Ranking the top 5 SEC football environments where I covered a game this season | Toppmeyer
I’ve had the pleasure of covering 16 college football games this season involving at least one SEC team.
Rivalry games, top 25 showdowns, sellout crowds, fans rushing the field, I saw all of that. After a 2020 season covering games in stadiums with pandemic-induced capacity limits, these 2021 scenes were a welcome sight.
My travels took me to eight SEC stadiums, plus Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Apologies to Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. I’ve covered games at those stadiums in past years, but my assignments didn’t take me there this year.
Here’s how I rank the top five environments I experienced in 2021.
1. Alabama at Texas A&M
The press box atop Kyle Field is wayyyyyyy up in the sky. That afforded a good view to watch the sun sink into the Texas horizon as kickoff neared. Idyllic.
Media members receive a pregame printed warning that the press box literally will shake at times during the game. The noise from the crowd of 106,815 (combined with stadium tunes cranked up) indeed made the press box tremble on multiple occasions on this October night.
When the Aggies achieved the upset of the season, taking down No. 1 Alabama 41-38, thousands of fans poured over the walls and onto the field to revel in the triumph. The whole scene was college football at its finest.
2. Alabama at Florida
Florida fans were partying long before kickoff. The pregame tailgating scene on a hot, muggy day offered bag toss, beer pong, bikini tops and a dose of energy the best beach party can’t match. By kickoff, lubricated Florida fans were ready to roar.
I’m partial to open-air press boxes, and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has one. That allows scribes to soak up one of the loudest stadiums in all of sport.
Florida offers neat traditions, too, like the singing of Tom Petty’s “I Won't Back Down” and the more longstanding “We Are the Boys from Old Florida.” Close game, too. Alabama won 31-29.
3. Ole Miss at Mississippi State
Cowbells were clanging 45 minutes before kickoff on Thanksgiving night. When mascot Bully emerged from the tunnel during pregame waving a pirate flag, the cowbells reached such a crescendo that it sounded like a swarm of locusts had filled Davis Wade Stadium.
Are those noisemakers annoying for opposing teams? Undoubtedly. But this sport is all about tradition and game-day vibes, and the cowbells make Mississippi State unique.
The raucous scene didn’t knock Ole Miss off-kilter. The Rebels won the Egg Bowl 31-21, and coach Lane Kiffin celebrated by giving the Vince Carter “It’s over” gesture during the fourth quarter.
4. Alabama at Auburn
The Jordan-Hare Stadium lights dimmed; fans turned on their cellphone flashlights; and DMX’s “Party Up” played on the loudspeakers. Orange fireworks shot into the sky. The Iron Bowl wasn’t finished, but Auburn had the lead through three quarters, and Tigers fans were enjoying the moment.
Their good times didn’t last.
Bryce Young became the Heisman Trophy frontrunner when the Alabama quarterback led a 97-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive to force overtime. After John Metchie III caught a two-point conversion pass for a 24-22 Alabama victory in four overtimes, he brought a finger to his facemask to silence a crowd that had been so loud for most of the night.
5. Georgia at Tennessee
It had been a few years since Neyland Stadium bared its teeth like it did on this crisp November day. The Vols donned black jerseys, perhaps hoping to project a menacing image as they faced the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.
Vols fans were eager to see what first-year coach Josh Heupel’s offense could do to Georgia’s vaunted defense, and Tennessee seemed to feed off the energy provided by a crowd of more than 100,000.
The Vols led 10-7 before Georgia asserted its dominance in a 41-17 victory.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.