An Inside Look Into The Press Box At Neyland Stadium Last Saturday Night
I've spent a lot of days and nights in pressboxes around the country, but in all my years of covering professional sports have I ever epxerienced anything as wacky as what I endured Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
First for context, I'm the son of an Army drill sargent so I'm cronically early for everything so arriving at the stadium two hours before kickoff is nothing new or unusual. The drive from my hotel to campus was uneventful with very little traffic on Neyland Dr considering.
I made my way into the stadium, through security and upstairs to an almost empty press area where a few people were gathered watching some of the early games in the cafeteria, but only one person was seated and working in the main media area.
After finding my seat and doing my pregame work other people began to arrive and the place started to get busy with the chatter of folks talking and normal gameday activities.
Nothing special so far, but it was about to change.
As everyone was settling into their seats for the kickoff, that's when things began to happen.
Of course there was the 28 minute delay because of weather. It's not the first time in all my years that I've experienced a delay because of Mother Nature- and it wouldn't be the last- and not the last on Saturday night even.
Midway through the second quarter I decided to take advantage of the long television timeouts and make my way to the men's room and to grab another bottle of water. I drink a lot during games.
Let me step back a second and explain the layout of the pressbox. It's at the very top of the stadium and once inside in the main media seating area there are three rows of seating, each at a different height.
Myself and the rest of the visiting Nashville media were on the bottom row, which is the front row of all seating and right on the midfield strip. There isn't much room between the shelf where we work and the row behind it, so getting in and out when people are seated can be a challenge.
This now is where things took the biggest turn. As I was walking behind the other seats I somehow in all my gracefulness managed to get my foot caught in one of the seats I was passing. This event started what seemed like a slow-motion scene from a movie where I saw myself falling toward the floor but was powerless to stop.
On the way down to my epic 9.5 face plant I managed to bounce my face off the back of the head of a young gentleman seated at the end of the row wearing a UT jacket. As I made it closer to the ground the back of my head connected with the handrail before my right side impacted the corner of the steps for which I was heading.
Of course every person sitting around either heard, or saw my graceless decent, and immediately began to stare. Vanderbilt assistant AD for football, Larry Leathers was seated directly behind us and had a front row seat to see the whole thing. He was the first to aks if I was ok followed by other members of the Nashville media who I fell behind.
The usher who was standing at the top of the stairs immediately came down to check on me and then walked with me to the top of the stairs as soon as I managed to collect myself and crawl off the floor.
Once at the top the usher and another individual from the university staff and a member of their medical team insisted that they take a look at me to make sure that I wouldn't be ruled out for the rest of the game. I didn't really want to undergo any type exam because I knew my face, knee and side, along with my pride were sore but otherwise I thought I was ok.
Once the lady had finished looking into my eyes and asking my name I was allowed to proceed on my journey. Keep in mind that my initial destination was the men's room and I still have not made it yet.
After completing my mission I headed back to my seat, pride still dinged of course but as I turned into the cafeteria for another Dasani I noticed an ice cream cooler fully stocked with creamy treats. Ice cream cures everything, right, so I decided to treat myself, and my bruise pride to a treat. Wouldn't you know it, the thing was locked and now I'm standing here looking like a fool having tried to open it.
Once back in my seat I sat quetly as I began to feel a bit out of sorts. My better half was also attending the game, sitting outside in the cold rain with another couple who are friends of ours. She was miserable outside and actually left at haltime, having no idea how miserable I was inside in the wram, dry, safety of the pressbox.
Of course we endured another rain delay with just over seven minutes left before whe could head down to the locker room for all the post game interviews. Well the elevator at Neyland doesn't go all the way to field level, you have to get off on the lower bowl concourse and take the stairs through the crowd seats onto the field and go into the tunnel where the players enter and exit the playing field to get to the locker room.
At this point it is raining rather heavily so by the time I make it into the tunnel I'm soaked, not to mention still feeling a bit uneasy.
Once the post game interview were completed I decided that it was time to make my exit from the stadium and head back to our hotel where I would finish my work, and hopefully feel better. Before that however, I had to walk from the stadium to the G-3 underground parking garage across from Thompson-Boling Areana to get to my car.
When I finally arrived at the parking garage, what wasn't wet from my stroll across the field in the stadium was now wet, including my shoe which got it when I stepped in a puddle going through a tailgate area near the stadium.
The drive back to the hotel was uneventful, other than slow traffic and the continuing rain.
I managed to make it back to the hotel off Cedar Bluff Rd. and into the room without any other major incidents. I'm just glad I was staying and not driving home as we had originally thought about doing.
Once inside the room, now wet and freezing I spent most of the night wake feeling uneasy, but managed to get in a few hours of sleep between bouts of sickness.
All's well that ends well of course as we managed to make it home safely on Sunday in the most uneventful part of our weekend in Knoxville.
It's always good to make memories, which we did on this, and our trip to Oxford togther earlier this season, but this is one I will never forget and with any luck will never have to experience anything like it again.