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Part 2: My trip to the CFP National Championship

Hi friends,

Picking up right where we left off, working a game or on-site event can be one of the coolest experiences in sports. It can also be one of the scariest, especially if you’ve never done one before. If you read part one of the blog, you know my first few days in Atlanta were just a warm-up leading into the main event, and one of my personal favorite sporting events of the year.


THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Naturally, I couldn’t sleep the night before the game. I was worried about somehow sleeping through the 18 alarms I’d set and missing my ride to the stadium. So of course I was wide awake and ready for the 7 am shuttle by 5 am. For convenience, we moved from the Congress Center (several blocks away) to a large room on the ground level of the stadium itself, which served as our headquarters for the day. There, we continued pumping out new statistical content and prepping as much as we could for possible outcomes of that night’s game. For example, Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel had combined for the second-most rushing yards of any duo during their college football careers. We knew how many total yards they needed to take the top spot, so we prepared notes and graphics related to that potential milestone.

Aside from the prep, I had been assigned to work the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows, all of which were live and on different sets. Naturally, there are a million things that could go wrong when working on a makeshift set. Each set requires a printer nearby so that the researcher (in this case me) can print notes, box scores, and copy for anchors. That requires a strong WiFi connection, which is sometimes unpredictable in a stadium. Plus, rather than working from a quiet, calm, climate-controlled studio, you’re in the middle of pure chaos. The crowd noise makes it difficult to hear anchors who may be asking you to look up specific stats. Beyond that, you often can’t hear your producer through your headset, a major challenge as that’s where they communicate any additions or changes to the rundown. Since the producer is in a separate location, the researcher is often responsible for communicating those last-minute changes to the anchors on set. Needless to say, there’s a lot that can go wrong.


PRE-GAME AND HALFTIME

Our pregame set was on the sidelines so that viewers could get an up-close view of the players warming up in the background. As I was walking out of our little conference room to head to the field prior to the show, I got my own up-close view, as I accidentally ended up walking into the Alabama huddle. The players had congregated right outside the door. In fact, I literally bumped into Jalen Hurts (just a few years before I’d put together a research report on him for the Eagles ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft).


Anyways, since the pregame show was recycling a lot of what we’d been covering the previous few days, it was relatively easy. The real craziness started at halftime. I watched the first quarter and a half of the game with several co-workers from an elevated area near the field, where we continued to send statistics based on what was happening in the game. With about 8 minutes left in the half, I left for our halftime set, which was in the middle of a packed concourse. Battling through the crowd, I got set up and checked in with the talent, Adnan Virk, Joey Galloway, and Jesse Palmer. As soon as the half ended, I quickly printed box scores and some of the best statistical nuggets I’d found from the first half. It’s important to keep an eye on the rundown in those situations, as you need to know when the anchors are on camera and when they aren’t so that you can run those notes out without ending up on TV. As expected, it was nearly impossible to hear anything besides the fans surrounding our roped off area of the concourse.


Honestly, I don’t remember much about that halftime show beyond that. It was a complete whirlwind! All I know is we made it through. From there, we retreated to our headquarters and watched most of the second half in there with other ESPN employees, former players like Julio Jones, and other random celebrities.


POST-GAME

The game itself did not disappoint. After falling behind 13-0 early, Alabama had battled back in the second half thanks to the insertion of freshmen Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith. Of course, I missed part of the fourth quarter, as we once again had to leave to go get set up different postgame set on the concourse, but I did catch the closing minutes, an absolutely wild ending!

Naturally, the postgame show was always going to be the most challenging assignment. First, we had a lot of pre-built graphics that needed to be updated (like Nick Saban moving into a tie with Bear Bryant for most titles in CFB history). At the same time, we were providing live reaction to what had been a pretty insane game. Though my heart was racing the entire time, I spent the next two hours successfully answering anchor questions, building graphics, sending notes, and printing box scores and copy as screaming fans closed in around our set. Hours later, we finally wrapped in the middle of a quiet stadium, all the fans having finally filed out. It was such a relief!


Of course, that wasn’t the end of my eventful day. My phone died at 40% and then refused to turn back on even after hours of charging back at the hotel. Panicked, I emailed (yes, emailed) my family to let them know I was alive, asked the front desk for an old-fashioned wake up phone call to ensure that I didn’t miss my early flight, and had to ask them to schedule a car to the airport on my behalf. Once there, I had to print out my boarding pass, as my phone was still not turning on. Finally, minutes before we were set to board, it finally rebooted. Sure, I’d lost all of the music on my phone except for one song (which I listened to on repeat the whole flight home, lol), but at least it was functioning again. So for the first time since before that Bristol blizzard, I finally relaxed.


Overall, my first remote assignment was among the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in the sports industry. Though it was exhausting and nerve wracking, it was also incredibly rewarding and gave me confidence that I could handle the high-pressure, fast-paced environment that live sports create. My best advice when you find yourself working your first live sporting event? Take everything in stride, ask questions, remain confident, and remember, you’re awesome and you belong there.






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