Press Interference: Behind the scenes of covering the NFL

Me on the field before the start of the game. || Photo by Samuel T. Hays

Yesterday I was supposed to attend a “Meet the Professionals” conference organized by the Journalism and Mass Communication department officials in order to further educate myself on the opportunities available after graduation.

I certainly met the professionals, but instead of meeting with everyone in the Curris Center, I made the 120-mile trek to L.P. Field in Nashville, Tenn., to meet other types of professionals at the NFL Network presentation of Thursday Night Football between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Professional sports writers, and more importantly professional NFL players.

It might have been the most emotionally driven experience I’ve ever been a part of, and the experience is only beginning.

Just a few weeks ago, The Murray State News, of which I am affiliated, hired an independent photographer and student, Sam Hays, who has been photographing Titans home games for several years.

Providing pictures for his hometown Camden Chronicle for quite some time, he came to the Murray State Sports desk with an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Press passes to Titans home games, basically a dream come true for any burgeoning sports writer, especially myself.

You mean backstage passes to the very sport I want to cover? Hell to the yes.

Me on the field before the start of the game. || Photo by Samuel T. Hays

I’ve walked into LP Field multiple times as a fan, but never as an employee. I pulled out all of the manners and dressed appropriately. 

Throughout the entire night, I had to constantly remind myself I was at work, and what an amazing feeling that was.

Not only was the stadium packed, but it was bi-partisan. Anyone that thinks Nashville is not a sports town hasn’t spent a lot of time there. Sports are alive and well in Music City.

I learned so much in the span of four hours, and I’m not sure I can contain it.

A few things about the experience:

1) I was actually a little overdressed compared to some of the guys in the press box, but it was fine. I was more than nervous I would look out of place.

2) Although the price of a parking pass was a steep $20, it was more acceptable when attending my first NFL game not as a fan, but as a member of the press.

3) One way streets are my kryptonite. I think they will get me killed one day.

Rich Eisen and and Deion Sanders from the NFL Network crew ||Samuel T. Hays

4) Titans Cheerleaders are, indeed, just as beautiful up close and personal as they are on television.

5) The NFL Network crew of Mariucci, Eisen, Faulk, Sanders and Warner is imposing and full of history and splendor. I couldn’t resist getting as close as possible to snap a photo of the incredibly well-versed reporting crew.

Samuel T. Hays

6) Hearing the National Anthem on the field was one of the most touching moments I’ve ever experienced. When the trained bald eagle flew around the stadium and the bombs burst in air, the hair on the back of my neck raised and I softly cried.

7) Catering in the press box was delicious: vegetable goulash, lasagna and garlic bread. They brought out chili and hotdogs after halftime (more on that later).

8) At a sporting event of this caliber, celebrities were all around me and I didn’t even know it. Beside me was the great former Steeler and Titan quarterback Neil O’Donnell, and I didn’t even know it until late in the game.

9) That being said, I really, REALLY wanted everyone’s autograph around me. As a journalist, however, I cannot ask for such things until a better rapport is established, if ever. However, the memory alone will serve as a time-stamp in my life.

10) I was warned by everyone around me to not fall from grace and eat the catered hotdogs for fear of intestinal problems. I caved and downed some chili dogs after halftime, and unfortunately everyone was right. What a terrible idea.

11) When you have almost 100 media outlets streaming data nonstop, chances are the WiFi internet is going to be super slow.

12) The press box restrooms have speakers blasting replay in the stalls, just so you don’t miss the big play. What can I say, the little things are nice.

13) When you rent a vehicle, return it on time. They’ll charge you for an extra day even if it is 45 minutes late, and that’s an awful feeling.

A few things about the game:

1) The Titans defense is one of the youngest in the league, and therefore the most prone to mistakes. The 82-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger to Wallace was just a missed tackle and a mistake in coverage on the sideline.

Samuel T. Hays

2) Though it’s not quite at full speed yet, the Steelers offense is finally starting to show signs of explosiveness under offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

3) Right now, I think the Titans passing game is much better under Hasselbeck, but only because he knows the playbook and all of the reads. It’s only a matter of time before Locker will be able to unleash hell on defenses.

4) Roethlisberger really wants to air it out and avoid running altogether. You can see it in his eyes.

5) The Titans defense is really starting to make smarter adjustments at the line of scrimmage and during pre-snap counts. They took advantage of a patchwork Steelers offensive line and created pressure on Big Ben, who was sacked three times and threw a pick to Jason McCourty along the sideline.

Samuel T. Hays

6) I’m really, really tired of everyone calling out Chris Johnson. I know he had the holdout and made the situation worse for him, but his offensive line is a work in progress and hasn’t been anything like his breakout season in 2009.

7) Roethlisberger loves tight end Heath Miller when he’s on the run.

8) I think part of the problem with the Titans offense is they don’t take shots downfield very often. With Britt not at 100 percent and Wright and Washington exposed to double teams, teams can load up the box and just key off on the quarterback and Johnson. If teams don’t fear you vertically, they will press you into a corner.

9) The Titans are also not a run-first team. Like the chicken and the egg argument, I don’t know what came first…Johnson struggling with the run game or an evolution to a pass-first philosophy.

10) Isaac Redman cannot be tackled. It’s that simple.

11) Running on first and second down when you are behind is a terrible idea, in my opinion. Converting third-and-long in a crunch-time situation is just tough for any quarterback in any scenario.

12) The Titans drafted Kendall Wright (Baylor) in the first round this year, much to the dismay of several fans and analysts. Personally, I like the move. He’s a great route runner with strong hands over the middle and can make the big play.

 

13) I think holding and pass interference get called way too much in the NFL nowadays. Let’s get back to some physical play.

Samuel T. Hays

After conducting personal interviews in the locker room with injured Titans quarterback Jake Locker and starting wide receiver Kenny Britt, only one word came to mind about my experience.

Amazing.

To finish my night, I slipped into the press conference for Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak, starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (25-44, 290 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and running back Chris Johnson (19 carries, 91 yards, three catches, 23 yards).

They talked about turning the season around and how this win could propel them into a better route to the end of the season.

I just sat in a haze, completely blank and just trying to absorb the entire experience.

I crossed the pedestrian bridge between L.P. Field and the parking lots, dialing my friends as fast as I could and humble-bragging about the entire night.

Unlocking my rented car, a 2011 Chevy Aveo, much better than my beat-up 1988 Dodge D-100, I slinked into the driver’s seat and just stared into the distance.

This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do.

Edward Marlowe, Staff Writer