Tennessee vs. Appalachian State

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PIONEER’S GAMES CONTINUE: If Pioneer Health Services and president Joe McNulty are attempting to build names for themselves as largest corporate jackals ever, they’re doing a nice job of it.

When Pioneer Health Services announced earlier this week that it was delaying its closure of the Scott County hospital by five days, the news was received with cautious optimism that the Mississippi-based firm’s decision could lead to an even longer delay in the hospital’s closing — perhaps even signaling that PHS was working to close a deal with another operator interested in acquiring the hospital.

But those familiar with state law say the extension was likely only a move by PHS to buy itself some time until a new state law takes effect that will make it easier for the hospital to be closed without repercussion.

PHS has been the subject of a state probe into whether state laws were violated by the company’s decision to swiftly close its Scott County hospital, which comes two months after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Current state law requires hospitals to acquire a certificate of need from the state before a hospital can be closed.

However, a new law takes effect July 1, eliminating the certificate of need requirement when a hospital is closed.

On Tuesday, PHS announced that its Scott County hospital will close July 1 rather than June 26.

Speaking from his home in Kingston on Thursday, state Sen. Ken Yager said he was “cynical” that the delay was anything more than an attempt by PHS to fall under the new law.

Countdown to kickoff: 69 days

No. 69 Cory Sullins is one of Tennessee football’s all-time great perseverance stories.

Mullins arrived at the University of Tennessee from Cottontown, Tenn., in 2006. He was a standout offensive lineman at Whitehouse High School and chose to walk on at UT.

After spending his first two seasons on the scout team, Mullins earned an opportunity to play varsity ball as a junior in 2008. He only appeared in two games that season — against UAB and Mississippi State — but he appeared in every game as a senior, and started 10 of them, completing his journey from a walk-on who was on the practice squad to starter on a prolific Vol offense that saw Montario Hardesty rush for 1,345 yards and Jonathon Cromptom pass for 2,800 yards.

Mullins was a four-time All-SEC Academic Team selection.

Where is he now? Mullins is managing partner in charge of business development at ServPro in Nashville.

Countdown to kickoff: 71 days

When No. 71 Darris McCord signed with Tennessee in 1952, he was in one sense coming home.

The McCord family was originally from Franklin, Tenn., but moved to Detroit for work, and that’s where McCord was raised. As a high school student, though, he moved back to Franklin with his family, which set the stage for him to enroll at the University of Tennessee.

McCord was recruited by Gen. Robert Neyland, and finished his career under Harvey Robinson. As a sophomore in 1952, McCord’s Tennessee team finished No. 8 in the nation. By the time he was a senior, he was named an All-American. He was team captain that season.

McCord was a versatile player who saw time on both the offensive and defensive lines. He was an offensive lineman before Robinson brought the two-way player system back to Tennessee. After that, he played both ways, and found a home on the defensive line, which is where he would wind up professionally.

After college: Speaking of “going home,” McCord was selected by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the 1955 NFL Draft. He was the 36th overall pick. He spent 13 seasons in Detroit, alternating between defensive tackle and defensive end to start his career before settling at defensive end. He helped lead the Lions to a win in the NFL Championship Game — which predated the Super Bowl — in 1957. After retiring from the NFL, McCord operated an engineering reprographics company.

Where is he now? McCord died in October 2013 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., seven months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

Other 71s: Dallas Thomas wore the No. 71 jersey from 2008 to 2012 and is currently playing professionally with the Miami Dolphins. Reggie Coleman wore the jersey from 1998 to 2001. Darrin Miller wore the jersey in 1984 and 1985.

71 days until Football Time in Tennessee!

DID HOSPITAL BREAK LAW? Maybe:

“The State of Tennessee and these employees were not given proper notice. It is hard enough to find out about losing your job. Not having adequate notice makes that loss even more difficult. My focus right now is to see that these employees are treated fairly.”

Countdown to kickoff: 72 days

No. 72 George Cafego was recruited to Knoxville from Oak Hill, W.V., by Gen. Robert Neyland. He earned the name “Bad News Cafego” because he was just that for Tennessee’s opponents — a versatile player who could do just about anything on the football field.

These days, the No. 72 jersey is reserved for linemen whose primary goal is to block . . . or perhaps tackle. But in the 1930s, George Cafego did much more than block or tackle, although he did that, too.

Cafego was known for his blocking ability, but he was also known for his running ability. At UT, he played both safety and quarterback, handled kickoff and punt return duties on special teams, and was even the team’s punter. He rushed for 1,589 yards, threw for 550 yards, returned 64 punts for 883 yards, returned 12 kickoffs for 391 yards and punted 115 times for a 38.3-yard average. Oh, he also had five interceptions.

Cafego was named the SEC’s player of the year in 1938, when Tennessee went undefeated, finishing 11-0.

The following season, in 1939, Tennessee again went undefeated during the regular season, and became the last college football team to go an entire season without giving up a single point. But in the Rose Bowl at the conclusion of the season, the Vols lost to Southern Cal — the team’s first loss in two seasons. Cafego did not play in that game, due to an injury. Coincidence?

Cafego was again named the SEC’s player of the year in 1939, and was twice named All-American. He finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1938, and fourth in 1939.

After college: Cafego was the first pick of the 1940 NFL Draft, selected by the Chicago Cardinals. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers one season before serving in the U.S. Army. He returned to the Dodgers in 1943, and also played for the Washington Redskins and the Boston Yanks. Later, Cafego spent 30 years on Tennessee’s staff as an assistant coach before leaving in 1985. He coached under Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, Johnny Majors and others. He served as an assistant coach in the NFL for two seasons after that before retiring.

Where is he now? George Cafego died in Knoxville on Feb. 9, 1998. He was 82.

Other 72s: John Matthews wore the No. 72 jersey from 1980 to 1983. Ray Robinson wore it from 1985 to 1988. Zach Fulton wore it from 2010 to 2013.

72 days until Football Time in Tennessee!

 

Countdown to kickoff: 73 days

When No. 73 Will Ofenheusle came to Knoxville from the West Tennessee city of Martin in 1998, he had an immediate impact — playing in every game of his collegiate career, 50 in total. He started 31 games, and was named a team captain at the beginning of his senior season in 2002.

Ofenheusle ended that 2002 season as an All-SEC first-team selection and a third-team All-American, as named by the Associated Press.

Ofenheusle made his first start against Southern Mississippi in the 2000 season opener. He started five games that season, slowed by injuries that included a bum shoulder and a broken wrist. After that, he started every game his final two seasons.

After college: Ofenheusle was considered a prospect in the 2003 NFL Draft, but it was accepted that his stock would be hurt by the fact that he wasn’t an ideal athlete. He wound up going undrafted.

Where is he today? Ofenheusle works in pipe sales in Middle Tennessee.

WE CAN DO BETTER: Carl Cannon on the Orlando aftermath:

Last Sunday, as Americans were waking up to the carnage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, MSNBC analyst Jim Cavanaugh was speculating on air about the shooter’s motivation.

“You know there’s a lot of domestic terrorists we classify that do that, they are rooted in white hate movements,” he said. “So it could be that.”

Although it’s disturbing to think that someone’s first consideration upon hearing such news would be partisan, Cavanaugh seemed to be expressing a hope. In this, he was not alone. In any event, his theory was wrong—as was much of what has been said in the week since the shooting.

And much loonier stuff was coming.

HISTORY: I’ve never been a LeBron James fan, but it’s hard to not give him his due after this year’s NBA Finals, which the Cavs concluded with a 92-88 win over the Warriors on Sunday. In the process, they became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals. To do that against a team that had a 73-9 regular season, considered by many the best team in the history of basketball, and to win Game 7 on the road — that’s just incredible. Once down 3-1, James scored 40+ in two consecutive games to help the Cavs tie the series, then had a triple-double in Game 7 to take home the gold. I’m not going to put him ahead of Michael Jordan, but James has silenced a lot of haters…including this one.

For perspective: He averaged 36.3 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game, 9.7 assists per game, 3.0 blocks per game, and 3.0 steals per game in the final three games to lead the Cavs back from the 3-1 deficit against a 73-9 team. Not even MJ did that.

THE LONG ROAD HOME: For more than 30 years, his mother ever waited, never giving up that her son — who was killed in action in North Korea when his unit was sent on the equivalent of a suicide mission against Chinese forces by its commander — would be returned home. More than 30 years after her death, he finally will be. His remains will be interred next to his mother and his father this weekend.

Countdown to kickoff: 74 days

As the Johnny Majors era gave way to the Phillip Fulmer era at the University of Tennessee and the Vols laid the groundwork for the most impressive decade of football in school history, No. 74 Jeff Smith played an under-appreciated role in the building of an SEC powerhouse.

The Decatur, Tenn., native (Meigs County High School) arrived at the university in 1992, and was named All-SEC first-team as a sophomore in 1993, an honor he achieved again as a senior in 1995. Smith started all 48 games of his career, helping the Vols to a 38-10 record and helping James “Little Man” Stewart to become the Vols’ all-time leading rusher (at the time) with 2,890 career yards. During his senior season, Smith’s Vols finished as the nation’s third-ranked team.

Smith’s career is especially notable because, as a center, he snapped the ball to two future Hall-of-Famers and a U.S. Congressman. It started with Heath Shuler, the runner-up to the Heisman Trophy in 1993, who was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina. After that it was Todd Helton, who went on to a stellar baseball career with the Colorado Rockies and is almost certain to one day be elected to the Hall of Fame. Finally, it was Peyton Manning, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame QB after a record-setting career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

After college: Smith was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He played there four seasons, helping the Chiefs to a 13-3 record an an AFC West championship in 1997. Smith also spent two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and one with the Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring in 2002 due to repetitive knee injuries.

Where is he today? These days, Smith lives in Knoxville and works for AstraZeneca as a pharmaceutical sales representative.

Other 74s: Antonio “Tiny” Richardson wore the No. 74 jersey in 2011 and 2012. Jarrod Shaw wore it from 2007 to 2010.

74 days until Football Time in Tennessee!

The ins and outs of St. George Island

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This year we decided to vacation on St. George Island, off of Florida’s Gulf Coast near the mouth of the Apalachicola River.

I’m a big fan of Gulf beaches because of their sugar-white sand and crystal-clear waters, and I’m a fan of beaches on the panhandle because of their relatively close location to East Tennessee (as opposed to St. Pete Beach or similar beaches further down the coast). I’m not too snobby to rub elbows with fellow rednecks in the Redneck Riviera.

On the first day of last year’s vacation in Panama City Beach, I swore I’d never go back. Spending more time in stand-still traffic than moving from point A to point B is not my cup of tea. PCB has exploded in growth in the past 10 years, much like the other panhandle beaches, and become way too crowded for my liking. By the end of that week a year ago, I had reconsidered. Still, when it came time to book this year’s trip, I decided to shoot for somewhere less crowded.

That’s where St. George Island came in. I figured it was time to try somewhere along the Forgotten Coast. This peaceful section of Florida coast features the same (almost) sugar-white sands and crystal-clear waters as Pensacola and Destin and PCB, but without the traffic headaches and crowds. As I researched, SGI repeatedly came up. I asked a few friends who had vacationed there whether it was worth the trip, and the answer was unanimous: Yes.

I had a little extra motivation for trying a vacation along the Forgotten Coast. It’s relatively unknown, compared to the more touristy locales further west. Obviously not completely unknown; tens of thousands of people vacation at SGI each year. But contrast that with places like PCB, where anything that can be written about the place has been written a million times.

So away we went, bypassing Atlanta, skirting Columbus and driving directly through the middle of Tate’s Hell State Forest, until we arrived at Eastport by way of the Big Bend Scenic Byway. From there, it’s a 4-mile drive across Florida’s third-longest bridge to St. George Island.

Looking at the SGI bridge from the top of the lighthouse. (This photo is from Wikipedia. All others on this page are mine.)
Looking at the SGI bridge from the top of the lighthouse. (This photo is from Wikipedia. All others on this page are mine.)

First Impressions

The first thing you see when you arrive at St. George Island — besides the lighthouse and the water tower that stand sentry over the island, of course — is a run-down Piggly Wiggly Express (one of just two grocery stores on the island) and a few other fairly dilapidated buildings. It immediately becomes apparent that there’s nothing ritzy or glamorous about SGI.

The first thing you see when entering St. George Island.
The first thing you see when entering St. George Island.

The second thing you notice is just how many houses there are packed on the island. The island is generally wider on its west side — as much as a mile across at one location — and narrows as you drive east. So here, where the bridge connects the island to the mainland, there are quite a few more homes than on either end of the island. They seem to be packed into every nook and cranny, although they’re somewhat more sparse the further east you go along the island.

One shop-owner told me that there are 1,000 homes on the island. I don’t know how he knows that for certain; chances are he doesn’t. But Census data says there are 1,152 households on the island and a population of 2,934 — meaning it’s smaller than my hometown of Oneida. During the spring and summer months, the population of the island is transient — mostly tourists coming and going. Most residents — even those with multi-million-dollar homes — rent out their digs during the tourism season.

The island itself is a 28-mile-long barrier island, but only a portion of it is populated. Nine miles of it on the eastern side is an uninhabited state park. The westernmost tip of the island is also uninhabited, while a portion of the west side is made up of The Plantation — a high-end gated community containing some of the most expensive homes on the Gulf Coast.

There are some very, very nice homes on SGI, and some homes that are very average. All of them, of course, cost more than you or I can afford. Real estate here is said to be the most expensive to obtain of any island along the Florida coast.

One of SGI's nicer home and one of its least-expensive homes, side-by-side on the Gulf side of the island.
One of SGI’s nicer home and one of its least-expensive homes, side-by-side on the Gulf side of the island.
Outside The Plantation, this is one of the nicest Gulf-front homes on St. George Island.
Outside The Plantation, this is one of the nicest Gulf-front homes on St. George Island.
The architecture of homes on St. George Island varies widely.
The architecture of homes on St. George Island varies widely.

If you’re renting a vacation home on St. George Island, you have your choice of beach-front homes, bay-front homes, or something in between. A couple of miles to the east of the island’s entry point, the island becomes narrow enough that there aren’t many “in between” homes. Near its widest point, though, there are homes that front neither the Gulf nor the bay. I’m not sure that would make for a very pleasurable vacation.

To save a few hundred dollars, and to be closer to good fishing, we chose to go bay-front.

Our home for a week on St. George Island, a two-story home fronting the Apalachicola Bay.
Our home for a week on St. George Island, a two-story home fronting the Apalachicola Bay.

Fortunately, we were a couple of miles east of the bridge, and by that point the island is narrow enough that it’s only a five-minute walk from the beach to the bay, meaning that we could easily walk from our home to the beach. That’s a good thing, because public beach access points are few and far between at SGI. And because there are no beach access points, there is no parking. From the main road at the end of our driveway, you could see both the Gulf and the bay.

Walking across the dunes to the beach may have been our least favorite thing about SGI. Especially those of us who were lugging a 30-lb. cooler and an even heavier cabana across the dunes each morning.
Walking across the dunes to the beach may have been our least favorite thing about SGI. Especially those of us who were lugging a 30-lb. cooler and an even heavier cabana across the dunes each morning.

Apalachicola Bay

Apalachicola Bay is called one of the most important estuaries in the southeastern U.S. It is teeming with marine life, and is known as the oyster capital of the world. Millions of oysters are pulled from the bay’s shallow waters and consumed by seafood-lovers throughout the eastern U.S.

Vacationing on the bay has its advantages. Although you can’t sit on the porch and listen to the surf, you can watch the sun set from the end of a secluded pier, and that’s pretty exceptional in its own right.

The sun sets over the pier behind our house along the Apalachicola Bay.
The sun sets over the pier behind our house along the Apalachicola Bay at low tide.
The sun sets over the St. George Island Bridge in the distance, as photographed from the pier out back.
The sun sets over the St. George Island Bridge in the distance, as photographed from the pier out back.

Watch: the sun sinks over the St. George Island Bridge, as seen from the pier.

When the tide is out, hermit crabs can be found by the dozens along the exposed sandy shoreline and the ankle-deep waters of the bay. A few blue crabs can be seen as well. When the tide is in, fish bite well in the bay. We caught mostly pinfish — a bait fish — and a good-sized redfish, but our neighbors told us they routinely catch sea trout and other species from the piers. We weren’t willing to splurge on expensive plastic baits and stuck to using cut bait (shrimp and squid), which didn’t work as well.

Hermit crabs can be caught by the dozens along the bay shoreline when the tide is out. This one had the most unique shell of any I've seen.
Hermit crabs can be caught by the dozens along the bay shoreline when the tide is out. This one had the most unique shell of any I’ve seen.

The crabs and fish are just the start of the wildlife and marine life that can be found on the bay side. We watched dolphins swim in the bay from our back deck, saw tree frogs, snakes (including a cottonmouth — that’ll make you think twice about walking the path to the pier in the dark!) and a variety of other wildlife.

Unfortunately, the wilder side of SGI isn’t always pleasant. I know better than to cram my foot into shoes that have set outside in a subtropical climate, and I shook my shoes before putting them on every day of the week — except Thursday evening. And a scorpion that had crawled inside gave me a painful reminder of why you should shake out your shoes . . . right on the little piggy that had roast beef for supper.

Wildlife is far more abundant on the bay side of the island.
Wildlife is far more abundant on the bay side of the island.
I have millions of tree frogs at home -- they love my swimming pool -- but they're much more brilliantly colored in Florida.
I have millions of tree frogs at home — they love my swimming pool — but they’re much more brilliantly colored in Florida.
Cottonmouth. Gross.
Cottonmouth. Gross.
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Is there a cottonmouth hiding in those bushes?

Being on the bay side means being in actual forests, which means you hear the frogs and the Gulf insects at night. Unfortunately, it also means there’s less sea breeze and way more insects, especially mosquitoes.

The sun sets through the Florida pines along the bay.
The sun sets through the Florida pines along the bay.
Looking back at the rental home.
Looking back at the rental home.
There are actually trees along the bay, as opposed to most of the rest of the island, which is mostly made up of sand dunes, a few palm trees and a lot of scrub growth.
There are actually trees along the bay, as opposed to most of the rest of the island, which is mostly made up of sand dunes, a few palm trees and a lot of scrub growth.
A thunderstorm forms over the Apalachicola Bay.
A thunderstorm forms over the Apalachicola Bay.
St. George Island is only 5,000 years old, and due to erosion that is influenced by hurricanes, tropical storm, and the passage of time, it is constantly changing.
St. George Island is only 5,000 years old, and due to erosion that is influenced by hurricanes, tropical storm, and the passage of time, it is constantly changing.
Living Otis Redding's iconic song — "sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll in."
Living Otis Redding’s iconic song — “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll in.”

The Beaches of SGI

The bay is great, and one of the things that makes St. George Island unique, but let’s face it: if we’re here, we came because we’re drawn to the beach. Everyone knows Florida’s Gulf beaches are great, so how do the beaches of SGI stack up?

A view along the beach at sunset on a Saturday evening.
A view along the beach at sunset on a Saturday evening.

The sand above the high-tide line is just as sugary-white as you’d expect to find anywhere else on the Gulf of Mexico. The water isn’t as clear as you’ll find in Destin or PCB, but it’s still brilliant when the surf is calm. However, there’s much more shell litter along SGI’s beaches than further west — great if you’re a beach-comber looking for shells, but the debris does color the sand. It’s not as bad as the beaches on the Atlantic side, but it’s bad enough.

Shells litter the beach at the high-tide line.
Shells litter the beach at the high-tide line.
Piles of broken shells along the high-tide line of the beach.
Piles of broken shells along the high-tide line of the beach.

But the shells and the slightly less aesthetic sand is only a minor drawback. St. George Island’s beaches are routinely ranked among the nation’s Top 10 beaches, and have been as high as No. 3 according to Dr. Beach. That’s no small honor.

The reason? The people — or, rather, the lack thereof.

A panoramic photo of the SGI beach shows our cabana as the only within shouting distance.
A panoramic photo of the SGI beach shows our cabana as the only within shouting distance.

It isn’t just a lack of the high rises that muddy the scene at the more touristy beaches along the Gulf that makes SGI’s beaches appealing. It’s the fact that they aren’t crowded — at all.

Okay, that isn’t necessarily true for the entire beach. Closer to the central part of the island, where the restaurants are located and where there are more homes, the beaches are significantly more crowded. But even there, the most crowded afternoons on the beach can’t begin to compare to the resort beaches at PCB and Destin, where people are stacked four rows deep.

And if the beaches along the inhabited part of SGI are too crowded for you, there’s always the state park on the island’s east end. There, you’re guaranteed to find a patch of beach where there is literally no one in sight. And there’s something to be said for an unspoiled beach that features dunes and sea oats as the backdrop rather than people’s back porches. It costs $6 for an average-sized family to get in (and $4 for an individual), but that’s a small price to pay for solitude. The state park also attracts birders and features a campground, along with picnicking facilities.

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The beach at St. George Island State Park is deserted, even in the heat of the afternoon.

Another thing that makes SGI’s beaches attractive is the marine life. It’s more abundant than the more popular beaches further along the panhandle. Although only the most fortunate will see them, loggerhead sea turtles are very popular here, emerging from the sea to lay their eggs on the beach. For that reason, residents and guests are required to keep their porch lights off at night to avoid confusing the newly hatched turtles who are trying to find their way to the water. Sand castles have to be torn down before leaving, and any items left on the beach overnight are confiscated.

Sea gulls are a staple on any beach, of course, and there are lots of them at SGI, where they’re tame enough to eat from your hand if you’re patient enough to earn their trust.

Sea gulls hover, hoping for free food.
Sea gulls hover, hoping for free food.
The sea gulls on St. George Island are especially tame.
The sea gulls on St. George Island are especially tame.

Dolphins are plentiful here. We watched dolphins every day on the beach. And I’m not talking about dolphins far from shore, but dolphins that were swimming in schools of four or more just a couple hundred feet from the beach.

Finding small sand dollars in the surf.
Finding small sand dollars in the surf.

Another form of marine life that you’ll find in abundance at SGI is blue crabs — they’re fun to eat, and much funner to watch as night falls than the sand crabs that are prevalent on every beach. They are more prevalent some evenings than others. On one night in particular, hundreds emerged from the surf along the beach as the sun set. With a net and a bucket and a little bit of work, we could’ve eaten like kings.

Blue crabs sometimes emerge from the surf in abundance as the sun goes down at St. George Island.
Blue crabs sometimes emerge from the surf in abundance as the sun goes down at St. George Island.
A blue crab plays peek-a-boo in the surf.
A blue crab plays peek-a-boo in the surf.
The beach is deserted as the sun sets.
The beach is deserted as the sun sets.

Sleepy and Laid-Back

Island life is supposed to be laid-back, and that’s certainly true of St. George Island. I mentioned that there’s nothing ritzy or glamorous about this place, and that’s true. In fact, if I had to use a single word to describe SGI, it would be this: sleepy. The Blue Parrot, the island’s only beach-front restaurant and its most popular gathering place, closes up shop at 9 p.m., just after the sun sets over the bay.

There are only nine restaurants on the island, and not all of them are restaurants. One is an ice cream shop, one is a pizza parlor, one is a raw bar with a limited menu other than oysters. If you’re looking for great dining experiences, SGI isn’t for you.

There are only a couple of grocery stores on the island. But if it’s fresh seafood you want, you’re in luck. There is plenty of that. A couple of guys sell from their truck, and they’re highly regarded.

"Doug" is a staple on St. George Island with his fresh seafood truck.
“Doug” is a staple on St. George Island with his fresh seafood truck.

If you constantly be on the go, St. George Island isn’t for you. On Trip Advisor, the island draws 5-star reviews from people who say there’s nothing to do here, and 1-star reviews from people who say there’s nothing to do. That’s both an allure and a detraction, depending on who you ask.

I’m a creature of habit when I’m on vacation, and my habits are very simple. I sleep in, have breakfast, pack a cooler and head to the beach, where I stay until late afternoon, when I head back home for a shower before finding someplace to eat supper. To that end, SGI suited me perfectly. But there’s no miniature golf here (although there is an 18-hole course just across the bay in Eastport), no water parks, no parasailing. The closest McDonald’s is an hour and a half away and the nearest Walmart is two hours away. There’s a Piggly Wiggly and a CVS Pharmacy across the bay in Apalachicola, where you’ll also find a Burger King. But that’s just about the only franchises you’ll find within a 30-minute drive, besides a Subway shop both on the island and in Apalachicola.

While the main roads of SGI are paved, most of the island’s streets are not. Many residents and visitors alike prefer golf carts as their primary method of travel, and bike rentals are popular on the island (a paved bike path runs the length of the island’s inhabited section).

An intersection in the heart of the island -- and all the roads leading here are sand roads.
An intersection in the heart of the island — and all the roads leading here are sand roads.
Golf carts are a preferred method of travel on the island.
Golf carts are a preferred method of travel on the island.

St. George Island truly embodies Kenny Chesney’s popular song — No shoes, no shirt, no problems.

In addition to modern conveniences of shopping and entertainment, one thing you might not find much of on SGI is hospitality. Islanders always have a reputation of being a little different, and St. George Island is no exception. From bait shop owners to restaurant owners to convenience store owners, the natives are somewhere between nonchalant and standoffish. Some are just plain rude. Bait shop owners are reluctant to answer questions about fishing tips. At one outfitter shop, when I had returned to the store because I forgot an item and laid it on the counter, the cashier — obviously annoyed — said, “Damn.” She did.

The attitude of the locals apparently precedes them. A waitress in Apalachicola just grinned knowingly and said, “The island? Yes, they’re like that.” It isn’t a deal-breaker if you’re looking for a vacation spot. Like many places (including in my native home of Oneida), the locals here are leery of tourists. It’s just interesting that so many whose businesses cater to tourists — and, indeed, rely on tourists — behave in such a way.

The Lighthouse

Perhaps the most unique thing about St. George Island is its lighthouse. When Apalachicola was becoming an important shipping port in the 1830s, the need arose for a lighthouse, and it was built just offshore on what is now Little St. George Island. (The island was mapped as one solid island in the 1830s, but just 50 years later was mapped as several separate islands after erosion broke them apart.)

Continuing erosion threatened the lighthouse until it finally collapsed amid a tropical storm in October 2005. It was rebuilt on the bigger St. George Island and is now protected as a tourist attraction. For $5, you can climb to the top and have a look around the island.

In the old days, the light keeper — who was paid $600 per year by Congress — had to light the lamp at sundown and make sure that it stayed lit until sunrise, climbing the stairs to trim the wick every four hours so that the globe would not become smoked up and foggy. Oil was carried up the stairs in small containers.

The lighthouse on St. George Island.
The lighthouse on St. George Island.
The lighthouse was rebuilt after collapsing in 2005.
The lighthouse was rebuilt after collapsing in 2005.

Across the Bay

If you vacation at St. George Island, chances are you’re going to head into Apalachicola a few times — perhaps daily. The groceries are cheaper here, the food is better here, and this is where you’ll find unique shopping experiences.

To say that historic downtown Apalachicola is unique is an understatement. It is one of the South’s quaintest towns, and one that is well worth the visit.

This cotton warehouse was built in the 1830s, as Apalachicola emerged as an important shipping port for cotton that was floated down the Apalachicola River from plantations in Alabama and Georgia. Today, it is the Apalachicola City Hall.
This cotton warehouse was built in the 1830s, as Apalachicola emerged as an important shipping port for cotton that was floated down the Apalachicola River from plantations in Alabama and Georgia. Today, it is the Apalachicola City Hall.
A unique outdoors garden store in historic downtown Apalachicola's shopping district.
A unique outdoors garden store in historic downtown Apalachicola’s shopping district.
Along the docks in Apalachicola, as in parts of St. George Island on the other side of the bay, the smell of fish -- and rotting fish -- lingers heavy in the air.
Along the docks in Apalachicola, as in parts of St. George Island on the other side of the bay, the smell of fish — and rotting fish — lingers heavy in the air.
The fishing industry is an important part of the local economy.
The fishing industry is an important part of the local economy.
This vessel hasn't seen the water in a few years.
This vessel hasn’t seen the water in a few years.

One of the most unique things about Apalachicola is the Chestnut Street Cemetery, which dates back to the early 19th Century. The cemetery looks like a scene straight out of some movie, with moss-covered trees draping it and shadows spread long over it as the sun sets. Here, Confederate dead are buried, along with shipwreck victims and early settlers who succumbed to yellow fever.

The Chestnut Street Cemetery in Apalachicola's historic district is spectacular.
The Chestnut Street Cemetery in Apalachicola’s historic district is spectacular.
Chestnut Street Cemetery in Apalachicola.
Chestnut Street Cemetery in Apalachicola.
A self-guided tour is available of the Chestnut Street Cemetery for tourists who want to learn more about those who are buried here.
A self-guided tour is available of the Chestnut Street Cemetery for tourists who want to learn more about those who are buried here.

This is “Old Florida” at its finest, and it is in many ways a throwback to the Old South.

The Food

When I vacation, I don’t do the high-dollar touristy things. I might snorkel and I might play a round of miniature golf, but that’s about it. My budget is mostly spent on food. Because I like to eat no matter where I am, but also because I like to explore the local flavors. I’m a big fan of seafood, and while Red Lobster will do in Knoxville, Tenn., frozen just isn’t the same as fresh. Not even close. So once a year, I get a chance to go to the coast and eat like God intended men to eat. And I try to take advantage of that.

By far my favorite seafood is crab cakes. I like shrimp in any shape, form or fashion (insert Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba here, talking about the various ways to cook shrimp), and I like crab and lobster okay. I can eat oysters if they’re fried, and the same with scallops. Grouper is excellent and there aren’t many saltwater fishes that aren’t good eating. But crab cakes are the best. So on this trip, I determined to eat crab cakes every night to see where the best ones were located.

The result?

It’s hard to say. I had them fixed too many different ways.

My favorite food was also the least-expensive — at AJ’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill in Apalachicola.

AJ’s puts the “neighborhood” in Neighborhood Bar & Grill, because it’s truly located in the neighborhood. In fact, when we were driving in, I thought I was surely lost, because it was as far away from commercial zoned property as you can get.

If I’m being completely honest, I was more than a little apprehensive about AJ’s. It is billed as a soul-food restaurant (black restaurant) and it was located in an all-black neighborhood. But it came highly regarded, so we decided to give it a try. I’m not sure why I was so apprehensive. I was born and raised in all-white Scott County, Tenn. Perhaps that’s why. But, the truth is, there are many neighborhoods in all-white Scott County that would make outsiders feel more apprehensive than the black neighborhood of Apalachicola, if appearances are what we’re basing our fears on.

I was even more apprehensive when we entered to find ourselves the only diners in AJ’s. We were early on a Wednesday afternoon, but not that early — about 5 p.m.

Turns out, it was the best food of the trip. The crab cakes weren’t the best I’ve ever eaten (AJ’s is known more for its fried chicken and bread pudding than for its seafood, but it’s just a short distance from the docks, so I decided to give the crab cakes a try) but they were good. They were a little too thin, and not spicy enough, but they were lightly breaded — unlike the expensive tourist restaurants that bring you crab cakes that are mostly bread. Plus they were $9. I’m not sure how you can make a profit with $9 crab cakes (you can’t buy lump crab at Walmart for much cheaper than $9). I paid as much as $25 for the same entree elsewhere. The real deal, though, was the home fries — hand-sliced, hand-breaded and deep-fried just like my grandmother used to make them. Plus, our waitress was the friendliest person we encountered at any restaurant on the trip.

Like any good tourists, we tried out SGI’s lone beach-front dining spot, The Blue Parrot. Their crab cakes were very good. That was a bit of a surprise because those beach-front restaurants are usually known for their atmosphere, not the quality of their food, and the Parrot had only mixed reviews. Aside from the crab cakes, though, the food was just so-so. Not terrible, but not worth the price — which is usually the case at the beach-front joints.

Second-best food overall went to Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar & Grill in Apalachicola. It was billed as having the best crab cakes ever…they weren’t, but everything else was good. If there were two places I would go twice on the same trip, it would be AJ’s and Papa Joe’s.

I even had crab at BJ’s Pizza & Subs, the lone pizzeria on St. George Island. The pizza there was just so-so (it cost us $100 for a group of 8, which included pizza and appetizers…gotta love tourist pricing!), but I’d definitely go back for the crab bites.

Truthfully, though, we didn’t have any bad food on the trip…but that’s partly (mostly?) because I carefully research these places in advance and we avoid anywhere that gets negative reviews. So we skipped over a bunch of places that I might have otherwise tried.

You won’t find many glamorous-looking restaurants in SGI or Apalachicola. Most are local dives; true holes-in-the-wall. But like most of those types of places, they’re pretty darned good.

Inside the Seafood Grill in Apalachicola.
Inside the Seafood Grill in Apalachicola.

To Sum it Up

I took hundreds of pictures on this trip…maybe even thousands. But if I had to sum it up with just one, it would be one that I posted above.

The sun sets over the pier behind our house along the Apalachicola Bay.
The sun sets over the pier behind our house along the Apalachicola Bay.

If my goal was to avoid that bumper-to-bumper PCB traffic, this trip was a success. The most we ever had to set in traffic was waiting our turn at the four-way-stop that is the closest thing you’ll find to a stop light on St. George Island. There was no traffic. There were no crowded beaches. And I know of nowhere else you can find sunsets like this one while listening to the waves lap the dock, then take a five-minute walk across the dunes to the Gulf and be virtually guaranteed to see dolphins just off the beach while blue crabs crawl out of the surf.

If glitz and glamour and bright lights are your thing, if constant entertainment and an abundance of restaurants and night clubs are your thing, St. George Island isn’t for you. When I first drove onto the island and saw the run-down Piggly Wiggly and the houses nearly touching one another, I thought it wasn’t for me, either. But it isn’t hard to get hooked on the island life, especially when you have quaint, historic towns like Apalachicola just a 10-minute drive away. I can’t say I’ll be back next year, because I don’t know what next year holds in store, but I can say that I will be back again…maybe sooner than I think.

Drought becoming real?

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, released today, Scott County and the northern Cumberland Plateau remain in a moderate drought, as does nearly half (43 percent, to be exact) of the rest of the state. Severe drought conditions are confined to southern Middle Tennessee at this point, but continue to develop, despite the Climate Prediction Center’s earlier forecast that drought conditions would likely be eliminated as we move through the summer months.

And after a slow start to summer, the heat is real across the entire state, including the northern plateau, this week. The hottest weather this summer is upon us, with above-average temperatures as we go through the last full week before the summer solstice. 

I said a couple of weeks ago that I don’t consider the Drought Monitor’s report to be completely accurate for the northern plateau. We’ve received decent amounts of rain as we’ve moved into the early part of summer.

That’s changing, though, as dry conditions persist in June. Streams are now flowing below normal for the first time this summer. As of this morning, the Big South Fork was flowing at 114 cubic feet per second at Leatherwood Ford, only about half of the norm for this time of year. Clear Fork is bone-dry, despite a slight increase after yesterday’s thunderstorm. It is currently running at 28 cfs at Burnt Mill Bridge, well below the average for this time of year of about 70 cfs. That level puts it into the lower 25th percentile of readings for this date. New River is the lowest of all, relative to normal. It is running at 46 cfs at the U.S. Hwy. 27 bridge; the norm for this time of year is 120 cfs.

The latest run of the GFS computer model doesn’t offer any hope for the immediate future if you like mild summer temperatures and garden-soaking rains. It depicts no organized systems for the next couple of weeks, which is not too unusual for the summer months, but it also shows none of the typical summertime thunderstorm drivers. As a result, it depicts only four-tenths of an inch of rain through the Independence Day holiday weekend, with a high temperature reading of 96 degrees — which is very hot for the northern plateau. It’s worth noting that the run of the model that preceded it showed better thunderstorm chances as we get into the final week of June, and somewhat cooler temperatures. 

But the Climate Prediction Center is now on board with the gloom-and-doom (if you hate hot and dry summer weather) forecast. In its latest seasonal drought outlook, released today, it suggests that drought conditions will persist throughout the summer months and into early fall. It is forecasting below-average precipitation for the next 6-to-10 days (and equal chances of above-average or below-average precip for days 10-to-14), with the best rain chances (relative to normal) for the months of July, August and September confined to the Gulf Coast, according to its latest forecasts released this morning. The CPC is also forecasting a return to above-average temperatures next week (after a brief “cool down,” relatively speaking, this week), and for the next couple of weeks after that. The CPC is also forecasting above-average temperatures for July, August and September.

It should be pointed out that hot summer weather is not unexpected during a La Nina year, which is currently developing. So while these CPC forecasts could very well change, history is not on your side if you hate the summer heat and humidity.

But, hey, it’s great weather for sitting by the pool. Just be sure to keep your garden hose handy for topping it off once a week in the absence of summer thunderstorms, should they indeed fail to develop.

Countdown to kickoff: 76 days

Reggie Cobb made all the headlines for his 1,197-yard rushing campaign in 1987, but much of his success had to do with the man clearing the way for him: No. 76 Harry Galbreath.

The Clarksville, Tenn., native arrived in Knoxville in 1984 as a 6-1, 295-lb. offensive guard. He played in every game his freshman season, then started every game for the remainder of his career. 

UT coach Johnny Majors called Galbreath the best run-blocker he ever coached. It was that aggressiveness that made Cobb successful as Galbreath was concluding his career in 1987. That season, Galbreath was named first team All-SEC and won All-American honors. He also won the prestigious Jacobs Trophy as the SEC’s best run blocker. He was later named to Tennessee’s 100 Year All-Time Team.

After college: Galbreath was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the eighth round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team that season and played five years in Miami before signing with the Green Bay Packers in 1992. After three years in Green Bay, he played one season with the New York Jets before retiring from professional football. He later coached at Austin Peay and Tennessee State before eventually returning to the UT football program as an associate strength and conditioning coach in 2007.

Where is he now? Galbreath died on July 27, 2010, in Mobile, Ala., of a heart ailment. He was 45. 

Other 76s: Arron Sears wore the No. 76 jersey at Tennessee from 2004 to 2006. Daniel Hood wore the number from 2009 through 2011.

76 days until Football Time in Tennessee!

Countdown to kickoff: 77 days

With Michael Munoz’s pedigree, he was bound to be a great football player.

No. 77 Munoz arrived in Knoxville from Mason, Oh., the son of Cincinnati Bengal great Anthony Munoz. He was a decorated offensive lineman in high school (his sister was Ohio’s Ms. Basketball in high school and played briefly for the Lady Vols).

Munoz started all four years of his career at Tennessee from 2000 to 2004. He missed the 2001 season with a knee injury but earned a redshirt to retain his three years of remaining eligibility.

As a junior in 2003, Munoz became the first Vol in 59 years to be named team captain as a junior, an honor he shared with fellow junior Kevin Barnett. He was named captain again as a senior in 2004. 

After a second team All-SEC performance in 2003, Munoz was a consensus first-team All-American in 2004 (only second team All-SEC, though). 

Munoz had an injury-riddled career, undergoing several surgeries. The offseason prior to his senior season was the only one in which Munoz didn’t have to have knee surgery. Still, he only played nine games in 2004 due to injuries. But in those nine games, he posted 55 intimidation blocks.

Munoz was also a noted academic student, graduating with a BS in political science and a 3.67 GPA. He was a three-time SEC Honor Roll selection and won the Draddy Trophy as the nation’s top scholar athlete.

After college: Due to his knee injuries, Munoz was not drafted to the NFL. Instead, he returned to his native Ohio and was elected to political office in 2005. 

Where is he now? Munoz runs a marketing and advertising agency — the Munoz Agency — in Cincinnati, Oh. 

77 days until Football Time in Tennessee!

Second take on Orlando shooter

Amid growing evidence that Orlando gay night club shooter Omar Mateen was himself gay, how does the narrative change around the deadliest shooting in U.S. history? 

To date, much of the dialogue has been framed as being an attack on homosexuals, with some even claiming that Christians are responsible because of their stance on the issue of homosexuality, despite the fact that Mateen was an avowed Muslim and had even been investigated by the U.S. government. 

Certainly it made sense to believe that the Orlando night club was chosen because of Mateen’s radical Islamic beliefs, since radical Islam teaches that homosexuality is punishable by death. 

However, as investigators learn that Mateen scouted out Disney before settling on the Pulse, a night club that he himself frequented, it becomes obvious that Mateen chose the night club not because of the lifestyle choices of those inside, but because it was a convenient target. 

That does little to change what should be the prevailing fear from this attack — in fact, it should reinforce that fear. These ISIS-inspired lone wolf terrorists are people who live among us and have integrated themselves into our culture. 

Many politicos who stood before the press or issued statements after the weekend incident attempted to brush over the fact that radical Islam had served as the inspiration for yet another attack on innocent U.S. citizens while attempting to frame the shooting as being an attack on people because of their sexual preferences. 

Now, though, it would seem that we can confidently say that this wasn’t an attack on gays simply because they are gay. That doesn’t change the fact that those victims in Orlando were specifically targeted, and they’re still victims. Their families deserve the same support from the U.S. government and its citizens as they did before these latest revelations. But the one thing that these new facts don’t change is the fact that this was yet another attack carried out by a radical Muslim. 

To that end, I’ll repeat what I said in December, when we were last dealing with one of these incidents: We are at war, a clandestine war against radical Islamists hell-bent on carrying out their special brand of hatred borne of perverted and distorted religious beliefs .To suggest that the American people be disarmed at the very time that we find ourselves as intentional targets of this war is preposterous. 

We can have a gun control debate as a means of making America’s streets safer. But framing that debate as a response to terrorist acts carried out as part of this war is unacceptable. The average card-holding CCW American obviously isn’t going to select an AR-15 as his carry weapon, but that’s immaterial. It’s more important now than ever that the average American arm himself as a means of protecting himself.

Some would portray that as a radicalized statement. But how many more of these mass murders must occur before we convince ourselves that it isn’t coincidence that they’re occurring in gun-free zones, where victims cannot fight back? 

We’re told over and over by politicians and journalists who carry their message that lashing out at Islam as the culprit for these incidents is playing directly into the hands of the terrorists, whose primary goal is to instill fear. And certainly I would not imply that all, most, or even many Muslims share the points of view of those like Mateen and Rizwan Farook. But if lashing out at Muslims is playing into the hands of the terrorists, would someone please explain to me how attempting to curtail the rights of legal American gun-owners as a knee-jerk response to these attacks isn’t playing into the hands of the terrorists?

Countdown to kickoff: 79 days

No. 79 Eric Still came to Knoxville from Germantown, Tenn., in 1986. He would go on to anchor the offensive line during one of the University of Tennessee’s most prolific offensive football campaigns. In 1989, the offensive guard was part of an offense that rolled up 408.5 yards per game — a school record. The Vols rushed for 2,701 yards that season, the most since 1951, when they won the national championship.

Tennessee went on to win the SEC in 1989, and Still was a consensus All-American.

After college: Still was drafted in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. He went on to play for the Frankfurt Galaxy in the World League (which became NFL Europe).

Where is he today? Still is a commodities trader with Rosenthal Collins Group in his native Germantown.

79 days until Football Time in Tennessee!