David Paschall: Month of coverage in 3 days

David Paschall: Month of coverage in 3 days

September 3rd, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - Columns

Tennessee junior quarterback Tyler Bray greets fans after the Vols' 35-21 win over North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

As an Auburn University sophomore in the autumn of 1986, I once skipped a football trip to Mississippi State to focus on my studies.

Just kidding, of course.

Actually, I convinced a carload that a night game in Starkville should be preceded by an afternoon showdown between Alabama and Penn State. We didn't have tickets for the game in Tuscaloosa, but the scalpers did not have supply-and-demand on their side that day, so the five of us watched D.J. Dozier run through the Crimson Tide before moving on to see Pat Dye's beloved Tigers annihilate Rockey Felker's Bulldogs.

Taking in two games made that a very memorable Saturday, and Labor Day weekend 2012 won't be forgotten any time soon.

Four games that were played in a 52-hour stretch, a feat made possible by Chattanooga's location and by Vanderbilt-South Carolina being held Thursday night and Tennessee-N.C. State on Friday night. It was hardly a 9-to-5 job, as bedtime was 2 a.m. for three straight nights.

A look back:

THURSDAY'S GAME

5:38 - As the anticipation builds for the opener of the 2012 college football season, an announcement is made in the Vanderbilt press box that there is no functioning water, not even in the restrooms. Glad I bypassed guzzling prune juice on the way up Interstate 24.

7:17 - South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney tallies his first sack of the season. Probably the first of many.

9:38 - A pass early in the fourth quarter from South Carolina's Connor Shaw is caught by Justice Cunningham, whose helmet goes flying after a hard hit by Andre Hal. Vanderbilt is flagged for a personal foul, and the Gamecocks soon go in for the touchdown and a 17-13 victory.

10:35 - In between swats of an annoying bug flying around his head in the postgame interview room, Vandy coach James Franklin says, "We had an opportunity to get a signature win here, and we didn't get it done."

FRIDAY'S GAME

11:31 a.m. - My wife is perusing Fairyland Elementary's suggested supply list at the Walmart in Lookout Valley -- we folks in Walker County are a bit late to the classroom this year. Our two older children are loading up on pencils, folders and notebooks, but our 2-year-old is throwing a temper tantrum because he doesn't have a haul like big brother and sister. This is my lone family time in this quest.

2 p.m. - The "Tennessee coverage team" has convened at the Times Free Press, consisting of UT beat writer Patrick Brown, columnist Mark Wiedmer, photographer Patrick Smith, myself and Da'Rick Rogers. OK, I might have made that last one up.

6:25 - Roughly an hour before kickoff between Tennessee and N.C. State, former Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl spots some familiar faces in the Georgia Dome's media area while clinging to a bottle of Coors Light. A smiling Pearl holds up his beverage and says, "You guys can't do this up there, can you?" Pearl would pose for at least two dozen pictures with admiring fans before and during the game.

6:48 - Free Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the press box! I better keep it at two.

8:36 - Following a first quarter that lasts 66 minutes, Tennessee's big-play potential is evident as the Vols have taken a 22-7 lead.

11:33 - The Volunteers have prevailed 35-21, and Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is giving a reporter across the room a hard time for saying that Marlin Lane had an 8-yard touchdown run when it was Raijon Neal. A lady sitting directly behind me bursts into laughter and thoroughly enjoys the dressing down. I turn around, and it's Barbara Dooley.

12:05 a.m. - As I transcribe a postgame interview with Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, I look up from my press box seat and see workers spraying over "Tennessee" and "NC State" in the Dome end zones. There are giant stencils lying on the field for "Auburn" and "Clemson," who are 17 hours away from their kickoff.

1:19 - At a stop light before turning on I-75 in Atlanta, Wiedmer gets caught up talking about an interview he once had with Charles Barkley. He fails to notice the turn signal, keeping us at the intersection a little longer.

SATURDAY'S OPENER

6:46 a.m. - I awake when a friend texts me about tickets to the Georgia game. I get a call an hour later from another friend wanting to talk about Tennessee. The season definitely has started.

10:38 - Georgia's Sanford Stadium is surrounded by thousands of eager Bulldogs fans, as well as a handful of Buffalo fans who seem split on whether to wear Bulls or Bills jerseys.

12:39 p.m. - Todd Gurley has his first touchdown, the Bulldogs have taken a 7-0 lead and the humidity is making it hard to stay awake.

12:48 - Buffalo just pulled within 7-6. I'm awake.

2:07 - It's halftime. Georgia is leading 24-16, and my fellow writers are joking that this is the best game I've seen all weekend.

3:51 - Georgia has won 45-23, and I'm racing down to do interviews when a Bulldogs fan exclaims, "I'm not worried about Todd Gurley. I'm worried about our defense."

5:50 - I'm leaving Athens, and I realize there is no chance I will make Auburn-Clemson in Atlanta by kickoff.

SATURDAY'S FINALE

7:23 - I am not too late, and as I exit my car and start heading for the elevator in the parking deck next to the Georgia Dome, this gargantuan human says, "Can you help me get to the pass gate?" Of course I can help Cam Newton.

9:10 - Clemson and Auburn are exchanging field goals in the third quarter when Phillip Marshall, who was covering Auburn before I was a student there, says, "David, have you seen the Ole Miss score?" Sure enough, the Rebels are losing 20-14 to Central Arkansas, but they would eventually regroup and roll.

11:15 - Auburn defenders Corey Lemonier and Daren Bates are a little bewildered in postgame interviews after Clemson tailback Andre Ellington rushed for 228 yards and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd broke about a billion tackles in the fourth quarter.

12:09 a.m. - It's my 45th birthday, and I'm stuck in Atlanta traffic. Just what I always wanted.