Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words on said topic on Fridays. Per the usual, I’m a few days late or a few days early with this one, depending on how you look at it. Choosing my favorite job was difficult, very difficult. It’s kind of like my favorite song; it alternates on a frequent basis.
Long before New York City daily life inundated me with “you’re going to pay me to do THAT?!?!?” opportunities the New York Times Co. paid me to travel to Lincoln, Neb., to cover a relatively unimportant college football game. I was 21 years old, fresh out of college, and tasked with my first newspaper beat – covering sports at Nicholls State University, my alma mater in south Louisiana. As my first big assignment my newspaper the Houma Courier, then owned by the NYT Co., sent me all-expenses paid to cover Nicholls’s trip to national power Nebraska.
The game turned out as one-sided as any college football fan would expect, given the talent and depth disparity between the nationally ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers and their handsomely rewarded lower division foe. Nebraska crushed Nicholls 56-7 but the experience, in hindsight, proved a launching pad of sorts for my 20s. My Nebraska trip marked several firsts: first flight, first time leaving the state on my own, first time staying in a hotel on my own, and first time coordinating my own travel plans – all of which would become staples of my 20s as I crisscrossed America. It’s funny to think I feared flying before this work trip forced me to take to the skies.
En route to Memorial Stadium on gameday my cab driver and I discussed things to do in Lincoln. This is it, he informed me, referring to football on Saturdays. I understood his statement better once I stood in the press box overlooking 80,000 people dressed in red ponchos gathered to watch their Cornhuskers dominate in the rain. Imagine a state fair surrounded by cornfields and you have the on-campus atmosphere that day.
The experience covering the game was a blast – free food before and during the game, exposure to a big-time college football atmosphere I had only seen on TV, and live stats provided during the game (a big deal for someone used to covering high school sports). I’ve since covered pro sporting events (New Orleans Saints and the then-New Orleans Hornets) but my trip to Nebraska, of all places, meant more in hindsight. I mean, it’s not every day you get a free trip to Nebraska to cover college football.
When I searched my old paper’s online archives Wednesday night I was disappointed to learn it no longer had the Nicholls-Nebraska game article available. Womp womp womp. It was certainly not one of my better articles. What 56-7 game story is? Also: Here is my ridiculous preview story for that game. Read at your own risk!
Also worth noting: The trip detailed above marked the only time I’ve flown somewhere for an assignment. The experience I had traveling out of state, while typical for someone who covers a college or pro sports beat, is very atypical for someone on the news desk, I am sad to report. I switched to hard news reporting six months after covering this game. Big mistake! In the five years that followed I rarely traveled farther than 30 miles for an assignment. The moral of the story? Stick with sports!