I wasn’t supposed to have the time of my life Saturday—for more than one reason—but I guess, in hindsight, I simply couldn’t help it.
One of the first rules you learn in journalism school is that cheering at sporting events is a no-no. As journalists, we are to remain as objective as possible—to act as flies on the wall, if you will. That type of attitude toward sports has influenced the way I watch games as a fan. The old me would scream and shout when things went south; the new me likes to panic on the inside, appearing to others as a still, quiet, inquisitive researcher.
The old me would have walked into Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday night secretly hoping No. 9 Florida State would roll to a victory over Georgia Tech on their Homecoming—I was raised in a very pro-Georgia household, to the point that final scores in Bulldogs football games had control of my adolescent heart strings more than girls.
The new me walked into Bobby Dodd Stadium like the new me always does, having not a care who wins or by how much. The only concern I had was that, at the 4:00 mark of the fourth quarter, my bright pink press pass with the digit 5 on it would allow me down to field level.
“Enough time to get down there, get a few cool shots, and head home,” I thought to myself.
So, just as Jamal Golden intercepted Everett Golson in the south endzone to keep the Yellow Jackets in the game, I was standing, waiting patiently by security guards in the northwest tunnel, hoping to get onto the field. With five minutes and change left, they realized what I was waiting on and gave me a nod through, so I snugged into the opposite corner of the north endzone, pulled out my work camera, and began to click away.
On fourth-and-6, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas rolled to his right and tossed a do-or-die ball to freshman Brad Stewart. Stewart hauled in the pass, hurdling down just at my feet as the student section, breathing the force of decibels down my back, screamed.
That was supposed to be the highlight of the night. Then Tech settled for a 35-yard field goal from Harrison Butker, his third of the game. Then Golson and his talented tailback, Dalvin Cook, led the Seminoles back into the long range of kicker Robert Aguayo. Six seconds remained, so while the students behind me bit their fingernails, I let the camera hang around my neck and pulled out my phone to record his game-winning kick.
For me, getting a game-winning field goal on video would be enough to satisfy the evening, but what happened next is something I may never forget.
When Patrick Gamble leapt up and blocked Aguayo’s kick that I didn’t let out a natural, “Oh! Man!”
Once Lance Austin picked up the ball, I immediately noticed—from the angle I was standing at—that if he reversed field he’d have nothing but green grass in front of him. As his coach, Paul Johnson, waved his hands to gesture to Austin to let the play end, I thought to myself how great it would be if he took off running.
That’s exactly what Austin did, and the rest is history—literally. They’ll be talking about the “Miracle on Techwood drive,” as Georgia Tech radio announcer Brandon Gaudin called it, for decades.
The crazy thing is, as I admit to myself, I will be too.
As soon as Austin made the placeholder miss and scampered the final 10 yards to the endzone, the student section behind me had already hit the peak of their crescendo. While some fans held their hands over their heads, jumping simultaneously, looking for a yellow hanky somewhere on the field, two girls breached the rails and led the swarm of students onto the field.
Meanwhile, at the southwest corner where Austin was getting mobbed, a photographer I stood by for a few moments earlier was swallowed into the celebration. You could only see his bare face, among the helmets, grinning from ear-to-ear as he helplessly held his camera into the air.
I kneeled down at the goal line of the endzone, turned toward the scampering students and shook from adrenaline as I clicked, over and over, to capture the faces of boyfriends and girlfriends embracing, fraternity brothers screaming like fangirls and freshman, in disbelief of the moment, falling in love with their school before my eyes.
We’d seen a walk-off, kick-six before, just two years ago when Auburn’s Chris Davis single-handedly turned the Tide on Alabama in what might just still be the best finish in college football’s history full of lore.
But this was oh-so similar, and to witness it in person—unbelievable. But above everything, I couldn’t fight the excitement running through me, realizing I was capturing a historical moment for a football program rich with history.
The old me would have lamented the chaos and called the Yellow Jackets lucky. The new me, still Bulldog bred, couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. The saturation of students eventually pushed me toward midfield, and I had to push my way back out to get to the press conference (luckily coach Johnson was in the same mob, so I knew I had time).
As I filtered through paths of least resistance to return to the tunnel, strangers jumped in front of my camera, players offered high fives and parents, friends and family members let out tears as they embraced the men with numbers on their backs.
Strangers even grabbed my arm, tugged on my sweater, and used my shoulders to jump up and down, too engulfed in the moment to notice who I was. I didn’t just have to stand there and let it all in because I was trapped—I let it happen, because it was awesome.
As much as I tried to keep a straight face, I couldn’t. I did my job the rest of the night, but I was grinning uncontrollably until I made it back to my car on the other side of North Avenue.
To be a part of an amazing moment—that’s something I don’t recall learning in journalism school.