The press box is a second home for sportswriters during football season. They spend most of their fall Saturdays there.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, press boxes won’t be the same. Spaced seating, you know.
So I’ve been pondering the possibility of writing game columns from my recliner. I’ve had to do that before. It’s manageable, though not particularly appealing.
There’s a sense of being out of place when covering a game from anywhere else other than a press box. The sense is heightened when you have been doing this as long as I have.
My first two jobs in a press box didn’t include writing. In fact, my second press box job didn’t include much of anything, which was fine with me.
I was more interested in my favorable vantage spot, sitting on a high stool in the middle of the press box at Tiger Stadium, where LSU edged Auburn in a battle of nationally ranked teams. ABC, which was my employer for the afternoon, gave me a great view and little responsibility, a perfect combination for a college student.
That was a significant upgrade over my previous press box job at LSU, which had me manually operating an ornery elevator. I frequently cautioned riders to “watch your step” after I had failed to stop the elevator flush with its landing spot.
There are worse press box possibilities than a troublesome elevator. No elevator at all is worse.
The first game I covered as a columnist for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in 1977 was at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, where Ole Miss and Memphis opened the season.
Back then, our computers were suitcase size. The one I carried became heavier with each step as I made my way from field level to the stadium press box, which didn’t have an elevator.
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Compared to that, every other trip to a press box has been less challenging, even when I was on crutches at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2009 after undergoing knee surgery earlier in the season.
My colleagues dropped me off at the press box and headed for press parking. Although the press box hadn’t been officially opened to the media, I assumed I would get special treatment given my handicapped status. I was wrong.
A security guard looked up from his chair and said, ‘Nobody told you to come to the game on crutches.”
Harsh but true. So, I waited.
Since then, most of my press box memories include socializing with media cohorts. I enjoyed the press box banter during the 2019 football season as much as any.
Since I was recovering from hip-replacement surgery, I couldn’t make my way down the steps to the crowded front row, where my News Sentinel colleagues were seated. But Tennessee’s media relations department was nice enough to give me a back-row seat and all the space that went with it.
An added bonus: I sat next to Bud Ford, Tennessee’s former media relations director. He doesn’t just know the media business. He knows football.
He knows it well enough to call plays before they happen. Or at least he did during Tennessee’s loss to 25-point underdog Georgia State in the 2019 season opener.
“They’re running to the right,” Ford would say while pointing out the gaping hole in UT’s defensive front. Sure enough, Georgia State followed Ford’s directions.
Tennessee might have won that game if it had moved Ford from the general media area to UT’s coaching booth. He was Tennessee’s best defensive coordinator in the stadium that afternoon.
The only problem with UT’s press box is distance. It towers far above the field.
Georgia’s Sanford Stadium press box, which is closer to the field, offers a much better view. When the Gators and Vols were both flourishing in the 1990s, Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium produced more noise than I have ever heard in a press box. Carrying on a conversation even in pregame was a challenge.
Press box conversations will be harder to maintain than ever this season. Again, spaced seating.
“There will be some kind of social distancing,” said Bill Martin, UT’s first-year assistant athletics director for media relations. “We’ve got to be smart about this.
“The press box will look significantly different. Everybody will wear masks. If we started tomorrow, we would have Zoom pressers. There won’t be a buffet, where you go through a line and get food.
“It won’t be like in the old days when you packed everybody you could into a press box. We will have to make some (media) cuts.”
In Tennessee’s case, there’s plenty of room to cut. UT has one of the largest media contingents in the country.
The press box plan for the pandemic hasn’t been finalized. But there’s no rush because the season won’t begin until Sept. 26. Martin doesn’t expect an announcement on the new press protocol before September.
Never mind what changes are required. If the press box elevator is working and I’m able to attend, I won’t complain.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or [email protected] Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.