Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland: European vacation: My search for football, not 'futball'

COURTESY RICK CLEVELANDDespite being surrounded by fantastic scenery during his family vacation in Italy, columnist Rick Cleveland spent much of his trip trying to track down college football results.
COURTESY RICK CLEVELANDDespite being surrounded by fantastic scenery during his family vacation in Italy, columnist Rick Cleveland spent much of his trip trying to track down college football results.

Fall vacations always have been out of bounds for this life-long Mississippi sports writer. It would be like Santa Claus taking off a week or two at Christmas.

My wife's job took her around the globe so she never seemed to mind. When I was in stadiums around the Deep South, she was flying off to Paris, London, Sydney, Brussels and Barcelona.

That changed over the past two weeks. We flew the coop, all the way to southern Italy where we visited the small, ancient towns in Tuscany and Liguria where football, at least the kind played with an oblong ball, is far from an obsession.

A friend who knows me wellasked: "You know, you are going to miss two football weekends. You think you'll go into withdrawal?"

I joked that with all the pasta, vino and scenery, I'd manage to get by. Besides, we have this new-fangled thing called the Internet. I would at least keep up.

And I did. Sort of. But not really.

Staying connected

When we checked into our first Tuscan cottage, high on a lovely hillside, our hostess ushered us around the pristine grounds and the house. I asked if we would need a password for the wireless, and her cheerful smile disappeared. "Oh sir, I am so sorry, but we had a big storm last week that has knocked it out. It is not working."

So, to sum up: No wifi, no Internet, no Twitter, no espn.com, no newspapers.com, no espn3, no nothing. I hadn't expected a 60-inch, high-def TV with a dish, but this was going to be a little more difficult than expected.

I am, my wife will tell you, a creature of habit, some good, some not. If it's a weekend in the fall, I want scores. Actually, I want scores and stats. It is in my DNA.

We spent that first Saturday, a rainy one, in Siena, where I was assured the Internet would work in all cafes and trattorias. It worked nowhere. I had waiters, waitresses, bartenders and proprietors all trying to help me get on-line.

"A family emergency?" asked one, who sensed my desperation and was eager to help. I was almost embarrassed to tell him: No, nothing like that, I just want -- no, I need -- football scores.

"Ah, but we have the futball on TV," he said, smiling. "Very big match."

I wanted to tell him that any sporting event called a "friendly" isn't exactly Mississippi State-Texas A&M where I come from.

And so it went...

When Saturday ended, in a rustic restaurant on a mountain top with gnocchi and truffle sauce and remarkable red wine, I had no scores. And I was, as my buddy had suggested, in withdrawal. My wife could tell.

"You just won't do," she said for roughly the 1,789,548th time in our marriage. She's right. I am not proud of this addiction, but it is what it is.

Breathtaking views

Next came a few days in ineffable Cinque Terre, which is to sightseeing and scenery what Leonard Fournette is to mere mortal running backs. Cinque Terra has it all, the cliffs, the coral blue sea, the beaches, the wonderful cuisine, the vineyards, the olive groves, the fresh seafood, and some of the nicest people on the planet.

They have Internet, too, and I was able to catch up, days late, on what had happened the previous weekend. Not much of the news was particularly welcome, but it was what it was.

Our last Saturday would be spent in historic Florence in a Marriott near the airport, where the Internet worked extremely well, and where I thought I might even catch part of a game on TV. Ha! Flipping channels, I did catch the end of a scintillating volleyball match between Italy and Slovenia, two teams that apparently love to hate each other. Slovenia prevailed, setting off a wild celebration of seemingly drunk, deliriously happy people with painted faces dancing in the stands and chanting something I couldn't understand -- but definitely not "Hotty Toddy." Meanwhile, Italian fans and players wept. The fan reaction did remind me of the SEC. Meanwhile, I learned from Twitter that Memphis beat Ole Miss and State came from behind to crush Louisiana Tech.

That night, while my wife slept, I followed USM's homecoming victory and LSU's Fournette-fueled conquest of Florida. Those games ended about 4 a.m. Florence time. Our flight was at 8, and I wrote this on the way home. And that's how I spent my first fall vacation.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com), is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

  Comments