Starting in December and going through the end of the 2011 year, we will feature some of the biggest stories and features from the past in our SEC "Calendar" series. This series is a way to remind our fans of everything that has happened in the conference in the past 365 days.
Birmingham, Ala. -- Two things happened to me last week that inspired me to write this column. First off, I turned 30 years old. Not that I'm facing a mid-life crisis by any means, but when you reach a round number like that it is often a good time to reflect on how fortunate you've been in your life. I've been working with and around the SEC for nearly three years, and I continue to be reminded how very lucky I am to be involved in this line of work. Turning the big 3-0 made me realize that, and encouraged me to look back at some of the special moments I've been a part of over the years.
Secondly, I saw the movie "The Bucket List" on television last week. It wasn't the first time I'd caught the flick, but the film starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson has grown on me and gotten to the point that I will stop channel surfing if I see in on the screen. The premise of the movie, for those of who you haven't watched it, revolves around two elderly men who are facing terminal cancer. With just a short time given to live by their doctors, the two embark on a journey to complete their "Bucket List", a list of wishes you'd like to complete before you "kick the bucket".
All of this had me thinking, what is the ultimate "Bucket List" for SEC fans? I mean, the SEC has 12 schools each steeped in tradition, with locales and fantastic atmospheres that must be witnessed to fully appreciate. Add in that each school sponsors 20 different conference sports, and that leaves you with plenty to choose from. Not to mention, the SEC hosts "neutral site" events that can be spectacular. Where do you start?
Well, seeing as how I haven't been around enough to know everything, I enlisted some help. Thanks to several members from the conference office staff, I've been updated on some of the best parts of the SEC's long traditions and sporting prowess. Now with a comprehensive list, the process turns to whittling down that group to the best of the best in the SEC.
This will be a two-part exercise, since I haven't personally been to every event I'm going to list below. Those I have been to will be featured in "Part I", accompanied by a quick report of what takes place. For the remainder of the "bucket list", I'll give you the key locations and let you add it to your SEC Calendar in the future. I'm sure by now you are dying to see what the list is, so without further ado........
The SEC "Bucket List" (Part I) -- Eric's Experiences
SEC Football Media Days (Hoover, Ala.) --
The official start to the SEC football season, as every coach descends on the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., to talk with the media about the upcoming year. To call it a zoo would be an understatement, as close to a 1000 credentialed media members roam the one-level ballroom area looking to grab a quote during a three-day span in late July. Fans swarm the lobby below, hoping to catch their favorite players for autographs, and the entire bottom level of the hotel is reserved for "radio row". Stations from all over the Southeast broadcast live from the Wynfrey, talking with players, coaches and SEC administrators about league football. Unreal scene, unreal experience. Nothing like it.
SEC Football Championship Game (Atlanta, Ga.) --
This goes without saying right? The SEC Football Championship in the Georgia Dome has become the pinnacle of conference title events, with this game usually serving as a springboard to an appearance in the National Championship. Two years ago, when Alabama took on Florida, people called it a National Championship semifinal. From the scene outside, to the confetti flying after the final whistle blows, nothing beats the Georgia Dome in December when the SEC title is on the line.
SEC Swimming and Diving Championships (Hosted On SEC Campuses) --
I know what you are thinking. "He's putting this on here so that every sport is featured". You are wrong. If you go to one of these events, you'll agree with me. The swimming and diving championships are the SEC's version of the Olympics, as the nation's best in the pool compete in an action filled day of rapid fire events. Witnessing this in person will make you re-think the intensity of the fans and competitors in the conference. Also, how many of the swimmers you see that day will be competing in the Olympics down the road? More than you think. Ask Michael Phelps how grateful he was that former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte was on his relay team in Beijing.
Super Bulldog Weekend (Starkville, Miss.)
-- I got to experience this first hand last year, as the SEC made a "road trip" to Starkville to experience this Bulldog filled day of sports activities. In starts with spring soccer, carries over to the baseball field and ends in Wade-Davis Stadium, with MSU hosting their football spring game to cap off the celebration. My personal favorite part of the day, other than spending time in the acclaimed "Left Field Lounge" (it covers the whole outfield but that's the name that stuck) was strolling through campus as the area's best Bar-B-Q chefs cooked pigs on the grill. The smell and the food were fantastic. I also had my first ever deer-cheese jalapeno sausage that day. Spectacular.
Kentucky Men's Basketball -- Kentucky vs. Louisville (Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.) --
Everyone knows about the football rivalry between Auburn and Alabama (look further down on the list), but what most don't realize is just how heated the contention between nearby schools Louisville and the University of Kentucky. Throw in the fact that Louisville is coached by former UK skipper Rick Pitino, and that rivalry has reached a whole new level in the Bluegrass State. When talking about the basketball experience, you can list any game at Rupp Arena, but this particular game is special. I attended last year's affair, which saw a heightened sense of excitement as Kentucky's new coach (John Calipari) and amazing crop of freshman (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins) went toe-to-toe with the Cardinals from down the road. This game was tremendous, and watching 23,000 Wildcat fans go nuts was amazing. 23,000 fans, for a basketball game. You have to attend this matchup if you are a true SEC fan.
As you can see, my travel schedule is a little light, with this being only my second year serving as the SEC's Digital Media Director. Ask me for a "Bucket List" five years from now, and I'm sure the events I mention would be different. However, that's my top five for now, and I reserve the right to come back in this space (maybe we can update this every year) as I get the privilege of visiting other special atmospheres among the league's institutions.
Part II of this list comes from the suggestions of many in this office, who have spent time on every campus and been in attendance at those moments that we will hope to be at one day. The list below is in no particular order, but hits the highlights of the must see events for an SEC fan before they "kick the bucket".
The SEC "Bucket List" Part II -- The Must See Events
-- The Iron Bowl (Auburn vs. Alabama) --
The most heated rivalry in college sports. Whether you watch this on the plains or in Tuscaloosa, it has to be experienced.
-- Tailgating On The Grove (Oxford, Miss.) --
There is a reason that every college football analyst in the world places "The Grove" among the best pre-game scenes in the entire nation. Go find out why for yourself.
-- Rolling Toomer's Corner (Auburn, Ala.) --
This time-honored tradition on a special corner of Auburn's campus is known around the nation as one of the game's best postgame celebrations.
-- Watching The Lady Vols At "The Summit" (Knoxville, Tenn.) --
They named the court after her. Her being legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. The Lady Vols are one of the most decorated teams in NCAA history. Watching them play among a sea of orange is quite the spectacle.
-- Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.) --
This game has a pro feel to it, as both fanbases converge on Jacksonville, Fla., for one of the nation's unique football atmospheres.
-- Experiencing "Memorial Magic" at Vanderbilt --
Is there a more unique basketball arena in the country than Vanderbilt's? Take the trip there and find out why it has become so hard to defeat the Commodores on their home court.
-- Watching a Saturday Night Game In "Death Valley" --
It has been said on more than one occasion that there is no atmosphere like LSU's Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. The fans have been so raucous they have caused earthquakes. Who wouldn't want to experience that?
-- Big Blue "Madness" --
This is Kentucky's version of "midnight madness", where they introduce the team to the legions of Wildcat fans upon the start of the season. This has become an even bigger event in recent year, and even spawned a popular dance in 2010
-- "Calling The Hogs" At Arkansas -- They have an article on their school website telling you how to properly "call the hogs"
. That alone should make you want to be at an Arkansas event so you can participate yourself.
-- SEC Men's Golf Championships -- Have you seen the course they play on?
Any true fan of golf needs to head to the sprawling links at St. Simons Island to watch future PGA participants fight for their college glory.
-- Alabama vs. Georgia Gymnastics --
There are few college sports that are more action packed than a gymnastics meet. With events occurring all over the place at once, this is a great scene to witness first hand. Throw in two of the nation's premier college teams, pit them against each other and you have a must see event in the SEC.
-- South Carolina's "2001" Football Introduction -- Watch this. Who wouldn't want to be there?
What's on your bucket list? Send as an email at the link below.