And it began in SEC Country naturally.
Anytime you see a 47-year-old wedding photographer from Australia spend $8,000 to fly himself and his Alabama graduate wife to the States and salivating over getting a glimpse and maybe an autograph from the Crimson Tide royal family, you know SEC fans are rabid. And maybe something else, too.
Antony Hands was among hundreds who crowded into the hotel lobby getting autographs or just a momentary peek at their favorite Alabama players.
He did get signatures from Landon Collins, Amari Cooper and Christion Jones. And has Hands met Nick Saban yet?
“Oh, God no,” he said, practically swooning.
He carried a colorful, handmade sign he made with seven bucks from Wal-Mart that read: “I Flew All the Way from Australia to Meet Nick Saban.”
I just flew from Austin, but was feeling no less passionate about the experience.
College football season is well under way. It started in Hoover, Ala., in the heart of the SEC, which went first in the lineup of media days for 10 conferences this month and is trying to get to be first again in the real arena when the last football game of the season is played on Jan. 12 in Arlington.
Where else would it start but the SEC?
I was one of 1,267 credentialed media to attend SEC Media Days, which set a record. Steve Spurrier tried to set a record for the most candid comments.
The South Carolina coach probably came close when he called Saban “probably the greatest recruiter in the history of college football” and commended Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin for being “a great negotiator” for his new contract.
Killing ‘em with kindness, Ol’ Ball Coach? Or setting them up?
“Spurrier is like Bruce Springsteen,” said Bob Holtz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who can take over an interview session at these media days. “He never gives a bad concert.”
Of course, in SEC land, football season never really ends. Nor do we see any reason why it should. And it’s music to our ears that football has returned.
As your president in 2014, it was my distinct privilege and pleasure to take part in my first SEC Media Days. The introduction was a memorable one. And enlightening.
I had no idea that Les Miles had such hatred for Austin, my home and the home of the Texas Longhorns. And the current home of his daughter Smacker, who just happens to swim for those same Longhorns. Actually, the LSU grass-eater was just poking a little good-natured fun at Austin, cracking that the best city in America doesn’t have a beach.
Uh, yeah. Like where’s the beach in Baton Rouge? Do they take it in at night?
Football’s gotten so big in the SEC that for the first time the league offense stretched out media sessions to four full days, adding a day to squeeze in all the extra-curricular events and the two additions in East Division champion Missouri and A&M in their third year.
Missouri’s Gary Pinkel took note of the fourth day and said, “If the league expands (again) you guys will be here for two weeks.”
While the response was huge, the buzz was a bit lacking from years past, SEC historians told me.
“One of the quietest ever,” one long-time observer said.
Radio row once stretched all the way down the Hyatt Regency Hotel into the adjoining mall, but this year’s event lacked something the others did not. A defending national champion. The ACC can claim that. Nor for once does the SEC have a clear face of the conference. No Johnny Manziel. No Jadaveon Clowney. No one even close to a Tim Tebow.
Greg Sankey, executive associate commissioner of the SEC, noted, “No Johnny Football this year. It’s a transitional period.”
But there will be future and current stars to fill that void. No one may be better-suited than Georgia’s Todd Gurley, possibly the best running back in college football and the league’s best Heisman candidate. He looked the part, decked out resplendently in a sharp bowtie that became the unofficial dress code for the SEC as a dozen or so players were similarly attired.
They’re all dressed for success in what figures to be a historic season with the first-ever playoff looming just months away. So thankfully college football is here. The Germans made off with the World Cup in spectacular fashion and Rory McIlroy turned the British Open into his personal playground. It’s time for football.
The ACC opens its media days on Sunday, and the Big 12 follows suit on Monday. The Sun Belt and Mountain West convene on Tuesday. And the Pac-12, Mid-American and Conference USA start their gabfest on Wednesday. The American Athletic and Big Ten round out the card at the end of July.
That’s a lot of talking, but that’s what we’re limited to until Aug. 30 when coaches and players have to start backing up their summer talk.