(Editor’s note: IUPUI journalism students have covered the College Football Playoff National Championship since its inaugural game in 2015. This year, for the first time, four students – Meghan Rominger, Bryan Carter, Jordan Morey and Zach Powell — covered the game. Here are the moments they will remember.)
Ten years later, another once-in-a-lifetime experience
On a cramped, claustrophobic Georgia Street, football fans mingled with locals to celebrate the upcoming game, the football-themed festivities and the best food Indianapolis has to offer.
It was 2012, and New England Patriots and New York Giants fans had flocked to downtown Indianapolis to celebrate their teams and prepare for Super Bowl XLVI, a game that was destined to dole out equal amounts of heartbreak and jubilation. As a senior in high school, I convinced my sisters to drive me downtown and walk through the city with me, knowing it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the pregame fun with 70,000 others.
The Super Bowl parties leading up to the big game were incredibly fun, and I enjoyed all of the nights we drove downtown, winding around Monument Circle and nearby streets looking for things to do and people to see. But the nights were also so overcrowded that a lot of the potential fun was lost after immediately stepping out of the car. We couldn’t find a place to sit down and eat or sit down and talk or sit down and rest. We could barely turn around. The crowd was so dense it almost felt ominous.
Ten years later, as a graduate student, when I went downtown for the Playoff Fan Central event at the Indiana Convention Center it was such a drastic juxtaposition to my experience 10 years ago. The pandemic and the subsequent planning necessary to account for its problems have drastically changed the way Indianapolis hosts events. The bars and restaurants were inviting but unassuming, not drawing too much attention to themselves or encouraging too many guests. The streets were lined with heat lamps and a few small football-related interests, but nothing about the setup encouraged large crowds. The Playoff Fan Central event in a room at the Convention Center was well spaced, with each activity cordoned off into its own little pocket of the room. The tables and chairs in the concession area were spaced out and comfortable. It felt like a completely different city when I remembered the one I’d experienced a decade before.
With the pandemic and its variants continuing to wreak havoc across the globe, it’s hard to imagine a time when cities return to their normal event planning process. I certainly hope that day comes soon, but I’m glad that Indianapolis hasn’t forced that atmosphere at the risk of making people sick and exacerbating a public health crisis. I appreciate the city’s ability to adapt to a new normal.
But even though things were different and the atmosphere may not have been quite as lively, one thing remains sure through all the events the city planned: Indianapolis and its planning committees consistently host the best sporting events of any city I’ve experienced (and I lived in Los Angeles for five years!) No other city does it like Indy, and I can’t wait for the day when we’re back to packed streets and incessant crowd noise – or maybe some happy medium between then and now.
By Meghan Rominger | @MeghanRominger
The passion of an unforgettable night
The drive from home on the north side of Indianapolis into the downtown area felt like any other night. It was two hours before kickoff of the College Football National Championship and the first 22 minutes of the normal 25 minute journey felt like just another cold Monday night in January. But after taking a turn on to Washington Street the atmosphere changed entirely. The JW Marriott was beaming in the night sky with the 2022 College Football Playoff logo emblazoned on the entire facade of building. Fans adorned in Georgia Red or Alabama Crimson filled the sidewalks. Competing chants of Go Dawgs! and Roll Tide! grew louder as Lucas Oil Stadium came into view. This was very different from a Colts crowd making its way to a professional game.
The anticipation and passion seemed to grow with every step. Clearly these were two fan bases that, to put it mildly, did not care for one another. For a neutral fan like myself, this was going to be fun regardless of who came out on top.
Entering the stadium it was evident the fans were “juiced” and ready to go. While having a press box pass would be fantastic, the area is enclosed and mutes the crowd noise to a dull roar. For me, college football is as much about the atmosphere as any sport in the country. Wanting to feel the excitement of the crowd, I made a move to the auxiliary press box which is not enclosed and within the stadium. What a difference! The fervor of both fan bases flowed back and forth nearly every play with the stadium reverberating. The first half with its five field goals and no touchdowns might have been a snoozer in a regular season game, but like a duel between two All-Star pitchers, the tension in the building continued to grow. You could sense one or two big plays in the second half would determine a champion. A touchdown pass by Heisman winner Bryce Young game the Crimson Tide a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter but you could sense the game was far from over.
The desperation of the Georgia fan base seemed to grow with each play. It had been 41 years since the Bulldogs last won a championship. They couldn’t possibly come up short yet again, could they?
The Dawgs quickly answered with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by the first of two Stetson Bennett touchdown passes to take a 19-18 lead with 8:09 to play. The speed and tenacity of the Georgia defense stifled Alabama from there. Twenty-one unanswered fourth quarter points gave the Bulldogs the championship. A big night of celebration in Indy was on, and a championship connection was complete.
For when Kirby Smart, suddenly Georgia’s national championship coach, stood on the victory stand, he referenced a call made by legendary Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson during the 1980 game between Georgia and Florida when he declared, “There’s gonna be some property torn up in Indianapolis tonight, baby!” No one took him literally, and our friends from the Peach State will not soon forget a very special night in Indy.
By Bryan Carter | @sgtbcarter
At the end of a long night, a sense of gratitude
Shutting down Indianapolis press boxes has become a habit during my time with the IUPUI Sports Capital Journalism program. Even during a worldwide pandemic.
After filing my game story at about 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I stood up from my seat, loosened my tie, and took a stroll down the empty press row.
Gazing at Lucas Oil Stadium’s confetti-littered field through the top floor’s large glass windows, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude.
I’ve had opportunities to cover – in person – some of the biggest sporting events on the planet, including six late-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games (including two Elite Eights) and the title game last Monday.
Did I mention I did all this while media access was restricted like no other time in modern history?
It can’t be overstated just how big of a deal it is to get the chance to cover some of these events. Many experienced sportswriters I’ve come in contact with over the years have never covered a basketball or football game played by a NCAA Division I college, let alone a postseason tournament or championship.
My journalism journey isn’t typical. I’ve worked in different editor roles for three newspapers since 2013, and decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree while holding a full-time job.
It hasn’t been easy balancing work, school and everything else in life, but moments like Monday’s championship game make it all well worth it.
The entire weekend was one to remember, starting with an invitation to a dinner organized by the National Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America. I met national college football writers as well as the grandson and great-grandson of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson.
On Saturday night, I ventured to the JW Marriott downtown and attended a reception for Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who received the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award.
Sunday, between writing stories and prepping for Monday’s big game, I waited with other national media members to catch CFP executive director Bill Hancock and see if any updates were available on the continuing expansion discussions.
The buzz throughout downtown Indy was palpable all weekend. Going into Monday’s game, I felt confident and collected. I had put the time in with my research and had a list of story ideas on the table depending on the final result.
The game was about everything you could ask for: tight through three quarters until some explosive moments in the final minutes. (Though it didn’t make my job easier, as I couldn’t pre-write much until the final result was posted).
As I write this, I’m not entirely done with all the work that came along with covering the natty. I have multiple story ideas and sources I’ve developed since the weekend, and plan on continuing to pursue them in the coming days and weeks.
I know these experiences will pay off professionally, and hope my work will continue to pave the way for future students to learn from similar opportunities.
Oh, and there was St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail in the press box during halftime — just in case you were wondering.
By Jordan Morey | @JordanAMorey
Sitting, waiting, and learning
We were waiting outside a meeting room at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis, for hour after hour, with the hope that discussions about the future of the College Football Playoff would generate some news. For three straight days we waited in a hallway, some of us sitting in chairs and others on the floor, typing background information into our laptops, searching online for any new context.
For nearly all of the sports journalists, the wait was a tedious and sometimes frustrating process.
For me, the experience could not have been more interesting.
I was learning while waiting.
As an aspiring sports journalist working to find a place in the industry, I was able to connect, network, and get advice from reporters who had time to share their thoughts.
With reporters from nine different sports media outlets all around me, I was able to chime in on conversations and hear thoughts from just about all of them.
One reporter that I was able to connect with was Ralph Russo, the Associated Press College Football Writers since 2005, who talked to me about the day-in and day-out grind of being a sports reporter. Ralph gave me insight about sports journalists constantly standing around at events and having to make themselves useful. Whether they are working on another story or engaging with other media members, journalists must find a way to keep busy. Ralph mentioned how part of the job is waiting around for meetings, players, and press conferences so you can get information to write a story.
Whether you are successful or not in getting information for the story is one thing. But the fact that part of the job is standing around waiting to gain new information was fascinating to me. Realizing the importance of time management, even when standing around, was good experience to gain as a young journalist. Ralph and other journalists I spoke with mentioned that if I learned to make myself useful while standing by, I would be in solid shape.
One other reporter that I was able to speak with was Heather Dinich, a Senior Writer for ESPN.com focusing on college football. I had met Heather, the outgoing president of the Football Writers Association of America, at the organization’s dinner for past presidents and crossed paths with her outside the expansion meeting. Heather made a point about the importance of being versatile.
Heather told me if she had one piece of advice to give aspiring journalists, it would be to stay versatile. By staying versatile, you can help yourself get the job in sports media that you want and jump to different platforms to showcase many skills. Heather mentioned how being able to write as a sports reporter is great, but being able to write for television and have a presence on camera is just as important.
On Monday afternoon, hours before the game, we were told that the discussions did not produce a consensus on the future of an expanded College Football Playoff. The other reporters may remember that there was no news, but I will know that I learned about the business by gaining valuable information before the game began.
What I learned serving as a sports journalist at the College Football Playoff National Championship is valuable information that I will take with me wherever I go.
By Zach Powell | @ZiggidyZach_