My Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Experience

Audio Highlights from the radio broadcast-

In the above video you can find where my name was mentioned in the broadcast. You can also hear Sam and Hugh discussing what I gathered from the coaches at halftime.


 

On December 19th of 2015, I was very fortunate to sit alongside play-by-play announcer Sam Crenshaw and color announcer Hugh Douglas in their radio broadcast of the 1st annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

The Celebration Bowl, or the HBCU (Historically Black College and University) National Championship, features the champions of the MEAC and the SWAC. Rather than entering the FCS playoffs, the champions of these two leagues will now meet every year in Atlanta to compete for the HBCU title.

graphic cbNorth Carolina A&T represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Alcorn State represented the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The MEAC put a team in the FCS playoffs every single year due to its automatic bid. The SWAC did not have an automatic bid into the FCS postseason, so this game was particularly important for them.

The move to remove themselves from the FCS playoffs was not an easy decision to make. There is so much that goes into a decision like that: TV, radio, money, advertising, travel, and much more.

This move was made nearly an entire year before the 1st annual game was played. Many people chimed in on this decision. A poll done by HBCUsports.com received 938 votes on the controversy, 707 people said it is the right move, 152 said it was not the right move, and 79 people said maybe.

Many people from the MEAC are disappointed because they lose their automatic bid to the playoffs. They are arguing that since the Heritage Bowl failed, so will this. This was a comment to an article I found on HBCUsports.com regarding the announcement of this game, it was made by username keno60, a fan of a team in the MEAC…

“We believe in being included in the playoff system. We look at this game as a throwback to Segregation. The SWAC gave up their bid years ago and where has it gotten them? No where! Now the SWAC wants to bring down the MEAC which to date has exceeded the SWAC across the board. This put Black College Football in it’s own sub-division and makes recruiting that more difficult. I don’t support the game at all.”

In my opinion, this game is very important and was the right move for two main reasons:

  1. Money- it’s an investment

To host a 1st round FCS playoff game, a school must submit a bid to the NCAA of a minimum of $30,000. A second round matchup must feature a $40,000 bid to the NCAA. For some schools that are successful in football but do not have a lot of students (therefore a smaller budget), this is a huge chunk of money that they must fork up.

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This game will feature a $1 Million payout to each the SWAC and the MEAC. This averages out to $100,000 a school in the SWAC and about $91,000 a school in the MEAC. Each of these is more than enough to pay for a first and second round home match up, and it is all coming from just one game.

According to the 2014 NCAA revenue report, no FCS athletic department made money in 2013. Let me repeat that, NO FCS ATHLETIC DEPARTMENTS MADE MORE MONEY THAN THEY SPENT IN 2013. This is an astounding fact to stumble across.

Money is the most important factor that played a role in this decision. The men and women who made this decision were looking out for the future of their programs.

  1. Exposure- “I’m gonna be on television!”

This was the first bowl game of the entire football season. People look forward to bowl games every year, just as they do March Madness or the Super Bowl. Millions of fans flock to various sites such as ESPN.com and CBSsports.com to fill out the Bowl Mania picks. Well, in 2015 when those people went to their sites, a new bowl game was at the top of the list.

This game received a prime time spot on ESPN and was broadcast nationwide on television and on the radio. Without any other football games playing during that time on that day, the Celebration Bowl had all the attention.

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The FCS playoffs have been getting more exposure, but one usually will never find a first or second round game broadcast on TV. Everyone in the country who had basic cable was able to turn on their television sets and watch North Carolina A&T take on Alcorn State in this game.

Not only did the game receive great exposure, but the athletes did as well. This game featured multiple special teams touchdowns, and a 295 yard individual rushing performance.

17 FCS players were taken in last year’s NFL draft and this game only proved why there will be more than that in 2016.


 

My Professional Broadcast Experience at the AFR Celebration Bowl

As you all know, most everything I write on this site, also is published on peachstatecollegesports.com. Sam Crenshaw, the owner of that site, was the play-by-play announcer for this game. Once I heard of this news, I immediately emailed Sam and asked of any volunteer opportunities around the Dome that day. That is how I was granted this wonderful opportunity to be with him and Hugh Douglas for the game.

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Sam Crenshaw is a veteran sports reporter, a personal friend, and role model of mine. He worked for 11 Alive News for 16 years before he moved on the 92.9 The Game where he now serves as the weekend morning host. He also served as a sideline reporter for the Atlanta Falcons during his time at 11 Alive. Sam is a correspondent for Atlanta City TV as well as a spokesperson for the Sports Image Georgia Sports Marketing Group. He won an Emmy Award in 2003 for Best Sports Performer. Most importantly, Sam is a graduate of the University of West Georgia, where I am currently enrolled in school.

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Hugh Douglas is a former NFL defensive end and ESPN analyst. Hugh played his college ball at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio where he became a 2x NAIA Division 1 All-American. He totaled 42 sacks in only 32 games during his three years at the school, and led his team to a National Championship during his sophomore season. His successful college days earned him a 16th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft. He was drafted by the New York Jets, and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for two draft picks prior to the ’98 season. He won the AP defensive rookie of the year award in ’95 with the Jets. Hugh spent one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars before he re-signed with the Eagles in 2004. During that year, he and the Eagles defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship before they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He is a 3x pro-bowler and a 2x All-Pro. He is currently 4th all-time in sacks in Eagles history.

I was learning from some of the best on that day last month, and the experience I had exceeded my expectations more than I can explain.

I arrived at the Dome around 9:30 AM where I was granted access to a parking lot I did not even know existed. Now I know, it is where the Falcons players park when they arrive for games at the Dome.

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Play-by-play announcer Sam Crenshaw (left) and Color announcer Hugh Douglas (right)

I would like to note that the atmosphere surrounding the game was astounding. The whole tailgate seen was in full force on that cold December morning. A Battle of the Bands took place and there were tons of giveaways, raffles, games, tailgaters, and much more related activities going on that day.

Once I was parked and set my VIP pass on my rear view mirror, I made my way into the Dome and up to the BL (broadcast level) of the press box. I was not used to being inside the Dome 30 seconds after I got out of my car, so that was really nice, too. From here, I was greeted by another usher who had my name on a list and directed me to the box that I would be in for the game.

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This was a huge difference from the press box I was used to sitting in at UWG. The facilities at UWG are phenomenal. In fact, they are top of the line and in my opinion, equal or better than many Division 1 schools. So, I am not taking anything away from their facilities. I am just explaining how incredible it was to be in the press box of a professional stadium. Specifically, one that I had been to many times and grown up watching games in.

I was the first one who arrived and after a short time Hugh showed up. I had met Hugh previously when I took a tour to 92.9 The Game with my sports communication professor. After exchanging hellos, a couple more minutes rolled by before Sam showed up. I had not seen Sam in quite some time before that day, so it was nice to finally get to thank the man in person who has created so many opportunities for my future. Not only that, but I was about to learn from him by a hands-on, shadow experience.

After introducing me to the producer in the room and a couple of other people in the box, another college-aged friend of Sam’s showed up, Charles Oakley Jr. This day just kept getting better and better. I was pretty much in the presence of royalty sitting in that booth, and I could not help but smile from ear to ear.

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Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley

For those of you who do not know who Charles Oakley is, he played with Michael Jordan and the Bulls from ‘85-’88. He was known as the ‘cop’ as they call it in the NBA. He was in charge of protecting the team’s best player, Michael Jordan, from cheap shots and rough play during his time with the Bulls. So, being able to meet his son and exchange information was a blessing and was the establishment of a new friendship.

Once Charles Jr. met everyone, he, Sam, Hugh, and I made our way down to the field to meet the on-field workers before the game. During the whole walk, Sam was teaching and I was trying to take mental notes of everything he said. He asked me to bring a notebook because my job would be statistician, so I wrote down some pre game notes on both teams the night before.

Once we made our way onto the actual field, I met a number of people of importance. I met the referees, the producers for ESPN, numerous cameramen, both head coaches, and quite a few other people.

The reason for meeting both of the head coaches was because Sam wanted to familiarize them with my face. He told me that I was going to be making my way down to the field at half-time to ask the coaches some questions. Then, I would bring their answers back up for him and Hugh to read for the radio broadcast.

After meeting both coaches and telling them good luck and that I would see them at halftime, it was about 30 minutes before kickoff. This is when we four made our way back up to the press box to get ready to go live. Charles Jr. was the spotter, and I was the statistician.

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During the game, Charles, Hugh, and Sam sat in a row in front of me all with headsets on. Sam and Hugh were on-air with the radio, while Charles just listened and assisted Sam in spotting. My job was to write down notable plays and to get stats and information such as injuries, milestones accomplished, drive summaries, and other things of that nature. I had to form questions on these for the coaches at half time, so I really wanted to get some good information so I would not be wasting any of their time during the half.

Not only was my experience amazing, but the actual game was nothing short of spectacular. There were four touchdowns in the first 8 minutes of the game. The shortest of those 4 TDs was 74 yards. Two of those touchdowns were punt returns, each from one team.

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(L->R) Sam Crenshaw, myself, Charles Oakley Jr., Hugh Douglas

Khris Garden got the Aggies on the board first with his 75 yard return with 13:36 to go in the first. Shortly after, Anthony Williams and Alcorn State answered back with an 84 yard punt return for a score.

The next drive, the Tarik Cohen show started. Many of you may have already been familiar with Tarik due to his internet fame. A video of him went viral at the beginning of the season. The video shows him doing a perfect back flip while simultaneously catching two footballs, one with either hand. After Tarik’s video took off, many other athletes replicated the video, but one could confidently say Mr. Cohen’s was the first. The video can be found below.

Tarik scored a TD on this drive from 74 yards out, and then another one on the next drive from 83 yards out. Keep in mind all this is in the first quarter. He finished the quarter with more than 150 yards rushing and 2 Touchdowns.

Going into the second quarter the Aggies of NC A&T had a 21-6 lead over the Braves of Alcorn State and had out gained them 195 to 31. Alcorn made some adjustments after the 1st and were able to come out and slow down Tarik Cohen and the offense of NC A&T in the second, as they only gave up 3 points during that quarter.

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Tarik Cohen, MVP of the Celebration Bowl

The second was a little sloppy for both teams, as both quarterbacks threw an interception. Before going into the half, Alcorn State was finally able to find the endzone again. Lenorris Footman put a solid drive together and capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Arron Baker.

This finished off scoring for the half and the teams went into the locker rooms with a score of 24-13 in favor of NC A&T.

With three minutes left to go in the first half, armed with my book of notes and my list of questions, I made my way down to the field so I could make sure to catch the coaches before they got to their locker rooms.

I had never done any sort of questioning outside an official press conference, so this change in scenery, atmosphere, and level of play was very humbling to me. Sam advised me get Coach Broadway of NC A&T coming into the locker rooms, and Coach Hopson of Alcorn State coming out of the locker rooms because of what the score was at the half.

I caught Coach Broadway as he was walking through the tunnels immediately after he came off the set of ESPN.

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Rod Broadway

I asked him how they were able to have so much success on the ground in the first half. He laughingly responded with,

“We have a special player. Tarik is making the big plays for us. We feel like we left some points out there on the field in that first half. Even though we had some big plays, we could have had more points. We will make those adjustments and not make the same mistakes second in the second half.”

By the time Coach Broadway finished saying all this, we had reached the front door of the locker room. I then thanked him for his time and wished him good luck in the second half.

Next, I made my way over to the other side of the field and waited for 10 minutes or so for Coach Hopson to come out of the locker room.

I first reminded Coach Hopson that they have been in this situation before and were able to come back, then asked how he planned to do that today. He responded with,

“We have to make adjustments and improve all around. That is what football is all about.”

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Jay Hopson

I then asked coach how he planned to do that. As in, what were some of the adjustments he made at the half to slow down the NC A&T offense? He responded with,

“We just need to go out and play like we are supposed to. We have a whole half left; that is a lot of football.”

After Coach Hopson finished answering the second question, we were at the end of the tunnel. I thanked him for his time and wished him good luck in the second half.

I then made my way back up to the press box to share what I had gathered with Hugh and Sam. When the game started back up, I handed the notes to Sam and he went over them for the people listening on the radio. Looking in the row in front of me and seeing a well-known announcer and a former NFL pro-bowler discussing the notes that I had gathered for everyone listening on the radio gave me a huge sense of happiness and accomplishment. This feeling, paired with all the knowledge I gathered on that day made it my favorite professional experience thus far.

You can find the audio clips from the broadcast of what I gathered from the coaches in the video at the top of this article. 

As the third quarter rolled around I continued to take notes on the game so I could use them for this article. I no longer needed them to form questions, but I wanted as much information from that day as I could possibly have.

After the third ended, Alcorn had come back and put this game within reach. The score was now 27-20, still in favor of the Aggies.

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In the fourth quarter, Charles and I changed rolls and I got to sit in between Sam and Hugh while wearing a headset, and he sat behind and took game notes. I listened to them go back and forth and got to watch first-hand how they implement their game notes and statistics into a broadcast.

I also had each roster in front of me and would point to guys who would make tackles or catches (spotting) so Sam could focus on other parts of his broadcast.

This was one of my favorite parts of the day because I felt like I really was a part of the team when I had the headset on. The guys I were pointing to were being directly repeated into the radio broadcast where thousands of people were tuned in.

Both teams scored two touchdowns in the fourth and the game ended with a score of 41-34 in favor of NC A&T.

Tarik Cohen ended the day with 295 yards and 3 touchdowns. His performance earned him the MVP award for the first annual AFR Celebration Bowl, and gave him 1,431 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on the year. Most importantly, his performance earned him some outstanding exposure in a prime time television spot.

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Mark Neely
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Jay Walker

After the game concluded, Sam took Charles and I over to the CBS box where I got to meet the anchors covering the game. Mark Neely was the play-by-play announcer and Jay Walker was the color announcer. These are the voices that you all watching the game at home were hearing. I was very fortunate to be able to be inside the room when the closing segment was going on. Everything everyone was seeing on their televisions at home was happening right in front of me. In this moment, you could say I was like a kid on Christmas.

When the gentlemen got off the set, Charles and I got to ask them some questions. After talking for a couple of minutes, Mark Neely looked at us and said,

“Only do this job if you love it. You travel a lot and do not get many days off. With that being said, you have to have passion for it. You have to love it.”

That was all the time that the men had to speak with us as both had to head to Hartsfield Jackson to get on a plane to travel elsewhere.

After that concluded, Sam took us down to where stats are recorded and shared some more knowledge with us and showed us where we could pick up the final game statistics.

By this time, most of the 35,528 people in attendance had fled to the parking lots surrounding the dome to beat the traffic.

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Also by this time, I had finally realized the magnitude of what I just witnessed, and what I was just a part of. I had just watched the HBCU National Championship. A game of this kind had not been played since 1999 when the last Heritage Bowl was played. The Heritage Bowl was disbanded due to the fact that the MEAC was not guaranteeing their champion would compete in the game. Often times, they would ignore the opportunity and choose to compete in the Division 1-AA playoffs, forcing the 2nd or 3rd place team to play. 16 years later, the game was back again and it featured tons of explosive plays, two punt return TDs, a blocked field goal, and many other exciting aspects of football.

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cb2All throughout the day, people would come up to Sam and say things like “man, this is awesome” or, “I can’t believe this.” It seemed all the people working the game were shocked at the phenomenal turnout and all the hype and activities surrounding the game.

This game was huge for these two conferences and the FCS as a whole. This game was also huge for football fans all across the country as it created more money, and more football to watch. Hugh Douglas even found himself at a loss for words during the broadcast when trying to explain his feelings towards this 1st inaugural game.


 

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I would like to send my thanks to Sam Crenshaw and Hugh Douglas for sharing their knowledge and skills in the field of broadcast with me. I would like to extend this thanks to Brian Estridge of Red Voice, LLC, for the minor compensation for my help and sending me audio clips so I could edit them for my demo reel. For everyone else that I met and learned from that day, thank you for the knowledge you all shared and the ins and outs of broadcast you all showed me.

I cannot wait to get back into the AFR Celebration Bowl press box next year, and to continue to help out with opportunities like this in any way I can.

I hope you all have enjoyed reading about the experience I had at the 1st annual AFR Celebration Bowl.


 

Video Highlights from the game-

 

***I do not own any footage captured in the video of the back flip catch or the video highlights above. Credits are to the users on YouTube***

 

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