BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Denny Brauer doesn't want to lie, but honestly, he probably should right about now.
It's media day on the eve of the Bassmaster Classic, in a posh Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex meeting room stocked with barbecued pork and bottles of sweet tea, and like the other 49 anglers here, Brauer is seated at a round table with his name and picture atop it to guide the dozens of milling reporters. He is being asked whether he could possibly fish any better as a result of attending a media day before the most prestigious and lucrative bass fishing tournament anywhere.
The Classic's media soiree is hardly the zoo that precedes the Super Bowl, but it's probably no less a distraction. Who wants to answer questions about water temperatures and baits when he could be re-checking tackle, analyzing the weather or just slacking?
"I think subconsciously there probably is (a benefit), because it gets you thinking about certain things," says Brauer, who will be fishing his 19th Classic. But you don't want to give away too much, he adds. "It's almost a little bit of a poker game when it comes to the media interviews on the front side of an event. It's a necessary evil, but it's one you'd just as soon avoid. You don't want to deceive anybody, but you don't want to say, 'Yeah, I'm going to win an event,' and have everyone in the world keyed in on you."
Brauer is then asked the obvious: You feeling good about this one?
He doesn't answer right away. His face turns a little pink. "I feel good," he says quietly, then tries to swallow a smile that instead begins beneath his moustache and spreads outward. "I don't think you could be sure." He grins. "But some of us are really liking what's happening right now." By now, he's broken into a full-on chuckle fit.
You read it here first: Brauer's going to win the 2007 Classic. Please resist the temptation to key in on him.
Frankly, it's paragraphs like that last one that make the Classic media morass so mixed. Yes, attention is good, but sometimes the attention takes over. Consider that some of it comes in a story on an ESPN-owned web site about the media coverage at a tournament run by an ESPN-owned fishing organization. That's Lewis Carroll territory right there.
Take Ishama Monroe, a seasoned pro, seated across from Kevin Waterman, who qualified through a Federation Nation event. Monroe concedes that a day off before a tournament allows the fish a day of rest, so it's not a total bummer that he's not on the water today. But he would just as soon laze in bed or bob in the hot tub instead of answering questions about how many bites he had during Wednesday's practice.
He won't answer that one, by the way. He says 35, but he doesn't mean it. So he probably had fewer than 35. Key in on Monroe at your own risk.
He'd rather not even think about fishing at all today. "But it never works out that way," he says.
"I can't help but think about it," Waterman says. "It's all I do. Are the fish still going to be there? Are they going to be shallow or deep? I play it all through my head."
With that inner din, Waterman doesn't mind indulging microphones and notebooks. "The media's the machine behind us," he says. "Without the media, you're not going to make the salaries these guys make. It's a necessary "
He pauses. Surely he's about to call someone at his table "evil." Brauer did. Not a problem. Fire away.