My Journey To The National Championship

As I sit here on this 2 hour flight from Kansas City to Houston, I think I am finally ready to put into words my experience throughout this past weekend. I’ll try to be as concise (and thorough) as I can. I’m not sure who will end up reading this, but even if it’s just me that this is for, I’m more than happy to write it out. So, here we go.

I was sitting at a friend’s house very early on Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida. I had to be in Orlando all day on Saturday for meetings and I was flying out of the Orlando airport the next morning, so Kyle said it’d be cool to chill at his place so I didn’t have to drive home and then back to Orlando. As we sat there on his couch, talking about the game that would take place on Monday night, I got an email from the airline. “Your flight has been cancelled.” No details. No explanation; just that message. I immediately told Kyle that I wanted to go to the airport to see what I could find. We got ready and left at 3 AM. Upon arriving at the Orlando airport, I learned that my flight from Orlando to Houston was still good, but that my flight from Houston to LA was no longer going. Anger, shock, disappointment, and fear struck my body. I had made all plans, spent all the time, invested all the money and this is how it would end.

I got to Houston as normally scheduled, and by the Grace of God, I got on a flight only 4 hours after I was originally supposed to leave Houston. The story of me getting on that sold out flight was pretty cool, also. I just kept complimenting the lady behind the counter and talking about the Lord and she said, “You know what? You’re so kind. Most people today are so mean and rude because of all of the cancellations. I’m going to give you a first class ticket on the next flight to LA, one just became available.” (This is free: Be nice to people, it helps in the long run.)

I landed in LA on Sunday (1/5) at around 4 PM. I went to Budget and picked up my rental car and headed out to a little town called Pico Rivera. I got to my hotel, which was a suite that had been upgraded without my knowledge as well.

At this point, I had been up since 7 AM on Saturday. The smart thing to do would have been to go lay down and get some rest for the big day that would happen on the morrow. However, this is not how I live. I bought a ticket and went to the Lakers. (When in So-Cal, do as the Southern Californians do.) I figured I’m only going to live once, so “Go Big or Go Home.” After my day of travel, going home was not an option.

I got a shower quickly and headed off to Downtown Los Angeles. I got to the game about 5 minutes before the tip. There were a ton of FSU and Auburn fans at the Lakers game, which meant a definite sellout. The environment at Staples Center is like no other NBA stadium. There’s an aura of being on hallowed grounds. The Lakers played well in quarters 1-3. It was a close game going into the 4th. However, Denver capitalized on many mistakes by the Lakers and ended up pulling ahead quite significantly in the final quarter.

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During the Lakers game, both the FSU War Chant and the “F-L-O-R-I-D-A-S-T-A-T-E” chant broke out. What a neat experience that was. FSU fans were taking over Staples Center, and I was right in the middle of it.

I left the game and headed back out to my hotel in Pico Rivera. Before I could go to sleep, I had to make one more stop. A trip to Los Angeles is not complete without at least one trip to In-N-Out Burger.  It was fantastic, and if you ever go to LA and do not go there to eat, you are missing something great.

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Back to the hotel around midnight, and finally to bed, after 42 hours without sleep. Sunday’s events were cool. But, I had no idea what was in store for me in the next 24 hours.

I woke up around 10 AM on Monday; Game Day baby! I had met up with a couple of FSU fans at my hotel that were headed up to the Stadium about the same time that I was. I asked if I could ride with them and chip in for parking. They were more than happy to allow me to ride, which meant I had to pay $10 in gas instead of $50, if I had to go by myself.

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We got to the Rose Bowl parking lot around 1:00 PM. Game time was a little over 4 hours from now. I walked up to the stadium and immediately was looking for the Crystal Ball that sat atop The Coaches’ Trophy. They were giving free pictures with it until 2 PM. I got there at 1:30 and they had already closed the line. I offered the security guard $50 to let me in, which he declined. But, as fate would have it, they let about 20 more people in line so that a few more people could take a picture with it. I was the first of those 20.

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After taking my picture with that trophy, I went to the Heisman House and took my picture with Jameis Winston’s Heisman trophy. Both were very neat experiences. After both of these events, it was time to head back to the car, change into my “game clothes,” and go back to the stadium for the game. I took off the “Title Bound” shirt that Cara’s mom got me for Christmas and put on the same clothes I’ve worn for the last several FSU games. White long sleeved undershirt, #5 FSU jersey, garnet FSU hat, and black sweat pants. It was time to head up to the stadium. I found a plug in and charged my phone up to about 80%, to take pictures and videos.

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Walking into the stadium and having my ticket scanned was a wonderful feeling. I was in, and I wasn’t leaving for many hours. By the time I got to my seat, the National Anthem was about to start. We won the toss, deferred, and kicked off. The game had begun.

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The game started slowly and we did not look good. I was sitting in the middle of Auburn’s section. (Earlier I had paid a scalper $50 to upgrade my ticket from the top row of the stadium to about 10 rows up.) The Auburn fans were very hospitable. They could have given me a ton of crap since I was the only one in garnet amongst all of the burnt orange and dark blue. But, they didn’t ever talk smack or treat me with any disrespect. I think that they knew that their lead was not safe, which would be proven true later.

Down 21-3, things were not looking great for the Noles. The fake punt got FSU’s crowd back into the game. Jimbo made the call of the game with his decision to go for it. We ended up getting a TD to cut the Auburn lead to 21-10 at the half.

In the 3rd quarter, we only managed a FG. However, our defense set us up with a chance to win the game by not allowing Auburn to score a single point  in that quarter. I truly think that the defense that we played in the 3rd quarter is a very underrated and underappreciated aspect of why we won the game. The offense hadn’t quite gotten going yet, but the star studded defense kept Auburn from scoring anything.

The 4th quarter was a wild one. We scored to cut the lead to 21-20. Then, our defense had a huge stop inside the 10-yard line to hold Auburn to a FG. The score was 24-20 Auburn with just under 5 minutes to go. Would this be Jameis Winston’s Heisman moment? Not quite. Kermit Whitfield took the next kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown and FSU had it’s first lead since the 1st quarter. The Auburn faithful were stunned and completely silent. Auburn got the ball back down 27-24. Nick Marshall made a nice play to break a tackled on a 3rd and long that kept their drive alive. Then, later, Trey Mason ran a 37-yard touchdown to the right side gave Auburn the lead 31-27 with 1:19 left on the clock.

Remember that team that hadn’t been tested all year? Remember that QB who didn’t have a Heisman moment? Remember that team that couldn’t come back if they were down late because they hadn’t done it before? Remember those players who just couldn’t compete with the Seriously Entitled Conference? Just checking to make sure.

That team got their test, That QB got his Heisman moment. That team came back even though they never had before. Those players showed the SEC Champs that they could compete with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Winston drove the team down for the winning score by completing short passes and taking what the Auburn defense gave him. One of those short passes turned into a 49 yard pass after Rashad Greene split two converging defenders. All of a sudden, the best team in the Nation had 21 yards separating them and the Crystal Ball. After a couple of short passes and an obvious Pass Interference call on Auburn, FSU was set up with 1st and Goal from the 2 yard line. 17 ticks remained on the clock. Auburn fans knew what was coming. FSU fans knew what was coming. The Nation knew what was coming. A pass from Winston to 6’5” Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left clinched the National Championship for FSU. 34-31 with 13 seconds left.

After an incompletion by Marshall, there were 3 seconds left in the season. A hook and ladder play that ended with Marshall throwing the ball back to Mason (who had blockers and a wall) was the final play of the game. Mason was tackled and the confetti rained down onto the field and into the crowd. It was over. All the work, all the travel, all the anticipation had paid off and we stood as kings of the college football world.

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After the game, I collected up a few souvenirs that people had left behind. I also asked a security guard to grab some of the grass from the turf for me and I also picked up some confetti. After the stadium had cleared, and everyone left, I headed back to the car. We went out that to downtown Pasadena and went to a post-game party with some boosters and alumni.

I went to bed that night at 3 AM. I got up the next morning and sat in LAX until 7:35 PM. I got on a flight from LAX to Kansas City. Went to the Sleep Inn and stayed the night. Got up this morning and am currently flying to Houston, and there I’ll get a flight to Tampa.

This trip has been unbelievable. I received so much support and love from so many friends, family, and strangers. I couldn’t have made this trip if not for a few people. If not for my Aunt Danielle, I could not have afforded flights to and from LA. She let me have a Buddy Pass, which allowed me to fly for nothing. I also have to thank my fiancée, Cara Brookshire. I am marrying her in 52 days and she was more than willing to give me up for a few days to be able to fulfill one of my dreams. Kyle let me stay at his place the night/morning before. He also drove me to the airport and helped me find a flight. My family was very supportive and constantly checked up on me since I was traveling alone.

I really don’t have words to adequately describe my emotions of this trip. It was the time of my life, so far. I wouldn’t trade a single part of it. I wouldn’t change the cancelled flight, waiting on standby, or the tired sickness I feel right now. It all worked together and I saw my favorite team in all of sports be crowned the Champions. It was something I’ll never forget.

Lastly, my favorite quote of the season was Jameis saying, “At Florida State, if we goin’ do it then, we do it big then.” Well folks, “We did it big then.”

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6 thoughts on “My Journey To The National Championship

  1. Amy

    You are a lucky man! I am glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. Love you! Cara is an awesome fiance too! Aunt Dan you rock!

    Reply
  2. Dad

    I am so happy for you. I am proud of you and your accomplishments in life. Words can not express how happy I am that you have Cara in your life to try to keep you straight. Glad you got to go and really happy they were able to pull it out in the end.

    Reply

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