Road Trip: Mississippi State – From the Bird’s Nest
Ah, the first road trip of the season.
Despite the best efforts of everyone, it is unusual for everything to go off without a hitch. And, this trip was no exception.
I'm usually one of the first ones at the airport. With all the broadcast equipment we have to carry, I don't want any of it to get left behind. That meant a long wait at the airport but that wasn't a big deal.
Except the plane arrived about an hour after it was supposed to.
That wasn't a big deal either, especially when we found out it was coming from Jacksonville where they were helping with the relief effort. And, that gave me a chance to visit with a lot of folks and eat before we got on the plane. As I've said many times, there's nothing like an Old Tyme po-boy to get a road trip started.
Among other people I hadn't seen in a long time, I had a great visit with Ashley Leger, Tim's wife and Gunner's mom. Because Gunner took a redshirt last season I didn't see her on the road and it had actually been over a year since we had seen each other. It was great catching up. She admitted watching the Cajuns without Gunner playing wasn't quite the same. We talked about the last time we were in an airport together, two years ago in Atlanta when flights were getting cancelled and we wound up sharing a rental car from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach for the Coastal Carolina series. A five hour drive, starting at 10pm. Good times.
The plane arrived and we started the check in process. The standard procedure is for the travel party to board first and then the buses show up with the players and coaches. It was a hot day and we were grateful once we took off and the cabin cooled off a bit.
We flew into the Golden Triangle airport, just a 49 minute flight. That airport is in the Starkville-Columbus-West Point area. It's a tiny airport where Delta is the only commercial airline. It's standard procedure for a van rental since we would have to get to the stadium before the team buses. But the rental pickup was a good stretch away from the terminal and it took athletic communications assistant David Collins quite a while to get the van. By that time, the buses are about 20 minutes ahead of us. But finally, we got to Tuscaloosa. Once we arrived, I got with Assistant AD Patrick Crawford, who hooked me up with Coach Billy Napier to record our pre game interview.
Then it was time for dinner. Mugshots was the recommended place and we headed there. Photographer Brad Kemp and videographer Douglas Domingue joined us. I just had to try the mac and cheese burger. The two slices of bread had some cheese in the middle making it a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches. Inside was a half pound patty topped with mac and cheese. Oh, my. I knew I'd pay the price later (and I did) but I just had to have it.
Back at the hotel, engineer Matt Gholston and I had a drink at the bar along with several others including sideline reporter Cody Junot then it was off to bed. Matt had remarked he hadn't had much sleep over the last few nights. When we went up to the room, it took him almost 15 seconds to fall asleep.
The team stayed at the Hotel Capstone, which is where Alabama stays the night before a home game. The Starkville area really didn't have a large full service hotel, which the football team has to have (catering, meeting rooms, etc) which is why we were in Tuscaloosa. The restaurant had a reasonably priced breakfast. The general manager of Ragin Cajun Sports Properties, Brian Bille joined us for breakfast. It was Brian's birthday and we celebrated by letting him pay the tab. After all, we're nice people.
With a 6;30 game, there was some down time. Even staying an hour and a half away, we weren't going to leave for the stadium until 2:30. After taking a shower, I went downstairs and when the elevator opened, I heard athletic director Dr. Bryan Maggard say, "Jay Walker, come say hello."
I didn't have to. She came to me.
I hadn't seen Allyson Habetz in more than 20 years. She was one of my favorite student-athletes that I ever covered. A great talent, but a great person on and off the field and a great smile. She, as you probably know, is an assistant coach for Alabama softball. We hugged and spent the better part of a half hour catching up. We talked about what's going on in our lives now and the status of UL softball. She was not happy about the latest news concerning the lawsuit filed by nine former players. We're going to do our best to get together again in two weeks when we go back to Tuscaloosa.
The drive to Starkville was uneventful, which is always a good thing. When we got to the stadium we headed upstairs to the broadcast booth. Mississippi State (along with Alabama) is using metal detectors now upon entry to the stadium, something that will be standard in the SEC starting next season. When we got to the press box, we were greeted by many folks dressed in maroon. Despite what some misguided people have written about us, the people we ran into were more than welcoming.
As our engineer Matt Gholston was doing our setup I had a chance to visit with an old friend. I met Neil Price when he was doing baseball broadcasts for Middle Tennessee more than a decade ago. He then headed to Kentucky where he did women's basketball and baseball and now is the play by play voice for Mississippi State. Neil is one of the good guys in our business and I'm really happy he's got that gig. I don't know if he'll ever have a portion of the highway named after him like the legendary Jack Cristil, but he's got a chance to have a long career with the Bulldogs.
You've heard the stories about the cowbells at Mississippi State. Everything you've heard is true. Thank goodness for headphones. Those that didn't have them were not happy.
At halftime they served hot dogs in the press box, but also some homemade Mississippi State ice cream. I had the Muscadine Ripple. It was really good and really necessary on a hot, humid night.
Once the game was over, we packed it all up and drove to the Golden Triangle airport. Considering the 6:30 pm start, getting home at 12:30 am was a pretty good deal. Basketball coach Bob Marlin and his wife Jenny rode with the team on the way home. I brought them home before I headed to my house.
I went to bed with cowbells ringing.