COLUMN: Covering College Football in the Wacky World of COVID-19
Would anyone care to guess what I get to do Saturday? I get to write about college football.
Not speculation about the season, not what players are out due to COVID-19, but actual football. Something I have done for the past 29 college football seasons.
Well, kind of.
Although The Rebel Walk will have our Jake Evans in person at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium when Ole Miss takes on fifth-ranked Florida, I will be contributing. But due to the wacky world of COVID — and press box capacity cuts of 50% instituted by the Southeastern Conference — media outlets are currently limited to one person present in the box, so I will be covering our Rebels from my house seven hours away from Oxford.
(Click here for the latest fan guidelines and safety measures inside Vaught-Hemingway.)
In this day and age, it is not that much of a hardship, and it is actually becoming the norm. As long as I have cable television, internet access and a creative mind, I can write about the game without being there. I will have all the requisite information I need to do my job, but I will be missing other things.
I will miss the experience of being there.
Since 1991, I have covered college football from Orlando to Dallas to Minneapolis to Birmingham. I have also had the pleasure of covering games in Charlottesville, Va., Lake Charles, La., Statesboro, Ga., and Logan, Utah.
The memories of those places will be what’s missing in my writing this week.
It brings to mind the things about gameday I will miss.
I will miss the other writers. (By the way, never in my career have I gathered with other sportswriters to decide which team, player or coach to write positively nor negatively.) I will miss hearing about their families, hearing them complaining about their bosses and hearing the war stories.
I will miss the press meal to some extent—although, I hear the new COVID rules dictate a boxed lunch will now be served as the meal du jour. For some reason, it seems the bigger the school, the worse the meal. I still don’t know what that was in Lincoln, Neb., but If you ever get the chance to go to Nicholls (La.) State, get there early because Bubba’s II caters the press box.
I will miss the incredibly talented photographers who come up to me during the game and tell me they have a great shot of a player or a play and if I need an idea for a sidebar, they have great art.
I will miss visiting with the broadcasters who ask me for cool bits of trivia they can drop into their broadcasts. They also have given me information that would make cool points in my game notes.
I will miss interacting with the fans in the tailgate area. I suppose I am lucky that I will not have to cry seeing The Grove empty this week. But I have met some great fans at places like North Texas and Middle Tennessee.
I will miss the players and coaches at the post-game press conference when they are still raw with emotion. This season, everyone is missing the post-game presser as, at least in the SEC, they will be conducted via Zoom. That being said, I am sure most remember Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy going off in a presser. I was in the press conference a week earlier when the Cowboys had been beaten by Troy. The Oklahoma City writer kept asking the same two questions, hoping for a different answer I suppose. The kid from the OSU student paper told me the guy was going to keep asking the same two questions, so I broke in and asked Gundy a question. He answered and the other guy kept peppering him with the same two questions. As he gave the same answers, Gundy looked at me as if to say, “thanks for trying.”
The next week, he made his infamous “I’m a man, I’m 40!” rant, and I knew exactly where the tirade originated.
I will miss seeing The Vaught as I pull into the parking lot thinking I get to work there for a living. I will miss seeing the stadium lights as I leave.
But most of all, I will miss the atmosphere. The fans. The bands. The student sections. The sports information students passing out the stats and asking if I need anything else.
Instead, I will be contributing from a Gulf Coast still recovering from Hurricane Sally. But I will gladly do it even if the dateline is: “OXFORD, Miss., via PENSACOLA, Fla.”
Jake, soak in this experience my friend. You will cherish it forever. Together, from near and far, Jake and I will bring you all the coverage of what we hope will be an Ole Miss win over the Gators.