the idea?

Anyway, the Hogs were down at halftime, so the game was a welcome release. We jogged (?) out to the court and Lee's new basketball goal. Shiny and black, with a glass backboard, it awaited our expertise to come to life.

It still waits. But I digress. As expected, it wound up with the Ettinger boys taking on the McNeals, with help for our side from an Ettinger cousin, also named Lee.

Play started, and the Ettinger gang went into their famous weave. Pass and cut, pass and cut. I got tired watching it. Didn't move, you understand, just watched.

When it was our turn, I passed off to daughters Kerrie and Amy, then encouraged them loudly to rebound. They were pretty good, from where I was standing.

As the oldest member of the game, my plan was to go inside and use my height against the vertically-challenged Ettingers, who were a head shorter and decades younger.

Kerrie fed me a great pass underneath, I faked, pivoted, and powered up for a bank shot. Howard, however, powered a little higher and swatted my shot away.

Hummm. New plan. I reverted back to my old hook shot and that worked, but the quick little devils kept tipping rebounds away, then it was back to the weave.

As wives, children, grandchildren, friends and family gathered to watch and cheer, saying such things as "Don't get hurt," and "I'm not taking you to the doctor," the game wound down.

I was encouraged. Survival had been my goal, and it was met. However, I still had to walk back inside to the couch and suffer through the rest of the football game.

Arkansas lost, 19-17, in what I assured everyone was a winnable game, then I had to sit in a car through five states to get home. And you thought Houston Nutt had problems over Thanksgiving.

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