Orange Bowl

Stadium is Hard Rock Stadium (Orange Bowl), site of CFP semifinal

   When Independent Editor Art Parker asked me to do a column on my travels over the last couple of weeks, I humored him, which is to say I gave a non-committal response because I figured, ‘Who cares?’

   I’m still certain that no one cares, but at least the travels to the College Football Playoff semifinals and finals proved to be a little entertaining.

   To the reader. Not the journalist who figures there are plenty of more productive and more sane ways to spend your life.

   We all understand that football is king in the South, which is to say I haven’t taken a collegiate postseason basketball, baseball or softball trip in several years, but football is different. It’s a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And bowl games are as much a reward for fans and journalists as they are for players.

   So after the regular season was over, I lined up a trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, in large part because Shaun Alexander was being honored as one of the SEC Legends. There are few athletes that are better people than Shaun (he has a book out if you don’t remember him) and I covered him extensively in the late 1990s, so I just wanted to touch base.

   I never saw Shaun in Atlanta, but, boy, you can’t beat the game. And we all had something to write about – and cheer about – when Jalen Hurts came off the bench to lead Alabama past Georgia.

   Back to the local high school scene, there was a few days spent rounding up postseason football information but much of the attention was focused on basketball. Unfortunately, this a down year for basketball in the area, which is to say parity makes the games entertaining but few teams are of postseason caliber.

   So a trip to Miami to catch the CFP semifinal at the Orange Bowl was a pleasant diversion and guess who was being inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame? Shaun Alexander, for his 2000 performance against Tom Brady’s Michigan team. I had missed Shaun in Atlanta and I missed him (and Joe Namath) in Miami as well.

   There’s a lot of work you have to do in advance and on the fly in order to spend five days in Fort Lauderdale. And two of those days are wasted because I drove to south Florida. You drove, you might ask? That will all become apparent in the next few paragraphs as you read the horrors of airline travel. That’s why I drive. I control my own destiny.

   The trip to Miami the day after Christmas was rather uneventful but working through Media Day on Thursday, trying to get advance stories written on Friday and attending the game on Saturday leaves precious few minutes for sightseeing. And it’s impossible to take your eyes off the road because the people all drive like they’re 30 minutes late for something.

   So Alabama defeats Oklahoma and reaches the CFP National Championship, where they’re honoring guess who? The inaugural Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award was being presented by the Football Writers Association of America (to Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence) so Alexander was out in California. Now, if I could just figure out how to meet him out there.

   In the meantime, I have to get back to Montgomery and cover a pair of basketball games on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 while trying to plan a trip to the West Coast.

   The flights were outrageously priced out of Atlanta and Birmingham, unless you do what a friend did and piece together parts of the flight on stand-by status. Instead, I drove to Dallas because it was a safe flight with plenty of options to get to San Francisco. So I went to Dallas and booked a hotel next to the airport, only to find the shuttle didn’t start until 5 a.m. and my flight was at 6 a.m.

   So I had paid an organization to keep my car at the hotel – when I couldn’t get a shuttle – and now had to pay someone to take me to the airport because my flight was too early. I tried Lyft, a new experience for me. I caught a ride with Dovud, a great guy who is taking a few months off from driving 18 wheelers all over the country. Now I have to tip Dovud and since he had to pay the toll to get into DFW, I have to tip him a little more.

   I hoped that would be the end of this great adventure and I could just tell you how the game went, but once I got to Phoenix, my American Airlines flight was changed, then canceled. It seemed there was a five-hour delay for any flights into San Francisco because of high winds and low visibility (this apparently happens often) and nothing else was available.

   Remember my friend that was wandering through airports with his thumb out, trying to fly stand-by? Well, it sounded like the only way to get to the Bay Area. (And, suddenly, my car rental agreement was worthless and so were my Tuesday morning tickets to Alcatraz, since I had no idea when I would be returning).

   Remember Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal?’ That’s me, roaming Sky Harbor International for 14 hours on Sunday after my 8:30 a.m. flight was moved to 9:05, then to 10, then canceled. I was booked on another flight to Oakland early in the afternoon, another to San Jose late in the afternoon and another to San Jose late in the evening. I’ve been to Gate 2, Gate 4, Gate 6 and back to Gate 2, keeping myself (and the 18 people on standby, also searching for a replacement flight) within a 100-yard area all day and into the night.

   I finally get to San Jose, rent a car and head to nearby Mountain View for a place to sleep. The next day, I’m bombarded with the incredible high price of everything (the cheapest gas was $3.63 a gallon, with more expensive stations over $4 per gallon) as I make my way to the stadium. Levi’s Stadium is sandwiched between several office buildings and a couple of hotels – somehow, that’s appropriate for this part of the world – and I have to pick up a press pass at will call, only to discover I left my driver’s license in the shirt I was wearing when I picked up the rental car.

   Thankfully, I did get to make a Tuesday visit to Alcatraz, which made a trek into San Francisco on a dreary, overcast, misty day the exact opposite of driving in Miami. Instead of people driving too fast to see what’s going on, the traffic is piled up for miles.

   After “The Rock,” I’m more than ready to return to Montgomery at breakneck speed and I make my way back in record time, finding enough minutes in the San Jose airport to write up the game from the night before and enough minutes in a small town east of Dallas to email the story back before following up a 19-hour day with a few hours of sleep.

   Football season is now officially over. I made it back in town on Wednesday, spent Thursday afternoon at Success Unlimited Academy to see their new gym floor and Friday night at St. James for the annual grudge match with Trinity.

   Oh, and I did catch up with Shaun Alexander outside of the Alabama locker room after the game. He was philosophical, as usual, and somewhat disappointed but also reflective on how old we’ve all gotten to be now that he has been labeled a ‘legend,’ a ‘Hall of Famer’ and the subject of a national award, all in the same year.

   He asked how everything has been, including the trip out to the West Coast. I just smile. There isn’t time to go over all the details. Besides, no one really cares, do they?

Sports Editor