As is well-documented from a post I did earlier this week, I was not given a credential to SEC Media Days. I’m still not complaining about it, even though it really sounds like it. But instead of sulking and watching the “Days” on TV, of which I did a lot, I (with an apprehensive, yet willing friend) decided to go five minutes down the road to the Wynfrey Hotel and see what all the commotion was about.
Firstly, for those who have never been to the Wynfrey (now called the Hyatt Regency, but no one calls it that), it is a decently-sized hotel, with maybe 300 rooms. Not the kind of place you think of when SEC Media Days are mentioned. It has a tiny lobby that fits a fire marshall-sanctioned 115 people, and has a massive hallway which connects to the Galleria Mall. I would think more of a Georgia Dome-type building or arena may be more suitable for this event. The 1200 media members, hundreds of fans and dozens of coaches and players descend on this hotel in a sleepy suburb of Birmingham, Ala. called Hoover once a year to talk ‘ball and say how much they hate high-tempo offenses and how they’re going to take it one game at a time.
Hoover is centrally located to most of the SEC schools – barring Missouri, but they aren’t in the South anyways – and Birmingham, a 20 minute drive up the road from Hoover, is where the headquarters of the SEC are located. Home base. The Mothership. Mike Slive’s Fortress of Solitude. So, instead of Nashville or Atlanta, this mediagasm is hosted in Hoover. Also, the Wynfrey now has 32,000 square feet of meeting space. That’s a plus.
Wednesday was the unveiling of four new head coaches in the SEC: Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. With the new coaches, the energy in the hotel was high, people were noticeably excited for the unveiling of their new playcallers. As long as I’ve lived in Hoover (12 years with a 2-year stint back in my hometown of Los Angeles), I’ve never once gone to the Wynfrey for SEC Media Days. I’ve known about its presence, but it never appealed to me to be crammed into the lobby like a sardine, waiting for the chance to be trampled by the screaming masses when Nick Saban’s black Mercedes pulls up. But now that I’m older and am able to write about the sport that I’ve always loved, I figured I’d go and see the circus for five minutes.
The SEC Media Days is surprisingly easy to get into. Well, Radio Row is. There’s no security guard, no velvet rope; I walked right in. (You think me telling this story will hinder my chances of getting credentialed next year? Nah.) Each table had its own branding, its own logo – many of them ESPN – with 2-3 people on the microphones.
For a while now, I have been interested in sports media and its members. (Holly Anderson! Over here, Holly! I’m your biggest fan!!!) This two minute walk down the line of radio stations gave me a glimpse into what my life may be like: In a dark hallway, in a random town, talking about things that I would talk about for free. I saw the local JOX FM roundtable with longtime Birmingham sports anchor Jim Dunaway and former Alabama quarterback Jay Barker, as well as the 104.5 the Zone Nashville roundtable, complete with national sportswriter and Tebow virginity expert Clay Travis. I didn’t recognize the mid-day hosts of ESPN Savannah/Myrtle Beach. Sorry, guys.
This felt like the Super Bowl. It felt like these hundreds of radio and television professionals had driven or flown down to a city of 80-some thousand people for the “Game of the Century.” But it was only 14 coaches and 42 players hypothesizing about a season that has yet to be played.
I literally walked straight from the mall and passed about 50 radio station’s tables on my way to the lobby out front where 60-ish Tennessee and Auburn fans were corralled, waiting to see their coach or one of the three players he brought with him. Offensive lineman Antonio Richardson from Tennessee may be the largest human that I’ve ever seen in person. He’s 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. It’s amazing that they can make suits that big. The security was a little tighter than “walk right in, no one will notice” around the escalator that went upstairs, where the real action was. Gus Malzahn, the ESPN College Football Live set, an exorbitant amount of cameras and writers were all upstairs, and I couldn’t get up there. It left me with something to look forward to.
Watching SEC Media Days on TV doesn’t do it justice. Sure, you hear all the sound-bites, see every question asked and get to hear analysis from “experts” like Paul Finebaum and others. Honestly, who doesn’t want to listen to a guy like Finebaum talk about how a 20-year-old kid should act? That’s must-watch TV right there. But it’s not the same as being there.
Next year, I hope to get credentialed and be one of the select few 1200 media members allowed to ask questions like “Talk about your new assistant wide receivers coach. What will he do for you guys? Roll Tide.”
Once I do that, I’ll have finally made it.