SEC flexing its football muscleHOOVER, Ala. - The two friends played hooky from work and drove an hour-and-a-half from Anniston, Ala., on Thursday just to stand in a crowded hotel lobby and catch a five-second glimpse of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
League is No. 1 in America,and there's NoT a No. 2
League is No. 1 in America,and there's NoT a No. 2
"There he is! There he is!" squealed Lindsey Bagley as she jockeyed for position to get a better look at Saban and his entourage briskly walking through the lobby.
"Roll Tide," yelled Beverly Tidwell on cue.
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference, where pre-season media conferences draw more fans than a Duke homecoming game. On Wednesday, it was Florida quarterback Tim Tebow who received the rock-star reception from giddy fans here on the outskirts of Birmingham. On Thursday, it was Saban. For the three days of SEC Kickoff 2008 - a media feeding frenzy attended by coaches and players from all 12 league schools - the Wynfrey Hotel turns into college football's version of Woodstock.
Now ask yourself, what other conference can turn Birmingham into Hollywood? And in what other conference do nearly 800 media members show up to listen to SEC supervisor of officials Rogers Redding give us a dissertation on the nuances of the 25-second clock?
You want passion and interest? In what other league does a football coach show up for a pre-season media gathering and get served with a subpoena from a disgruntled booster from another school? That reportedly happened Thursday when Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer arrived in Birmingham and was served a court order that required him to appear in the libel and defamation suit of disassociated Alabama booster Wendell Smith. Not only that, the subpoena was supposedly served by a process-server posing as a Tennessee fan.
"This is not the place for that kind of thing," Fulmer said evasively, denying he had seen a subpoena. "The great fans that are very passionate about the Southeastern Conference aren't interested in that kind of B.S. "And I would have some other choice words if there weren't so many cameras in here."
But there are so many cameras in here because the nation can't get enough of imagery and pageantry of the SEC. This is the league that has the defending Heisman Trophy winner and the defending national champion. This is the league that draws the most fans and makes the most money. This is without question the No. 1 league in college football. And there is no No. 2. If the SEC is the King of Hearts, everybody else is the Six of Clubs.
Coaches traditionally use college football as a steppingstone into the NFL. Not here. In fact, the NFL has now seemingly become a steppingstone into the SEC with two coaches - Saban and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino - leaving pro football voluntarily to immediately return to college.
"I don't know that it can get any better (than the SEC)," said Saban, who left LSU to take a job with the Miami Dolphins and then bolted the Dolphins for Alabama. "Sometimes, you have to go someplace else to fully understand that."
Of the 12 coaches in the SEC, five - Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Les Miles and Phil Fulmer - have won national titles. Yet another - Auburn's Tommy Tuberville - probably should have after his team went undefeated a few years ago but didn't get to play for the title because of the idiotic BCS.
Average salary for SEC coach: About $2.5 million per season.
Average expectation for SEC fan: National title. [and nothing less]
Typical reaction if you get paid $2.5 million and don't win the national title: FireCoachFulmer.com (Motto: "You can't spell 'Phillip Fulmer' without three L's!")
Seriously, what does it say about the strength of the SEC when Spurrier didn't even make a bowl game last year?
What's it say about the dominance of the SEC that it has won back-to-back national titles and recorded seven bowl victories last year - the most in the history of college football?
What's it say about the wealth of the SEC that it already makes more television money than Oprah yet it is close to starting its own TV network?
We now interrupt the regular flow of this column to rush you back to the hotel lobby...
HOW MANY SEC STUDENTS DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE A LIGHT
At VANDERBILT : it takes two, one to change the bulb and one more to explain how they did it every bit as good as the bulbs changed at Harvard.
At GEORGIA : it takes two, one to change the bulb and one to phone an engineer at Georgia Tech for instructions.
At FLORIDA : it takes four, one to screw in the bulb and three to figure out how to use the other to prime a keg.
At ALABAMA : it takes five, one to change it, three to reminisce about how The Bear would have done it, and one to throw the old bulb at an NCAA investigator. [I would argue it takes at least 1,000 to reminisce about how Bear would have done it]
At OLE MISS: it takes six, one to change it, two to mix the drinks and three to find the perfect J. Crew outfit to wear for the occasion.
At LSU : it takes seven, and each one gets credit for five Semester hours.
At KENTUCKY : it takes eight, one to screw it in and seven to discuss how much brighter it seems to shine during basketball season.
At TENNESSEE : it takes ten, two to figure out how to screw it in, two to buy an orange lampshade, and six to phone a radio call-in show and talk about how much they hate Alabama.
At MISSISSIPPI STATE : it takes fifteen, one to screw in the bulb, two to buy the Skoal, and twelve to yell, "GO TO HELL, OLE MISS".
At AUBURN: it takes one hundred, one to change it, forty-nine to talk about how they did it better than at Bama, and fifty to get drunk and roll toomer's Corner when finished.
At SOUTH CAROLINA : it takes 80,000, one to screw it in and 79,999 to discuss how this finally will be the year that they have a decent football team.
At ARKANSAS : None. There is no electricity in Arkansas.