I Don’t Know What Can Possibly Top This, But An SEC Championship Would Be A Nice Place To Start

I was 11 or 12 years old, I think, when I discovered that the Sunday sports section was a gold mine of information during the college football season. My little hometown paper didn’t necessarily have loads of coverage, but the Jackson paper, the Clarion-Ledger, always devoted at least two full pages to each Mississippi team. So on Sunday mornings in the fall, I’d gather up four quarters (or ask Daddy for some) and carefully put them in the newspaper machine outside the Jitney Jr. on the way home from church. I can still hear the “plunk” of those quarters hitting metal and the creak of the newspaper machine door as it opened. Even now I think it’s what anticipation sounds like.

After Sunday lunch – or sometimes even during Sunday lunch – I’d open up that newspaper and read every single word about Mississippi State in the sports section. I saved all the stories that I loved in a brown photo album with a fancy fake brass binder. I soaked up every single word of Rick Cleveland’s columns and wondered how he learned to write like that. Same for Orley Hood, Billy Watkins and, in my grown-up years, Sekou Smith, Ian Rapoport and Kyle Veazey. Even though they have no idea, those men have been some of my very best writing teachers. I respect their work so much.

So a few weeks ago, when a blog reader-turned-friend who works for the Southeastern Conference asked me if I’d want to tag along with her during SEC Media Days, I was thrilled. THRILLED. Because yes, I love college football, and I especially love SEC football, and I especially especially love Mississippi State football. But no kidding: on equal footing in the thrill department – at least for me – was the prospect of seeing sportswriters that I’d read and admired for years in their element. In their natural habitat, if you will. LIVE AND IN PERSON. I couldn’t wait.

Since I already had plans to be out of town last Thursday and Friday, I could only make it to the first day of media days last Wednesday. I made a not-so-quick stop to get my driver’s license renewed on the way to Galleria (media days are at the Wynfrey Hotel, which is connected to the Galleria), and as I pulled off the interstate and onto my exit, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I’d been to that big ole mall in high school and college, wondering what sah-weet treasures Express and Espirit and Benetton might have to offer. There’s just no way I could’ve known that a trip to the Galleria at age 41 was going to blow that sassy safari t-shirt I bought from the Galleria Banana Republic when I was 17 STRAIGHT OUT OF THE WATER.

I couldn’t decide where to park once I got close to the mall, but I finally opted for the parking garage next to Sears. I have no idea why, especially since it’s not particularly convenient or, you know, CLOSE to the Wynfrey, but it wasn’t crowded and I was nervous and I felt a little better knowing that maybe I could CALM DOWN A SMIDGE on my walk to the hotel. Plus, I discovered as I walked through Sears that hammerhead auto-hammers were on sale for $99, and I would’ve completely missed that critical piece of info if I had parked, say, by the Belk’s. Or with the hotel valet. So clearly I made the right decision.

Also, I took this picture on my way to the hotel, but again, I have no explanation why.

Apparently I was feeling very impulsive and devil-may-care-ish last Wednesday.

I think we can all feel better now that we’ve seen such a stunning glimpse of Indoor Mall Architecture of the mid- to late- 80s. I know I do.

When I walked in the hotel there was all manner of activity going on in an area that’s called “Radio Row.” About 20 sports radio stations set up shop in the entry of the hotel during media days, and walking between all those tables is like being in a movie scene where all the supporting characters voice their opinions while rotating around the main character’s head. And I know that I’m probably not explaining that well, but four of you totally understood what I was trying to say, and I’m just as grateful as I can be for that. Apparently you four watched just as many John Hughes movies as I did.

After walking around for a few minutes I found my friend K at the registration tables, and I told her to put me to work – otherwise I’d just stand there and stare. She asked if I’d mind helping with lanyards and name tags, and of course I didn’t mind because I WAS JUST SO TICKLED TO BE THERE. Within five minutes I’d seen one of the men I mentioned earlier, another reporter who’s a bit of a legend in these parts, and a radio host/blogger from another state (known by Sister and me as the Chief Pot Stirrer during all the Cam Newton stuff). I didn’t say a word to any of the media folks, of course, mainly because I think I would have scared them if they knew how much I love to read what they write. And they probably would’ve thought I was a stalker. And then they might’ve called security. And what good is attending your first SEC Media Days if you have to be escorted back past the hammerhead auto-hammers as the nice men with badges are seeing you to your car?

When the registration stuff was almost over, we walked down the hall to a BEAUTIFUL lunch from the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Bureau, a new corporate sponsor of the SEC. It was a big ole seafood spread, and oh, it was tasty. I happened to be sitting with some State fans at lunch, and it was big fun to talk about All Things Bulldogs over some fried shrimp, crabcakes and iced tea.

(Come to think of it, that last sentence could be the foundation of a pretty good country song.)

(Only the country song would have to be about beer and not iced tea, but DON’T TELL THE BAPTISTS OR THEY’LL KICK ME OUT.)

(Oh, I kid.)

(They’ll only kick me out if I’m dancing.)

After lunch we went upstairs to where all the coaches and players were speaking. The line-up for Wednesday was Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State, and if you think I wasn’t over the moon about getting to see that last school, then perhaps I should introduce myself. As well as my MSU crazy.

Since I’d never been to media days before, I didn’t have any sort of frame of reference for the size of the event. And that’s why I was a smidge surprised when we walked into the room where the coaches were speaking and I saw how many reporters were in the room.

We rotated in and out of the big room for the rest of the day; we’d listen to a coach speak, then head in the direction of the conference rooms to watch the players move from TV interview to TV interview. The whole process is a well-oiled machine; it’s really well-done and so respectful of the coaches’ and players’ time. It also felt a little bit like a giant family reunion since a lot of the media relations people, reporters and SEC people have known each other for years. The SEC staff members were incredibly gracious and welcoming to everybody; it was impressive, really, to see how organized and efficient they were without seeming the least bit stressed or hurried.

Also, did I mention that I got to see the MSU quarterback? Because I totally got to see the MSU quarterback.

I have a feeling that he’s going to do great things for the Bulldogs this year.

The very last speaker of the day was Dan Mullen, MSU’s head coach, and to my credit I did not ring a cowbell (aye, and loudly) when he entered the room. I thought every coach did something really well when he spoke: Bobby Petrino maintained a calm optimism throughout his speech, Will Muschamp showed that he’s not afraid to coach with the big boys, Steve Spurrier won over every single person in the room with his dry wit and self deprecation.

And Dan Mullen? Oh, mercy. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the best PR machine that Starkville and Mississippi State have ever had. I lived in Starkville for six years when I was in college and grad school, and by the end of Coach Mullen’s speech, I was ready to go home, pack some boxes, load up the family and move back to Starkvegas. He and his wife love it there, and their enthusiasm for Mississippi and her people is totally contagious.

Once Coach Mullen’s speech was over, my friend K gave me the best parting gift ever: a box filled with media guides for every single SEC school. You can imagine my delight. And you can also imagine that once football season starts I will DRIVE MY PEOPLE CUCKOO when I pull out the media guides for whatever two teams happen to be playing. Because Mama here will want to SHARE SOME PLAYER NAMES AND STATISTICS. Oh yes ma’am I will.

All in all it was an absolutely incredible day. I got to see so many writers I admire, and I also got a little spring in my step when I realized that FOOTBALL SEASON, IT IS UPON US. I cannot wait. And while I’ve always been proud to cheer for a school that’s part of the SEC, I think I’ll be even more proud this year. Because the folks that I met at media days? They’re good people. They work hard. They work well.

And they work with their sponsors to make sure that there’s an endless array of fountain drinks and Golden Flake potato chips right outside the print media room.

Honestly, what’s not to love?

Go ‘Dogs.

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Comments

  1. What a great recap! And what a treat for you. I am so ready for some SEC football! GO GATORS!

  2. Woohoo!! I’m so excited!! I got to watch it on ESPNU when they replayed it that evening — Love Coach Dan!! He just makes me happy! AND I love to his MS State sign when driving into the state! Ha! Thanks for sharing w/us all this excitement — loved all your tweets during it all! GO DAWGS!!

  3. I’m sure you have (since you are up on all things pop culture and I appear to be late to the bandwagon), but just in case you haven’t you MUST go to grantland.com. The sportswriting is incredible and these people make me care about things I have no interest in (i.e. Professional wrestling–they make it sound like a Greek tragedy.) Enjoy!

  4. lindsay says:

    I absolutely love that you love SEC football as much as I do. I’m proud to be a fan–I almost said “member” but then I realize that I’m not a university and I’ve never been an athlete a single day in my life–of the best conference in the country.

    Go SEC, Go Bulldogs, and in my case, GEAUX TIGERS!

  5. What a wonderful treat for you! I love that you love the SEC and you love your Bulldogs. I love Auburn and what I love about the SEC is that we are all passionate about our teams, our coaches, our boys and our girls!!! There is nothing else like a football Saturday on any campus in the SEC ( I’ve made it to 9). It is electric! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what goes on at Media Days…that was fun!

    I remember when the Galleria was the jewel of B’ham…it was THE destination, with Parisian’s, Pizitz, and Rich’s….spent many days and much money there!!

  6. I love that you got to do this. Have you ever thought about starting a Bulldogs blog? My cousin Kelly is the HUGEST Florida Marlins fan and started a blog a few years ago, and people LOVE her because she’s so funny and sarcastic. You would be such a refreshing, hilarious Monday morning quarterback. :)

  7. Oh my word. I am super jealous right now. This post made me so happy!!! We are so alike, it’s actually scary! Thanks for writing so elegantly! Go Dawgs!!!

  8. What fun for you! I got a little excited when you said you were going, and that says a lot because I just bought my Season Tickets to the Aggie Games, and have been planning some suh-weet tailgating treats for “reveal” in College Station.

    Hallelujah and Amen.

    And while we are getting reverent and all, I assure you that you are still good with The Baptists – we will be sure to let you know if are in danger of “falling away”.

  9. counting down the days! Thanks for the pep rally! Go Gators!!

  10. Oh my goodness! I can absolutely hear the DELIGHT in your voice IN the writing of this post! How absolutely fun.
    And also that MSU quarterback is very cute. :)

  11. Molly p says:

    I’m so glad you got to experience this! It’s so funny to me how about a week before media days I start thinking of football Saturdays and what kinds of dips I’ll make this year lol. Funny side note, I clicked on your link thinking maybe it was a link to a story about the bulldogs and in my office(where cell phones aren’t allowed?!?!) the fight song starts blaring! Too funny…. luckily I got it silenced quickly!

  12. This is so fun! I just CAN NOT WAIT for football season. I may reside and get my schooling from That School Up North (otherwise known as Ole Miss) but I can honestly say that nothing beats a good Mississippi State game day. Mullen has done some awesome stuff for the program there and the vibe in Starkville on games weekends is proof of it!

  13. A huge smile the whole time I was reading this post. I can’t wait for college football to start. We all know it is far superior to the pro game, for numerous reasons. Just one of them is the kind of fan love college football generates that just can’t happen in the pros. And your post captures that fan devotion oh so well. What a pleasure to read!

  14. Loved this post!
    When I was 12 I got a bright idea one day to send a letter to my favorite sports writer and ask him if by any chance he had any left over pictures from the articles they had done for my beloved Crimson Tide. To my sweet surprise, a manilla envelope arrived a few days later with my name on it….and in it were pictures and more pictures and yes, more pictures. At least fifty 8×10’s, close ups, field shots, anything and everything you could imagine. You have never seen a smile so big :)

  15. Girl, since you are now bffs with the MSU football staff will you please tell them ALL to watch over my baby girl who is going to be there in 2.5 weeks! Just tell them to look for the cute blonde girl from Alabama because I’m sure she’s the ONLY one that fits that description!

    Go State! Be good to my girl!

  16. That looks like an amazing day. Have to say that I’m a tad bit jealous. :) It did get me super excited for some Florida football! Go Gators!!! (and Canes!) Yes, I know….not SEC but I’ll forgive them. We miss Mullens at Florida and I’m glad he’s doing so well well for MSU.

  17. Mary Kat's Mom says:

    I just LOVED this! ! Thank you so much! I’m just so excited for you and your media guides I just don’t know what to do! Fun, fun, fun! ! !

  18. CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!
    Go ‘Dogs! Sic ’em!
    http://www.msstate.edu/web/friends/songs/hailstate.mp3

  19. KristiCu says:

    I love your MSU Crazy! And I’d pick up and move back to StarkVegas in a second. There’s just nowhere like it! I don’t remember how I discovered your blog, but I’m so glad I did.

  20. Jennifer says:

    I have absolute chill bumps no lie…………………I hope your husband appreciates your love of football. I think wives that talk a mean game of football and stir up a great glass if sweet tea are priceless. War Eagle !

    • One of my late husband’s pleasures in life was bragging on my knowledge of sports, college football in particular. He loved that I could hold my own in most any group that was talking sports. He also got a lot of enjoyment out of watching and listening to me watch the Gators,’cause we all know it’s not just a spectator sport, what with all my yelling and pacing and sighing and did I say yelling? I can stir up a mean glass of sweet tea, too. GO GATORS!

  21. It was fun reading this. (I’m a USC fan.) Your enthusiasm for the game itself is contagious!

  22. You won me over at Golden Flake Potato Chips. I ate them all the time in college, but they’re not available where I live now. Oh well, go CATS! C-A-T-S, Cats! Cats! Cats!

  23. Have some fun during Christmas in July. Come win prizes and listen to your favorite holiday tunes at http://www.litefm.com/cc-common/contests/index.html?id=142912 today! The month is almost over, so don’t wait until it’s too late!

  24. ” I can still hear the “plunk” of those quarters hitting metal and the creak of the newspaper machine door as it opened. Even now I think it’s what anticipation sounds like.”

    Great, great writing.

  25. It’s almost here! Cannot wait! War Eagle! I love talking and reading about SEC football!

  26. I do believe that this is one of your best blog entries EVER!!! Go Dogs!!!

  27. What a fun post! I’m so glad you had a great time! I’m SO READY for college football. Hotty Toddy and Hail State!

    Oh, and WHO DAT, too! :-)

  28. The whole day sounds like lots of fun! I fell in love with college football seven years ago (late bloomer) and I’m excited about the upcoming season. We lived in New York for two years and went to one collegiate football game before I was done. There is just something special about football in the south!

  29. amandamw says:

    Thank you for writing. I just love reading your blog and adore your joie de vivre! You make my day — a lot. :)

  30. Ooh, football is my favorite of the four seasons!!

  31. http://politicalvine.com/politicalrumors/odds-and-ends/football-in-the-south/
    Check this out. We can be insulted by some of this or just laugh and say, “they don’t know what they are missing.” SEC FOOTBALL RULES!!!!

  32. Lindsey Crawford says:

    I’ve only recently become a regular reader of your blog and I LOVE it! Just wanted you to know that I’m a crazy football fan, as well. We live in Ruston, LA, home of Louisiana Tech, and I’m sure you already know this, but Tech is playing State this fall. We are so excited. Not sure if we’ll make the trip to Starkville since I’ve just recently had our 3rd child, but it is a real big possibility that we will. :) Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog and your wit.

  33. This post just brings me unspeakable happiness