|by David Hood|
I love covering college athletics and basketball and baseball can be fun to cover – but nothing compares to college football. Nothing. I love the NFL, and last December we flew out Denver for the Broncos game against the Chargers on Thursday night. The stadium was full, the crowd was into it, and it was great.
It wasn’t college football. It wasn’t Death Valley. It’s wasn’t the Auburn fans all dressed in blue in Clemson’s game there in 2010, it wasn’t the electricity in the Georgia Dome at the end of the game against LSU, and it certainly wasn’t the atmosphere we saw before, during and after the Georgia game last season.
Once that countdown begins, I have to take it in stages – how long until National Signing Day? How long until spring practice begins? How long until Dabo Swinney’s high school camps? How long until the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro? How long until the media golf outing? How long until the start of fall practice? How long until the first game.
Finally, it’s here, and if the opening game of the season can’t be in the friendly environs of Death Valley, what better place to see what the Tigers have this season than Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, the location of several iconic games over the years.
Clemson vs. Georgia. Just saying that out loud can get you pumped. As a young man working for the Greenville News back in the day, I walked into the office one Saturday morning in 1987 thinking I had another fun-filled day of chasing college football scores ahead of me, but former sports editor Dan Foster grabbed me, handed me a credential and said, “Let’s go see what the Bulldogs and Tigers have in store for us today.”
Thrilled doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions I felt - I was a transplant from another state who learned to love Clemson because of listening to Jim Phillips on the radio. My dad had taken me to a few games, and I can remember truly falling in love with the sport on the rides home (it seemed like it was always cool or cold) listening to the fifth quarter show and hearing the live updates from around the country.
Someone would break in from Happy Valley, or Gainesville, or Baton Rouge, or College Station and Austin, and in my mind’s eye I could see the action on the field. Dreams of covering big-time college football games danced in my head long before I ever walked through the doors of the News and begged to be a part of the crew covering high school football on Friday nights.
We walked into the press box at Memorial Stadium, and I immediately saw Pat Haden and Brent Musberger in line for food, and the shock of seeing guys I had only heard on television was tempered by the voice of legendary coach Frank Howard – who promptly asked me to move out of his way or get him some chocolate milk.
It didn’t take long on that cloudy day in Clemson for the crowd to be at full throat, for what Musberger called “just your normal neighborhood war between Georgia and Clemson.”
A few minutes later, I was rooted in the endzone when David Treadwell’s kick sailed through the uprights for a 21-20 victory and the roar of the crowd was deafening. The names and memories of that day are forever in my memory – Terry Allen, Rusty Seyle, Lars Tate, Rodney Hampton, Danny Ford, Rodney Williams, Tracy Johnson, James Lott and Michael Dean Perry.
Now, it’s Clemson and Georgia again. Both teams think they can make a run at the new four-team playoff. The two programs go head-to-head for some of the Peach State’s best recruits. It’s revenge for Georgia. It’s a new world for Cole Stoudt. It’s the return of a nasty defense. It’s crazy fans and the Redcoat Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland, it’s the memories of Dooley and Ford and Howard and kickers that made a difference.
It’s Clemson and Georgia. It’s just your normal neighborhood war between Georgia and Clemson for bragging rights until the two meet again.
It’s college football at its best. And it’s here.
Spot the ball.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org