BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Lil Romeo has a decent grip. That, and the kid can rap.
Unfortunately I can't provide you with much more information about USC's most high-profile signee. I tried to interview him after his Beverly Hills High School team lost to Santa Monica Friday, but all I got was a handshake from the son of rapper Master P.
That's right: The little man big-timed me.
"I've got a tutoring session at 9," said Romeo, whose song "My Baby" reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2001. "My dad said to tell you he's going to set up a meeting."
I was confused.
"A meeting?" I said. "What? Like a press conference?"
As he had since I approached him, Romeo continued to stare at his cell phone while typing a text message.
"Naw, man – a meeting," he said. "My dad has your information."
I must admit, I found it odd that Master P would have my phone number considering I'd never tried to contact him about setting up an interview with his son, who is sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Also – other than the time Mr. Hand barged into Jeff Spicoli's house carrying a history book in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" - I can't ever remember hearing of a high school senior being tutored on a Friday night. Still, even if the excuse was legit, I asked Romeo if he'd give me just one quote, just one quick sentence about his decision to attend USC.
"I would," he said, "but it's almost 9 o'clock."
At that point I tossed my notebook onto the sidewalk and dropped to my knees. In my loudest – yet most eloquent – voice, I began to bellow the chorus from his No. 1 hit.
"Oh-Oh Ro-me-o give me a chaaaaannnncceee!"
OK, I made that part up. But it would've been funny.
Instead I wished Romeo luck at USC and headed back to my hotel. As I drove down Sunset Boulevard, I decided it wouldn't be fair to form a negative opinion of Romeo based on what had just transpired. Part of me understands why Romeo and his family may be reluctant when it comes to dealing with the media.
Before he ever garnered attention as an athlete, Romeo made his mark as an entertainer, and we've all seen how ruthless the paparazzi and gossip magazines can be toward folks in that industry.
Britney Spears' life has unraveled partly because she crumbled under the pressures of the overbearing media. Jessica Simpson has been branded as an outcast in her own state – just because she went to Texas Stadium to watch her boyfriend play for the Cowboys.
Bottom line: As much as entertainment reporters and photographers can make stars, they can also break them with their lack of ethics and flippancy toward reporting stories in an accurate, professional manner.
So if someone like Romeo is hesitant to deal with the press – even if the news outlet is legitimate - I guess I can understand. And if a father such as Master P feels the need to be protective of his son and monitor his career, good for him.
I just wish someone would've told me the kid wasn't doing interviews. Instead of sitting through that basketball game, I could've gone to In-N-Out.
Chris Douglas-Roberts – Three years ago the Memphis guard was a second-tier recruit who failed to receive scholarship offers from a few of his top choices. Now he's one of the best – and most quotable – players on college basketball's lone undefeated team.
Meaty – Wonder if Rob and Big are jealous that their dog is getting his own photo shoots.
Keisha Knight Pulliam – Anyone seen Rudy Huxtable lately? Yow-za!
Kevin Love – Somehow, despite being taunted mercilessly by fans in his home state, the UCLA center managed to walk off the court at Oregon without making any gestures or saying a single word in retaliation. Quite a mature move for a freshman.
WWE Hall of Fame – The announcements for this year's class should begin soon. Keeping my fingers crossed for Bruiser Brody and The Fabulous Freebirds.
Chevy Chase – I'm so proud of myself because, just moments ago, I used one of His Majesty's quotes from European Vacation. It all came about when I ordered a Coke from the flight attendant. "Do you want that in the can?" she said. I wiggled in my seat, turned and looked toward the rear of the airplane and then back at her. "No," I said, "I'll have it right here." YES!
Good guys – People often ask me to name some of the nicest, easy-to-like players in college basketball. Until this year my coverage was limited to the Big 12, so here's a list of good guys from that conference: Richard Roby (Colorado), Aleks Maric (Nebraska), Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins (Kansas), Bill Walker (Kansas State) and Mamadou Diene (Baylor).
Brock Lesnar – The Next Big Thing may have lost to Frank Mir, but it seems pretty clear that Lesnar, a former WWE champion, has a bright future in mixed martial arts. One of my favorite all-time signs at a wrestling event: "Don't Feed the Lesnar."
Virgin Record Store – Took advantage of the $10 DVD sale during my two-hour visit to the Hollywood Boulevard location Sunday night. My purchases: A Few Good Men, Shawshank Redemption, Donnie Brasco, Wild Things and Good Fellas.
Eddie Sutton – Congrats on career win No. 800. I may have taken a harmless jab at him a few weeks ago, but there aren't many people in college basketball who weren't happy to see him achieve the milestone.
Mike Anderson – The former UAB coach has been at Missouri less than two seasons, and he's already had to deal with five off-the-court issues involving his players.
The flu in Memphis – Came down with a mild case of the coughs and sneezes and had to leave town a day early. The worst part was not being able to go to Interstate BBQ or Gus' Fried Chicken. Oh well. There's always next time.
Britney Spears – I can't stand it when talk show hosts or television journalists make fun of her situation. There is nothing to laugh about here. The girl is a mental wreck and the media is part of the problem. Hate to sound like that "person" on YouTube, but it's time to leave Britney alone.
Kansas State – Here's how the Wildcats handled the success of beating Kansas at home for the first time in 24 years: Five hours after the victory, assistant coach Dalonte Hill was arrested for DUI. Three days later K-State lost to a mediocre Missouri squad that was without its best player (Stefhon Hannah). Hey Wildcats, act like you've been there. Oh wait, you haven't.
"Stow" – As in, "Please stow your luggage in the overhead compartment." Seriously, does anyone use this word besides flight attendants? How about, "Please store your luggage …" or "Please put your luggage …" But "stow?" I don't get it.
Arizona – I was on the Wildcats bandwagon big-time before Saturday's embarrassing performance against UCLA, when Kevin O'Neil's team trailed by as many as 32 points. Couldn't believe how timid and scared Arizona looked against the Bruins defense.
Los Angeles and San Francisco airports – Trying to decide which one I hate the worst.
Ty Lawson – An ankle injury may keep North Carolina's standout guard out of Wednesday's game against Duke, which would be a shame.
Rachael Ray – Is she too big-time now to film any more $40 A Day shows? I'm tired of the re-runs. C'mon Rachael. Remember where you came from, darlin'.
She dazzled them with her looks, impressed them with her posture and used her personality to win their respect.
And, heck, if judges in the 2005 Miss Teen USA pageant had asked Allie LaForce to make a free throw, you can bet she would have done that, too.
Anyone who likes girls who are into sports will surely be a fan of Allie, who feels as comfortable in her Ohio University basketball uniform as she did her Miss Teen USA crown. Along with being one of the most striking women in college basketball, Allie is also one of the most well-rounded.
She was valedictorian of her senior class at Vermillion (Ohio) High School, where she starred in basketball, softball and volleyball. Now a freshman walk-on at Ohio U, Allie is studying journalism with the hopes of becoming a sideline reporter or play-by-play analyst once her basketball career ends. She's also maintained her involvement with the various charity organizations she worked with during her reign as Miss Teen USA.
"Not exactly," said Allie, when asked if her life had calmed down during the last year. "It was crazy being Miss Teen USA – but things are still pretty crazy. I've got a lot of things to keep me busy, but I like it that way."
Luckily Allie penciled in a few minutes to chat with me before Sunday's Super Bowl.
KOTR: How has college basketball gone for you thus far?
ALLIE: So far so good. We're No. 1 in the MAC right now, so you can't get better than that. We've won six games in a row.
KOTR: How much different is the college game from the high school game?
ALLIE: It was an easy transition for me, mainly because the coaches and the girls on the team were so welcoming and so helpful. The level of play is definitely a lot harder than high school, but it's all been very rewarding. It's awesome to play with people that understand the game. In high school you have people playing for a lot of different reasons. It's not always because they love basketball. In college everyone loves it and everyone is dedicated. That's the best part about it.
KOTR: Why did you pick Ohio University?
ALLIE: I came to Ohio University for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. My AAU coaches and I were in contact with the basketball coaches here. There was an open tryout. I knew that if I didn't give it a shot that I'd regret it. Luckily it worked out well.
KOTR: How active have you been in the journalism school?
ALLIE: I'm trying to get as much hands-on journalism experience as I can. There are so many opportunities here. I'm doing morning sports radio right now. I go to high school basketball games and film them and report on them. I'm playing basketball on top of that and I just transferred into the Honors Tutorial College, so there's going to be an extra workload.
KOTR: Have you decided what field of journalism you want to enter, or are you still in the experimentation stage?
ALLIE: I'm still in the experimentation stage. I think sports broadcasting is what I want to focus on. After college, I won't be playing basketball anymore, but I want to keep it in my life. So broadcasting is something I'd enjoy. I think it's great that women are getting more and more opportunities to be seen and heard in the sports industry. I can see myself being a sideline reporter or doing play-by-play. Play-by-play may be further down the road, but I can see myself doing sideline stuff right now.
KOTR: What are some parallels between competing in a beauty pageant and a basketball game?
ALLIE: There's a lot of pressure because you're out there in front of a big group of people. The preparation is (tough) too. When I won Miss Ohio I did it with almost no preparation whatsoever. I wasn't expecting to win. I just did it to mix things up from sports a little bit. But for Miss Teen USA … that was on national television, so I wanted to be prepared. There was a lot of preparation that went into it as far as walking technique, sit-ups, jogging, eating healthy, interview questions … it goes on and on.
KOTR: What was the toughest part?
ALLIE: The interview, just because the walking and the dancing is all something we rehearsed for 18 days. We practiced from early on the morning until late at night. In the end it was like riding a bike for us. It was nothing. The interview was something we never practiced. You are who you are. There's no teaching involved. So it was nerve-wracking, because you had no idea what they were going to ask you. Plus, the contestants write the questions, and no one was going to (reveal) what they wrote.
KOTR: What did you talk about during the interview?
ALLIE: They asked me about the all-guys baseball team I was on when I was younger. I told this story about how I drove in the game-winning run in a championship game. The crowd went crazy. They loved it. I was the only girl on the team and those boys weren't expecting me to get a hit. All of a sudden those guys were my friends.
KOTR: Why did you enter the pageant?
ALLIE: My mom was Miss Ohio in 1977. One day she said, 'I think you should enter the Miss Ohio pageant. I think it would be fun for you. Just treat it like it's a (sports) camp. Go meet some girls, have fun doing something that's out of your comfort zone.' There were no expectations of winning and I didn't tell many people I was doing it. There were a handful of my family members that came and I didn't have any of my friends come.
KOTR: Then you went on to win Miss Teen USA before your junior year of high school. What were some of the perks?
ALLIE: The day after I won I was on a plane to New York City to see my Manhattan apartment (laughing). Just imagine a junior in high school, from a small town, going to live in a Manhattan apartment. The day I got there it was a big publicity day. There were a bunch of different TV shows and radio tours. It was exciting. I got to go overseas twice. I went to Germany and visited a military base and interacted with some of the sons and daughters of the men and women who are deployed. Then I went to China for a bridal fashion show. I missed 60 days of school. Thankfully my high school was very cooperative. I got all my homework assignments before I left and then I'd do them on the plane or in the car. I still graduated as valedictorian, so it was worth it.
KOTR: Tell me about some of the charities you worked with?
ALLIE: I did a lot of work with the Sparrow Club and Best Buddies. I did a 90-mile bike ride with Best Buddies. It was on a tandem bike and I had a 'best buddy,' which is a person with a mental disability that you help. You become one of their best friends. You're there for them. You're their buddy. My buddy was named Katie and she's a victim of Down's Syndrome. We rode 90 miles together on a tandem bike. It was awesome. It was featured on NBC. One time our pedal broke off and we were sitting on the side of the road until a repair team came and fixed our bike. We really had a chance to bond. We still talk to each other. She's an awesome girl.
KOTR: Sounds as if you had some rewarding experiences that will stick with you. What do your new teammates and classmates say about your time as Miss Teen USA?
ALLIE: When I first got here the basketball girls didn't know me, so they just called me Miss America. I wasn't Allie or anything. I was just Miss America. Most people don't know that there's a difference between Miss America and Miss USA. I just laughed about it. It was a funny joke between us. They still call me that from time to time.
My brother and I used to go down to George's Bar. We'd drink Big O's until they closed down the place. We'd talk about our lifelong ambitions. I still recall the smile upon his face.
Oops. Sorry about that. Every time I think about my all-time favorite restaurant and bar, those words pop into my head. I didn't make them up. Country star Pat Green did when he was penning the opening verse to his ditty about George's – the place so good it has its own song.
Located in Waco, Texas, George's was my second home during my days at Baylor University. Heck, after penciling in the final bubble on the last exam of my college career, I drove to George's at 9:30 a.m. and didn't leave until it closed at midnight. Even now, each time I'm in Dallas or Austin, I make the 90-minute drive up or down Interstate 35 to go to The Temple, which is how my Delta Tau Delta brothers and I referred to what may be the most popular landmark in Waco.
(Yeah, I was a frat boy. Wanna make something of it?)
There are three things that make George's popular: The beer, the food and the people. Before I break down each category, I want to apologize beforehand if this gets a bit lengthy. I tend to get worked up when I talk about The Temple. If you're not interested I won't be offended if you scroll down to the next section. But I hope you stick with me. OK, here we go:
The food: First off, George's holds a special spot in my heart because it was the first place I ever tried a hot wing. At least three times a week I'd go with a friend like Grant Murray, Brandon Kershaw or Scott McDowell to eat a basket of bird. It was a good run, but it only lasted for a few months because the cook, Rayford, decided to get creative and change the wings from hot and spicy to sweet an tangy. Once he switched the sauce, my whole plan of attack at George's changed.
Not that that was a bad thing. George's has a Cheesecake Factory-long menu, and with so many other delicious items to choose from, I realized I was probably being inhumane to my taste buds by limiting them to a strict diet of wings and Miller Lite. So one night I ventured out. I got wild. No, I got freakin' crazy and ordered a chicken fried steak.
Other than the third-pound cheeseburger basket – which I highly recommend – George's chicken friend steak may be the most popular thing on the roster. Instead of thin and shriveled, the meat shows up on your plate having been cooked just right and covered with the perfect amount of batter. And get this, ladies: For an extra $2.50, you can get a double order.
The wings are better now, too, because they come in three forms. Spicy wings are self-explanatory, and Crow's feet are breaded wings that you dip into a bowl of ranch or wing sauce. Then there are the Crazy Wings. A Crazy Wing is a strip of chicken breast topped with a piece of cheese and a jalapeno sliver. After folding it over into a ball and wrapping it with bacon, the chef sticks a toothpick through the golf ball-sized delicacy and plops it into the deep-fryer. Simply put, when dipped in ranch, a Crazy Wing is sin on a plate, folks. Sin … on … a … plate!
I could go on and on about the Temple's grub. The chicken fajita meat is just as tender as mother's love. Kevin's quesadillas, although a bit greasy, are filled with taco beef, and for three bucks you can order some Baylor beggars – a basket of light, fluffy rolls that used to be given away free to the broke Baylor students who used all their money on beer. Ah, yes …
The beer: I've thrown back my share of Miller Lites during my long, illustrious career, but I'm not sure I've ever downed a cold one that tasted as good as they do at George's, where the Big "O" is almost everyone's drink of choice.
Served in a frosty, 18-ounce schooner, Big "O's" only ran about a buck-fiddy back in the day. The prices have risen a bit since then, but even for a couple of dollars, you won't find many college bars with a better deal.
George's does sell bottled beer, too – although most folks there would deem the purchase of such an item un-American. I wasn't even aware that George's sold bottles until I met my good buddy David Blalock, who was known in Waco as "Mookie." Blalock had this unique ability of guzzling a full, 18-ounce Big "O" in less than four seconds. I'm not exaggerating. The guy should've sold tickets.
The problem with Mook's talent was that everyone wanted to witness it for his or her self. Each time a new patron entered the bar, the first thing they heard from a regular was "Hey, you gotta watch this guy Mookie guzzle a Big O."
Before long Mookie became the bearded lady at George's, and everyone wanted a peek. By the end of the night he was always toasted beyond belief, so he eventually switched to bottles so he could drink in peace.
The people: As much as I crave the food and enjoy the Big "O's," my favorite thing about George's is the people. You may think I sound a bit over the top with the way I'm bragging about this place, but I can promise you there are thousands of Waco residents and Baylor alums that feel the same way about George's, which is run masterfully by owner Sammy Citrano.
It means something when you walk into a place and a waitress like Phyllis or Susanne hands you a beer before you ever sit down – especially when she remembers what kind you drink. You learn to cherish the hours you spend sidled up to the bar, talking about flea markets, slot machines, real estate and Baylor sports with Weldon Lerschner, the 77-year-old former barber who stops by almost every night, just before closing .
Walk into the back room and you'll find a younger, college-aged crowd watching a game on TV or listening to live music. Never have I been at George's when a fight has broken out. If you walk in with a bad mood, it won't last long once David Alan Coe, Willie Nelson or Pat Green starts playing on the juke box. Hopefully someday soon – perhaps on your way to Dallas, Austin or somewhere in between – you'll find time to give George's a try. Don't be surprised if I'm there, too.
Hope I'm not disappointing anyone, but I'm going to take a week off on the wing reviews. I've been in California since Thursday and no one around here has pointed me toward any good bird.
My initial plan was to review my favorite Kansas City wing haunt, The Peanut, but the write-up on George's was so long that I decided to wait until next week. I want to do The Peanut justice, so I'm not going to bury it under the lengthy George's review. Besides, your eyes may be getting tired.
Instead, just so we don't totally ignore the greatest bar food on earth, here are my Hot Wing Power Rankings after a few months of being on the road. And please, Buffalo natives, don't be offended. I'll be in your great city before too long.
1. The Peanut (Kansas City)
2. The Watering Hole (Lincoln, Neb.)
3. Henry T's (Lawrence, Kan.)
4. Lazy Dog (Boulder, Colo.)
5. T-Bones inside the Renaissance Hotel (Dallas)
Diet Mug Root Beer – I'll always be a Diet Coke addict, but this stuff is heaven
Bacon & Cheddar Wedges at Jack in the Box – Former Kansas guard Keith Langford turned me on to these bad boys. So many things to choose from at this place.
Hot Mustard Sauce at McDonald's – No, not honey mustard. I'm talking about the hot mustard sauce you dip your McNuggets in. I could swim in that stuff.
In N Out – All hail the country's best fast food burger. I motored through two of them Friday on Sunset and Orange. One question: Why hasn't anyone opened these places in other parts of the country? Seriously, someone could make a fortune.
Grandy's – I used to love this place, especially the sweet tea. Now there are only a few of them. What happened?
THIS WEEK'S FOOD POLL
Several times in this column I've mentioned my affection for Flamin' Hot Cheetos – but I don't want you to think I'm a one-chip-chump. As long as they bring the flavor, I won't discriminate against any brand, and I'm sure you won't, either. That's why I'm expecting a tight race in this week's food poll, which focuses on potato chips.
LAST WEEK'S FOOD POLL RESULTS …
Papa John's – 31%
Pizza Hut – 30%
California Pizza Kitchen – 17%
Domino's – 10%
Little Caesar's – 8 %
CiCi's – 3%
Mr. Gatti's – 2%
Just to keep things moving quickly, I'm changing up this segment a bit. Instead of interviewing a reporter about his job each week, I'll include various tidbits and odds and ends about the people and places discussed in this column.
1. Ever since last week's column, my inbox has been flooded with e-mails from people telling me I have to try Gus' Fried Chicken the next time I'm in Memphis. I'll be there again Feb. 22-24. Consider it done.
2. Did anyone notice the couple sitting just in front of Peyton Manning in his suite at the Super Bowl? That was Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins and his wife, Gwen. Perkins scored his seat because he's a member of Gatorade's Board of Directors.
3. Rode to last week's Kansas-Kansas State game in Manhattan with Jason Whitlock, my close friend and former colleague at The Kansas City Star. A two-hour trip with Jason always makes for great conversation, and this was no different. Among the topics we discussed was whether Mike Anderson was a good hire at Missouri. I said no, because although he may be a good coach, Anderson lacks the charisma and intangibles to excite a fanbase that's endured a string of tough times. No good food stories on this trip. I showed up to Jason's 30 minutes late, so we had to eat at Hardee's (chicken sandwich for him, fish sandwich for me) instead of the always popular Hibachi Hut in Manhattan.
4. Instead of going back to Pink's, I took your advice and tried a chili dog – and a chili burger – at Tommy's Original in Los Angeles. I liked it better than Pink's, but that's just me. Still, I plan to go back to Pink's during a future trip. Something tells me I caught them on an off-night last time.
5. Former Nebraska standout and Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers has opened Jets All Sports Bar & Grill in Omaha.
6. Friday Night Lights star and aspiring country artist Jana Kramer has added two new songs to Moonshine's myspace.com page. Kramer is a former "Spicy Dish of the Week."
7. Speaking of former Spicy Dish guests, the WWE's Torrie Wilson ranked No. 8 on Yahoo.com's buzz chart last week. Also found a cool website: (www.t-wilson.org) for diehard Torrie fans.
8. The same day Torrie's interview appeared a friend asked me to rank the Top Five Women Wrestlers in WWE history in two different categories: Beauty and In-Ring Talent. As far as Beauty, I'd go (in this order): Torrie Wilson, Sable, Stacy Keibler, Candice Michelle, Trish Stratus and Ashley Massaro (tie). Here's my list for In-Ring Talent: Victoria, Molly Holly, Lita, Chyna, Ivory and Trish Stratus (tie).
9. Last week in this column I mentioned the greatness of Phoebe Cates' pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Our graphics editor, Greg Hester, dug up a recent picture of Cates and inserted it onto the page. All of a sudden I began thinking about other 80s movies and their female stars. Cates will probably always be my favorite, but I was also big on Elisabeth Shue (Karate Kid), Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall in Caddyshack) and Amanda Peterson (Cindy Mancini in Can't Buy Me Love). And I'll never forget what a head-turner Christie Brinkley was in Vacation.
10. Writing the Spicy Dish Q-and-A each week has taught me that tracking down celebrities for interviews is a much tougher task then setting things up with athletes. Still, my goal before the end of the basketball season is to score an interview with one – and only one – of the following five male celebrities. The catch: You get to decide which person I pursue, and you can even suggest some of the questions. E-mail and tell me which Q-and-A you'd want to read the most: Chevy Chase, Ice Cube, Vince Neil from Motley Crue, Big Black from Rob & Big or Kamala the Ugandan Giant.
What? You ordered Girl Scout Cookies and didn't get any Thin Mints? What are you, a communist?
Derek in Philly
KOTR: I have no excuses sir – none! You are right, and I deserve the utmost form of punishment.
Jason, I'm glad to know I'm not the only weirdo who doesn't like nasty tomato pizza sauce. I've resorted to making my own pizzas and using cream cheese as a sauce instead. Thinned a bit with milk and seasoned with garlic and herbs …it's really yummy.
Katie in San Francisco
KOTR: Thanks Katie, that sounds delicious. I will say, though, that I do like a little tomato sauce on my pizza. I hate when there's so much that it piles up under the cheese and gushes off the sides after each bite.
Jason, what a hatchet job. A little bitter, are we? You are so full of (expletive). How can you even think of yourself as a journalist? Frank Martin is a good coach. Time will tell how good. You (expletive) Hawk Homer. You should be embarrassed.
Gerry Snapp, Marshall, Missouri
KOTR: Thanks for the e-mail, Gerry. Why don't you print it off and show it to your kids so they can see how classy Daddy is.
Gerry's note is just one of the many amusing e-mails I received regarding my article on Kansas State's victory over Kansas. I tried to compliment coach Frank Martin on the job he's doing in Manhattan, yet Kansas State fans went ballistic when I suggested that the Wildcats may have cut some corners to get where they are today.
Funny thing is, as mad as they are, not one person who has e-mailed has accused me of writing something that was inaccurate.