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A rare, insider's look at the backstage world of Tim McGraw as he puts the pedal to the metal and embarks on his most ambitious concert tour ever – alone

Tim McGraw furiously dribbles a basketball toward a makeshift goal, his red shorts and long-sleeved green T-shirt soaked with sweat. He and members of his management team – along with pal Kenny Chesney – are blowing off steam with an afternoon game of hoops inside a backstage area of Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center, where Tim will be performing later in the evening.

After an hour, though, he's ready to pack it in – and wearily heads toward his dressing room.

"I'm old!" he pants, flashing a smile.

Tim – who's only 36 – may play ball for just 60 minutes. But for his fans, he's ready to rock all night.

On his new tour, he's breaking tradition by scrapping the opening act and playing a marathon two-and-a-half-hour show.

"I wanted to play for a long time," explains Tim. "We've always felt like we were just getting warmed up an hour into the show – and then we'd have to shut things down. It always seemed to go by so quickly. We couldn't figure out a way to do all the songs we wanted and still have an opening act. There was just no way – and at our age, this may be our last chance!"

A couple of hours after the basketball game, Tim is showered and ready for dinner – for good reason. "Faith's been cooking for me on the bus just about every day," he says of his star wife, who manages to travel with Tim and their three daughters to most of his shows. "She makes chicken, hamburgers, pasta, you name it. She's having a blast on the bus."

After eating, Tim, dressed in olive green cargo pants and a close-fitting navy shirt, quietly walks into a room of radio contest winners for a pre-show "meet and greet." One glimpse of the star and the scene turns chaotic. As they squeal with delight, Tim grins shyly and poses for pictures with every fan.

"Before this tour, this time was always rushed," he explains. "I never liked to do meet and greets while somebody else was onstage. I don't think that's very polite to other artists, because they have to pull people out of the audience when somebody's up onstage, trying to perform. It's kind of disconcerting to see people getting up and leaving in a big line."

From the moment he sketched the stage design on the back of a napkin on a plane last year, Tim's been doing the One Band Show his way.

"We have a whole big underworld under the stage," he reveals. "There's a band room that's set up like the studio, with a bar, a couch and chairs – and even candles. Then there's a VIP room with a bar and a TV to watch the show. All of that came from that drawing on the plane. They took my ideas and had them drawn up professionally."

Read more about Tim Mcgraw in the current 4/29/03 "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!