POSTCARD FROM PARADISE
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Well, it’s been fun, but I’m ready to get out of the Southwest and back to the Southeast. And it might take a while to get my internal clock back on Eastern Daylight Time.
My Monday night didn’t end until way, way deep into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. That’s because I went to the College Football Playoff championship for one reason and one reason only — to chronicle the journey of Georgia’s new coach, Kirby Smart.
Heading into the ballgame at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday, that seemed like a cushy assignment. Normally when I’m going to any stadium anywhere to cover any game, especially nowadays in the digital age, I expect to be grinding out copy constantly all day.
But not at this one. No, with AJC columnist Mark Bradley and SEC Country reporter Alex Smith monitoring the action of Alabama versus Clemson, I was clear to simply observe Smart and record all the details about how his last day at the office with the Crimson Tide went.
What I didn’t take into account is what that meant from a time management standpoint. For me, that meant the majority of my work was going to have to be done after the game. You may have noticed that it didn’t kick off until after 8:30 p.m. ET. I couldn’t tell you when it ended.
And once we got to the end — with Alabama recovering an onside kick for a narrow 45-40 victory — the waiting was just beginning. First was the on-field celebration with his family and friends, which went on for a solid 30 minutes (I’ll be getting confetti out of my clothes for weeks). Then there was the trophy celebration, then the locker room celebration, then Smart needed to go into the coaches’ dressing room to shower.
Throughout, every few steps or so, Smart would get stopped again and again by another person whom he or the other parties thought deserved a long personal goodbye.
It was actually very enjoyable to observe and record. But by the time I peeled off after following Smart across the field one last time to the Alabama bus, it was already the middle of the night on the East Coast.
I joked with Smart about whether they had room for one more on the UGA plane leaving at 6 a.m. Mountain Time Tuesday morning. He seemed genuinely sympathetic to hear I’d have to wait until 5 p.m. MT to catch my commercial ride.
But here’s what I learned about Smart on my trip out West: He’s a really sharp, well-organized guy who is extremely well-liked by a lot of Alabama people. And he just won his fourth championship ring in the last seven years.
For Georgia fans, my best guess is he’ll all be worth the wait.