ACC, Around the Country, College Football, SEC

New Years in New Orleans: A Week at the Allstate Sugar Bowl

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone! I rang in the New Year the best way that I know how – with a little football! The Allstate Sugar Bowl hosted one of the two playoff games this year, so I headed to New Orleans to join in on the action.
For those of you who don’t know, a bowl game isn’t just a game – it’s days of celebration and events for the team, their families, their staffs, and their guests. In college, I worked three Cotton Bowl Classics in Dallas, Texas and the first College Football Playoff National Championship. So this was actually a little different for me! While the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl have different set ups, just about every bowl game does the same TYPE of event!
The Allstate Sugar Bowl hosted #1 Clemson and #4 Alabama this year. After LSU let out their students, I stayed for a few more days of work and then headed home to Round Rock to spend Christmas with my family.
Since I left for college in 2011, I’ve packed my breaks with internships. Every summer and Christmas break, I had an internship. Therefore I didn’t get to spend much time at home like everyone else did. So the fact that I got to spend 12 days at home with them this break between LSU closing for Christmas and coming out to New Orleans was so great!
I spent most of my time resting up and binge-watching Hulu. At one point, my mom even asked me if this is what I do all the time. I had to laugh at that… I WISH I had that kind of time! I saw some old friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in forever, too. One’s got a little girl now that’s growing so fast! Meanwhile, I’m just trying to control my puppy fever.
My poor mom also came down with the shingles just a few days before Christmas. Talk about heartbreaking. She was so miserable. But I got to pay back all those times she’s taken care of me when I was sick! Even though I didn’t enjoy her being down, I enjoyed the extra time I got to spend with her! She wasn’t able to go to Christmas with our family in Waco, so my dad and I just went. While we missed her, I also really enjoyed just getting to spend some time with my dad. He also took the Friday before Christmas off, and we had a little father-daughter day at Bass Pro. Sound like a strange location for a father-daughter day? My dad goes there weekly. His second child is his bass boat. This is absolutely no shocker! But I always enjoy getting to go with him. Don’t know how, but we can easily kill a couple hours in there (despite the fact that he goes there weekly).
Texas Tech played early in the bowl season since we got stuck with a mediocre bowl and a non-Power 5 team (can you tell I’m a little bitter?). To be honest, I’m just grateful we made it to a bowl game! Especially with that ass-kicking we handed to Texas at home to end our season. We took a last-minute loss to USF and Charlie Strong in the Birmingham Bowl. LSU also took a loss yesterday to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. So it’s safe to say my teams didn’t do so hot this bowl season. If you aren’t sure how your teams did, head on over to my Bowl Games List and check out the final scores for all the Power 5 teams!
Here’s how the Power 5 Conferences ended up stacking up during post-season:

So what do these mean? Basically, there are two takeaways from these stats and percentages for the 2017 Bowl Season: The first takeaway is that the Big 12 did the best job this season of getting teams bowl-eligible. Percentage-wise, they put the most team into bowl games for 2017 (Go Big 12!). The Big 10 did the worst job of getting teams bowl-eligible.The second takeaway is that the Big 10 won the most bowl games and had the best win-percentage, with only one team losing their bowl game. The Pac-12 falls on the other end of the spectrum, only winning one bowl game. They did the worst percentage-wise.
So all of these bowl games lead up to the 4th year of the College Football Playoff! This year, the playoff host sites were the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. For those of you who don’t know, the playoff sites rotate each year between the Rose Bowl/Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl/Orange Bowl, and the Peach Bowl/Fiesta Bowl. This year, the National Championship will be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Atlanta Falcons. It’s basically a home game for the Georgia Bulldogs against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Sugar Bowl welcomed Clemson and Alabama on Wednesday, December 27th to kick of Sugar Bowl week! Every bowl game has some sort of Welcoming Event for their teams on their day of arrival. When I was at the Cotton Bowl, we had a dinner for both teams at AT&T Stadium for their welcome event. The Sugar Bowl keeps that event separate and more low-key than the Cotton Bowl and does dinner for each team at separate restaurants in the French Quarter of New Orleans. While I didn’t attend these welcome events, I did attend the welcoming for both teams at the airport! Take a look at the team arrivals below:

Alabama was the first arrival. Each bowl tries to make the events as unique to the culture as they can, so we brought in a small band with a dancer for that Bourbon Street New Orleans feel. They were so sweet! Not to mention… it was FREEZING outside! Rainy and so cold. Laura Rutledge, the SEC Nation reporter, would walk outside and then walk right back inside saying “I can’t do it, I can’t do it!” She was great! Absolutely hilarious, and by far one of the friendliest people I’ve met! At each of the welcoming events, the Head Coaches and two players did quick little interviews. My job was so basically be their escort and security (yeah, the 5’2″ girl was these giant D1 boys’ security). For Alabama, I stuck with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Minkah will be a top pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He was pretty quiet, but very friendly and well poised during all the media chaos. Of course, Nick Saban is Nick Saban and doesn’t show much emotion. This was the closest thing I got to a smile:

Clemson was the last arrival in the afternoon. Thankfully, by the time they arrived, the wind had died down and the miserable drizzle went away. Clemson’s welcome on the tarmac was MUCH more bearable! Dabo Swinney is clearly much more emotional than Nick Saban (which I personally love), so Clemson’s media interviews went a little longer and had a lot more laughs. I stuck with Christian Miller, who was a very well-spoken young man. I was very impressed with him!

The next day began the official press conferences for each team. On Thursday morning, it was Alabama’s Offense and Clemson’s Defense. On Friday morning, it switched and was Alabama’s Defense and Clemson’s Offense. The press conferences are smaller and are set up so that the kids don’t get too bombarded. In one room, we had the Offensive or Defensive Coordinator and two players. In the next room, we had the Head Coach, the star player, and two other players. Each interview went on for 20 minutes. Media could come in and out of each room and freely switch between each interviewee.
For the first day, I had the pleasure of hanging with Ryan Carter for Clemson and Bradley Bozeman for Alabama. Both such sweet kids. I did not attend the press conferences on Friday, as I was feeling a little under the weather and stayed home to gear up for Media Day on Saturday. I’m not sure if I’m just not used to interviews since I’m not usually on this side of the event, but I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of kids both teams had and their interview skills! Bradley and I got a chance to chat quite a bit. He’s currently working on his Master’s degree in Sports Business Management at Alabama in the same program that I was in whenever I was at Alabama.
Here’s just a few shots from the Thursday morning press conferences:

Each team also has practice a couple of times throughout the week while at their bowl site. Alabama practiced at the Superdome while Clemson practiced at Tulane. Thursday afternoon, I took the media to Alabama’s practice. Unfortunately due to my other media obligations, I wasn’t able to make it to Tulane for one of Clemson’s practices. The practices are closed, but they allow 15 minutes for media to come in and take pictures of practice. It’s a very strict process, and once again I was security.

Each team also does some sort of charity event during their week at their bowl site. The most popular is a visit to a local children’s hospital. Cotton Bowl did this, also! Alabama took their team on Thursday after practice, and Clemson took theirs on Saturday after media day. I skipped out on Alabama’s and headed home for some rest, but I was able to attend Clemson’s on Saturday.
I do have to take a minute to brag on Clemson here. I spoke with Coach Swinney at their hospital visit on Saturday. When I complimented him on how great his guys were, he told me that he only required the true freshmen to attend the event. He said that they had so many guys that actually wanted to come just because they wanted to that they filled their entire bus.
My heart was so warm watching these Clemson players interact with the kids at the hospital. The hospital staff had set up a room with different stations for the kids. One station was autographed footballs, one was corn hole, another was decorating foam fingers. There was also a station where the kids could decorate a mini megaphone with the players and another station where the players could make the kids a headband.
I cannot express how awesome this was to see. Kelly Bryant, Clemson’s quarterback, was having the time of his life with these kids. This event alone made me a Clemson fan. These kids are so special and have so much love to give outside of just football. Coach Swinney interacted with all of the parents, took numerous pictures, and spoke to all of the kids. The kids were so thrilled to have this event and to get to meet these guys. The pictures I took can’t capture the emotion and the joy that was in that room, but I definitely tried! Check them out:

The Sugar Bowl also hosted Media Day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday morning, live on ESPN. So if you were watching on Saturday, you’ll get to see a behind-the-scenes look at what you saw! Alabama went first, followed by Clemson. While Media Day is a chance for all the media outlets to get in interviews and talk to a large amount of players and coaches, it’s also a chance for the players to have a little fun.
And that’s EXACTLY what they did! If you follow me on Snapchat, I had quite a few videos up of the players stealing media microphones and interviewing each other with the most ridiculous questions. It’s just as much fun for the guys as it is serious. It’s great to see them enjoying each other and making the most out of their little vacation before the game!
Marty Smith from ESPN was my buddy for the week, too. Him and his producer, Jonathan Whyley, were so much fun to get to know throughout the week! So friendly and had just as much fun as the guys did.
We’ll start with Alabama Media’ Day first:

Ronnie cracked me up. He was not about the interview. He was the last one out on the field and the first one off. But he faked it well! Funny kid, too.

Anfernee Jennings had a HELL of a game, which we’ll get to later. He was the quiet one of the interview group. I sat and chatted with him for awhile, and finally got him to smile for a picture!

Next up was Clemson! I will say, Clemson was a lot looser and had a little more fun with Media Day. The teams have Head Coaches with completely different personalities, and it really reflects on the environment and how the kids behave. At the risk of sounding a little biased, I think anyone would rather have Dabo’s environment over Saban’s. Throughout the week, Clemson kept it very professional, but you can tell they were comfortable and had a great time. Saban definitely runs… a dictatorship, for lack of a better word. I don’t think his kids were allowed to be as loose as Clemson’s. Which was a little unfortunate, because the experience is just as much theirs as it is Saban’s.

The kid in the front recorded me for a solid 2 minutes. He said that that it was only fair that they took my picture if I was taking theirs. Can’t really argue with that!

Alright, this kid had WAY too much fun! Remember how I mentioned some of the guys stole media microphones and interviewed each other? Well, this kid took the cake on that! Not to mention he was absolutely hysterical.

Jarrius Robertson also stopped in for Media Day! He hung with me and Marty Smith for a little and tossed around the football. When asked during Alabama’s turn who his favorite Alabama player was, his response was, “Ew, none.” When asked why, he responded, “Because I’m an LSU fan!”
Jarrius is a 14-year-old liver-transplant recipient (at age 1) who has biliary atresia. He has a foundation for organ donor awareness and is always at Saints and LSU games! He’s a sweet kid with lots of sass! If you want to read a little more on him, I really like this article from this year’s NBA All-Star game.

I took it easy on New Year’s Eve and kicked back with one of my best friends, Nelly Gonzalez. Nelly started out as my supervisor at TCU in football, and has since become one of my best friends. It’s funny how the world works! We joined a group for dinner and a little karaoke to ring in the New Year.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl aired yesterday, January 1st at 8:00pm on ESPN. Right after that INTENSE Rose Bowl in which Georgia beat OU in double overtime. If you know me, you can already guess that I was jumping up and down with excitement in the press box at the Sugar Bowl with joy that OU lost. I do like Georgia, but I hate OU. So this game went my way!
Most of my duties kept me locked in the press box for the game, but I got to wander around a little before kickoff. While the week made me root for Clemson, I obviously can’t be biased during the game. Unfortunately, the Sugar Bowl didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, and Alabama dominated Clemson for the majority of the game. I was pretty bummed, but I had a great experience none-the-less. To wrap it up, check out some pictures from the press box and the field:

The press box is basically just rows of media personnel from all over. There are also booths for radio stations and others that require a more quiet space for working. Here’s a look inside the press box:

For the post-game press conference, the losing team always goes first. Listening to Coach Swinney talk about how proud he was of his seniors and his guys despite not getting the results they wanted was heart-wrenching. He just has so much love and respect for his guys and truly cares. It’s very different than watching and listening to Coach Saban.

Overall, I had an amazing experience with my first Sugar Bowl! The staff is incredible and puts on such a great week for the visiting teams. They work year-round to ensure everything is warm, welcoming, and smooth for the teams that are chosen for the Sugar Bowl!
For those of you interested in working in sports, bowl games are a GREAT way to get involved for a short period of time. Almost all bowls require volunteer help the day of the game. Big bowl games like the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl require help throughout the week too. Some bowl games even have paid internships. The Cotton Bowl has one paid intern from July through the end of the bowl game, and also has paid positions for Cotton Bowl week.
If anyone is interested in more information on these specific positions or have any questions about how to get involved in your local bowl game next year, please don’t hesitate to ask! Utilize LinkedIn and the bowl’s websites to get into contact with someone from the bowl you want to work. Every bowl has a website and most have Contact Us pages with their staff’s pictures, positions, and email addresses. Just email them! That’s how I got involved with the Cotton Bowl and with the Sugar Bowl, believe it or not!
Happy New Year to all! Looking forward to sharing many more adventures with y’all in 2018!



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2 Comment

  1. Reply
    January 3, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    I love this so much for you! These are experiences of a life time xoxo

    1. Reply
      January 3, 2018 at 4:33 pm

      Thank you so much Deniese! Happy New Year to you and the family!

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