This year’s version of the SEC Championship in Atlanta was among the best games I have ever covered. I think there is some consensus this was the greatest SEC Championship game every played. The SEC started the whole idea of the post season conference championship and the art was undoubtedly at its highest form Saturday in the clash between Alabama and Georgia.
I do have to say, after seeing the top teams in the SEC this season, there is not much that separates them. You could take Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina and line those guys up against one another in a last-man-standing cage match and there is no way to predict how it might come out. The teams are all that good and very little separates one from another.
Georgia was literally one play from beating Alabama just as Alabama made one play to beat LSU and failed to make one play to beat Texas A&M. The top of the SEC this season has been amazingly good. I believe you could line any one of those top squads up against Notre Dame in the finale and any one would acquit themselves very well.
Now, on to the coverage. There were a bunch of media there and my normal shooting positions were frequently unavailable. I shot much more from the sides of the end zone than from the end line like normal. Honestly, you wouldn’t think this would matter much but it actually does change your comfort level and the way you see the game. I like shooting beside the goal line pylon but I am not comfortable there. I am very comfortable shooting from behind the end zone. As a result, my first quarter was abysmal. I finally settled in during the second quarter and started making some pictures but it came slowly.
By the third and fourth quarters I had zeroed myself and I was feeling comfortable again. Fortunately, I had the time because I was not on a tight deadline. The game action was fine but I have yet to do a post game where I am happy. I look around and see what my fellow shooters produced and I get very frustrated. (I am talking about you Michelle Carter with your photo of the Kouandjiobrothers praying!) Working alone means you have to make some kind of choice and if you make the wrong choice you miss the good stuff. I made a choice and it cost me a bunch of pictures.
As the game came to a conclusion, Dee Milliner appeared to make an interception. I moved toward the Alabama bench to get in position to shoot the jubilation. Then the refs overturned the interception. I had to snap on the long glass again and retreat to the end zone since Georgia was definitely making a push to score. I had to be there in case they won the game in that end zone. As it turned out, Bama held and the game ended and I was dramatically out of position and literally missed that first, very critical, 30 seconds. After about 30 or 40 seconds the TV people are all in the way stopping the jube to get interviews. That nearly makes me want to cuss out loud! Just let the kids have fun for a couple of minutes, would ya!
Be that as it may, I made the choice to station myself right up front for the trophy presentation. I had a good shooting position but I missed a lot of good, spontaneous moments. I have tried this many ways and there is just no right answer. The trophy presentation was anti-climatic and then I was scrambling for any remaining jube from players. There was very little left to be had. Alabama is simply the most unemotional team you can imagine. Well, they act like their coach. He is very reserved in victory or defeat. It is a big deal to get a photo of him smiling so the players kind of pick up on that vibe and are very reserved. Plus, Alabama has been there and done that so this is not new to them.
The game action was not the most exciting stuff for a still photographer. There were heavy, heavy doses of the Alabama ground game with both Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon gashing the Georgia defense. Both backs garnered more than 100 yards rushing with Lacy punishing the Georgia defense for 181 yards and Yeldon for 153 yards. They combined for 45 rushes. That is a lot of pictures of dudes running the ball. Passing plays are usually more acrobatic and more visually interesting. I had a few nice frames of pass plays so the action turned out ok.
On the defensive side, Alabama got a decent pass rush on Georgia’s explosive quarterback sacking him a few times and pressuring him out of the pocket many others. In spite of this he still managed a number of big completions and almost, almost won the game as the time ticked off the clock. Who knows what would have happened if Georgia had one more play.
Now it is time to get ready for the big game in Miami. I have to confess to some pure hatred for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I am sure it is a school of great repute and full of excellent people. Still, there is something in my DNA as a son of the south that the mere mention of their name is like screeching fingernails on a chalkboard. I usually refrain from any partisanship when I write the blog. After all, I pull for both Alabama and Auburn. That said, I hope the Tide goes down to Miami and crushes the Domers!
On a final note, going to big games like this is always a treat on a personal level. I renewed an acquaintance with an old friend, Brant Sanderlin who works for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a kid in high school back when I worked in Elizabeth City, N.C., the town where he grew up. I also met long-time blog reader Richard Hamm who works for the Athens Banner-Herald, home of the Georgia Bulldogs. I met a new friend, Sara Caldwell, who works for the Augusta Chronicle as well as renewing friendships with lots of long-time Alabama friends. You may think, “Why is this dude writing this here?” With the way things are changing in the newspaper world right now, one never knows when the last time you might see another shooter will be. So many are losing jobs now, and who knows that I won’t be next, it is good to cherish the relationships built while covering football.