my 18.5-hour day at the College Football National Championship

When you shut the door to my office, you see 3 framed University of Alabama degrees on the wall that I didn’t earn.  One from 1939 for Jamie Waid; one from 1941 for Prentice Thomas; one from 1967 for Janice Thomas.  When the first 2 were being pursued, the Tide took a train to the Rose Bowl to win its first national championship under coach Frank Thomas, and it featured a player so tough, he earned a nickname for life by wrestling a bear at a carnival, and he played the UT game with a broken leg. When the 3rd degree was being earned, that player nicknamed “The Bear” was the coach, and his teams won 6 national championships.

I spent my childhood longing to see my grandparents’ and parents’ school win a national championship as they’d done.  There were a couple in the late ’70s that I was too young to remember, and then there was the one my senior year of high school that I watched on a portable TV in the locker room of a wrestling tournament, but there would be no titles when I was a 3rd generation student at the Capstone.  While we’ve been great the past 10 years under Coach Saban, obligations with the Air Force Reserves or an unwillingness to spend the required cash have kept me from attending any of the games live.  I finally attend the 2017 game against Clemson in Tampa, but we lost on the last play.

At 6:30pm on Sunday night, my phone rang as we were driving to Variety Playhouse for a “travel slideshow” with Henry Rollins. My friend Ben, a UGA grad, said something about having passes to go on the field when Good Morning America was to be shooting footage, and did I want to meet at the State Bar parking lot at 630am to get my wristband?  I almost said “no.”  I’d gotten up at 4:45am the past 2 mornings and worked 12-hour days for the Air Force, and I was on my way to a live show that ensured a late bedtime.  But I found myself saying “yes” as I tried to find a parking spot.  I texted my friend Jim Bob, who was on his way to my house so that he and his dad could attend the game Monday night; he was in too.  His dad balked at the time and said “no thanks.”

We got up the next morning at 5:25 to leave at 6.  Jim Bob’s dad appeared from the guest room dressed and ready to go.  We pulled into the State Bar at 6:31am, got our wrist bands, and entered the Dome, where we encountered the first of the “you don’t have permission to be here” Dome employees.  A few phone calls from Ben’s friend later, and we were heading toward a cargo elevator down to field level. Then we encountered the second “you don’t have permission to be here” person and again waited on phone calls to be made and conversations to be had.  We were down on the field.  A few minutes later, this happened.

And then this:

And we got to stand a few feet away as this was shot:

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And this:

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And then I got to spend several minutes talking to this dude who won the Heisman when I was 5 and is, I’m pretty sure, the greatest running back ever:

He was gracious and witty and kind, and he didn’t even mind that we were rooting for the wrong team.

Then we went upstairs to where ESPN radio was live broadcasting Golic and Wingo before deciding (after much debate) that I should not try to hide somewhere in the Mercedes Dome when they cleared it out to prepare for the President to come, as the place already had hundreds of Secret Service everywhere, and it was only 10am.  So, we exited the Dome and walked to Waffle House.

A couple hours later, I decided I wasn’t going to make it into the office (as had been my plan), and we were ordering our first round of beers at the Glenn Hotel bar, which was pretty full of Georgia fans but not so crowded that we couldn’t get a table.  I pulled up the StubHub app.  Single tickets up high in the corner of the endzone were $1375.  Surely they’d come down.

Hour after hour went by, and prices crept up.  $1450 for the cheapest single on StubHub.  $1500.  $1650.  $1800.  I texted every ‘Bama grad attorney I could think of to see if they were going and if they knew of anyone unloading an extra ticket.  $1900.  And this is for the upper corner of the stadium.

I accepted that I would be catching an uber home or walking to Stats sports bar whenever my friends left for the Dome.  At 4:55pm, Jim Bob looked on a listserv called TiderInsider and saw that someone had an extra seat in section 101 for $1500.  I texted the seller to see if they could do $1k.  They wouldn’t.  We went back and forth for a bit, and at 5:38pm, 12 hours after I’d gotten up, and 5 hours after I started looking, I had a ticket to the national championship game in section 101, 23 rows from the end zone, for $1200.  An hour later, we were through security, and I was making my way down to my seat.

On the way to row 23, I saw 4 friends from undergrad sitting together (2 of them I’ve known since childhood).  I walked closer to the field and made my way to the center of the row to sit beside the couple whose extra ticket I’d just bought via PayPal.  The stadium was electric, though it was probably 75% Georgia fans, so those clad in crimson were badly outnumbered.

The first half was extraordinarily frustrating.  There were signs of life and hope in the second half when the good guys were led by a new quarterback, but when time expired, and the score was tied 20-20 after a missed field goal by the Tide, I was beginning to regret buying a ticket and wondered if I was just bad luck for our team (being 0-1 at national championship games, and 0-3 at tournament bowl games).

I was wrong.  After the Dawgs hit a field goal, the Tide hit its receiver for a 41-yard touchdown  in overtime–from freshman to freshman.  The guys around me I’d annoyed every time I needed  access to the restroom were now hugging me and giving me “high fives.”  As streamers and confetti fell from the roof of the dome, I couldn’t stop tears from falling from the corners of my eyes.  It took 42 years, but I finally got to see my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide win a national championship in person.  And it was magnificent.

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