“How did I get here?”
The thought kept crossing my mind as the streamers fell and confetti pelted me from all sides. I was standing on the sideline as Alabama players celebrated following Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Alabama players and coaches were celebrating their 17th claimed national championship on the field while Georgia players quietly walked off the field disappointed. Their fans stood behind me in disbelief. I was just sitting on the sideline, dumbfounded.
I was actually here, on the sideline, surrounded by journalists I’ve admired for years at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium covering one of the greatest college football games in history. It wasn’t the prettiest game or statistically pleasing game I had ever seen, but it was by far the greatest game at any level that I had seen in person.
Just looking back at this trip, it all just seems so surreal. It was a trip of firsts in a lot of ways. The flight to Atlanta was the first time I had ever been on an airplane. I have driven through Atlanta but this was the first time I had ever actually visited the city. The National Championship game was the first major college football game I had ever covered.
Oh, and getting stuck in an elevator here was also a first.
A lot of things crossed my mind as I watched the scene unfold on the field. There was once a time when I wasn’t planning on going to college. Going to IUPUI never was really in the works for me.
Five years ago I was a senior in high school writing for my school paper at Warren Central. I liked journalism, but as an airhead 18-year old I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. I was going into the Marines.
I was so caught up in that dream that I didn’t even apply to colleges until the mom of one of my friends convinced me to apply. I applied to IUPUI, the University of Indianapolis and Marshall University. I was accepted into all three and had them on the backburner just in case something happened that kept me out of the Marines.
A few things happened. My dreams of joining the Marines died and I decided that maybe college wasn’t all that bad an idea. Choosing to go to IUPUI was an easy choice for me.
Five years later I’m a grad student at IUPUI working toward a master’s degree in Sports Journalism. I became the first person in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. I’ve been lucky enough to cover NCAA basketball tournament games, the last two Indianapolis 500 races and many high school games for the Indianapolis Star.
But the College Football Playoff National Championship?
Now I’m sitting in the press box at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, overlooking the empty field with patches of confetti, writing about how personally gratifying this trip has been. It will stand out for as long as I live.
I met Eddie Robinson’s grandson at a dinner and talked to him for hours about his grandfather and family. I took a stroll over to the College Football Hall of Fame and learned more about the incredible history of the game I love.
As I stood there on the sideline thinking about how I got to this point, all of the memories came flooding back. It has been a long journey. Now I know it is only getting started.
By Joe Spears | @joe_spears7