Wags Was The Best...And Getting Ready For Indiana State

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Do you actually know anyone who is the best person in the world at what they do?


I'm pretty sure that I've met at least one individual in my lifetime that fits that description and his name is Mark Wagner.


I got to know "Wags" in 1996 when I started broadcasting some UC basketball games on Fox 19.  His title was statistician, but that doesn't do justice to what Wags contributed to a broadcast.


Before every event that he worked on, Wags provided the announcers, the producer, and the graphics people with a thick packet of info that he had discovered through his own exhaustive research, including stats, historical anecdotes, trivia, and anything else that he found interesting.    


Once the event began, Mark had the uncanny ability to answer your questions before you had even thought of them.  For example, if a player started to approach a historical milestone during a game, he handed you an index card with all of the pertinent details before being asked to look it up.


Mark was so good at what he did, that Thom Brennaman convinced him to leave his normal 9-to-5 job and become a full-time stats guy.  For the last several years, when Thom was doing a national event on Fox Sports, Wags was almost always by his side slipping him great nuggets on little pieces of paper.  He also worked on Xavier basketball broadcasts on the radio, Cincinnati Reds and High School Football telecasts on Fox Sports Ohio, and just about any other televised sporting event in the Cincinnati area.


When I was anchoring at Fox 19, I frequently called Wags and asked for his assistance on researching obscure stats.  In retrospect, I was probably a pain in the butt, but I could tell that he loved to help and it seemed like the harder the information was to find, the more Mark enjoyed trying to find it.


And he always came through.


Last week I was scheduled to work with Wags on the Bengals/Colts preseason telecast.  On his way to Indy he began feeling ill, and after informing the crew, he turned around and returned to Cincinnati.  On Sunday, Mark died of pneumonia at his home in Westwood.  He was 54 years old.


His work will be missed by sports fans in Cincinnati who had no idea who he was.  His warmth and cheerfulness will be missed by all of us who were lucky to call him our friend.


On the all-time list of greatest stat guys, there is only one.


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Before taking the Notre Dame job, Brian Kelly confided to some people that he was hopeful that the Bearcats could pay a buyout and avoid making the road trip to Fresno State.


That obviously didn't work out, and the Butch Jones era began with a very difficult test.


For 27 minutes, the Bearcats played brilliantly.  Not only did they build a 14-0 lead, but the 'Cats forced three punts with that lead and could have easily gone up by 21 or more points.


Unfortunately, the momentum completely changed near the end of the first half and the Bearcats simply could not protect Zach Collaros in the second half.


The season-ending knee injury to Vidal Hazelton is extremely costly because the Bearcats are thin at wide receiver.  Two of UC's most talented receivers - Kenbrell Thompkins and Dyjuan Lewis - are ineligible, and after the starting trio of Armon Binns, DJ Woods, and Marcus Barnett, there isn't much experience.  Look for true freshman Anthony McClung to see the field for the first time on Saturday vs. Indiana State.  I would expect tight end Ben Guidugli to be more prominently featured as well.


I'm excited that "Bones" Barnett is going to get an opportunity to play a meaningful role again.    In 2007, he caught a school-record 13 touchdown passes and was probably the second-best freshman receiver in the country behind Michael Crabtree.  Butch Jones says that nobody on the team had a better preseason camp than Barnett.


Dominique Battle played sparingly last week due to a hamstring injury and was badly missed in the secondary.  He should be close to full strength this week.


Cincinnati's game captains were named on Thursday, and this week's trio is Zach Collaros, JK Schaffer, and John Goebel. 


One player I'm hoping to see for Indiana State is kicker Brett Sheldon.  Sheldon was born with extremely short arms and three fingers on each hand, but it didn't stop him from chasing his dream of being a college football player.  He was featured on the Dr. Phil Show this summer and you can see some of the video here.  If the score becomes lopsided, I'm told that Sheldon could get his first-ever opportunity to kick.  New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton - a former Indiana State assistant - has invited Sheldon to watch the game from the sidelines when the Saints host the Cowboys this year.


Saturday's game begins at noon.  If you can't make it out to Nippert Stadium, I hope you'll join Jim Kelly Jr, Tom Gelehrter, Mo Egger, and me for radio coverage beginning at 11:30 on 700 WLW, Sirius 130, or 700wlw.com.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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