I was fortunate enough to cover all, but one game this season, Texas A&M. Each trip provided its' share of unique experiences and I wanted to share some of that with all of you including some behind the scenes things that would never make the TV broadcast.
@Southern Miss: Mississippi State 34 Southern Miss 16
It was a big night for the Golden Eagles. The trip to M.M. Roberts Stadium was the first for Mississippi State since 1989, when the Bullies beat Brett Favre. I shared some of those memories with Bulldog staffers during the pre-game.
We found out during warm-ups that senior corner Taveze Calhoun would not play providing junior corner Tolando Cleveland his first college start.
It was an intense crowd that night and the tension in the air increased as the Bulldogs turned the ball over twice in the first quarter giving the home crowd some hope. An improved Southern Miss team came to play and it was clear then that the Golden Eagles were a likely bowl team.
The Bulldogs went on to pull away, but a vanilla play book left some concerned about the Mississippi State offense. The team got the win in a hostile environment, but style points were in short supply.
Dan Mullen was upbeat in the post-game presser that took place just outside of the Bulldog locker room. While the setting for that press conference was less than ideal, we in the media saw some more challenging circumstances later in the season.
The 9 PM kickoff made for a late night. Any potential cobwebs were quickly swept away during the drive back to Starkville when a confused driver passed me and Brian Hadad on I-59. The alarming issue was that we were headed north and our fellow motorist was heading south in the northbound lane.
@Auburn: Mississippi State 17 Auburn 9
Auburn is a good trip. It's a beautiful campus and the fans are extremely friendly. I have heard "Welcome to Auburn" dozens of times from fans of all ages. It's a unique situation considering the bitterness this conference provides from time to time.
State entered the game 2-1 and caught the Tigers reeling. Auburn quarterback Sean White was making his first college start over pre-season Heisman candidate Jeremy Johnson who was benched after a lackluster start to the season.
Some very good Bulldog teams had left Auburn with a loss in recent years, but that was not to be this evening as Mississippi State jumped out to an early lead and played well enough on defense to limit Auburn to single digits on the scoreboard.
My favorite memory of this game has nothing to do with the outcome. I had never shot photos from the sideline at Auburn. Every school has their own way to do things. At Auburn, sideline photographers must have a photo pass.
As I entered the field, I asked an event staffer where to pick my pass up. He told me that I didn't really need it and not to worry about it.
Just before kickoff, an Auburn staffer walked up and asked me about my photo pass. When I explained my exchange with the event staffer, the gentlemen politely apologized for the confusion and told me where to get it taken care of.
Most SEC games, especially those in the state of Alabama, are covered extremely well. Sometimes you have to mark your territory like a wolf. This game with Auburn was sort of like that. It was extremely crowded on the sidelines.
I made my way around the field to find the table to pick up my pass, a man approached me and said "Are you Steve? I've got you covered right here." I can only assume the staffer who sent me over radioed ahead. I signed the clipboard and attached my sticker making me legal.
When I got back to my original shooting position, the guy who sent me to pick up the pass was there holding my spot among the other photographers. As I approached, he said. "Here you go buddy and welcome to Auburn."
Who does that? It really made an impression on me and nobody would have known about those gestures of kindness had I not shared them with you now.
@Missouri: Mississippi State 31 Missouri 13
When the schedule first came out, this was a game I really wanted to go to since it was the first time visiting Columbia since the Tigers joined the conference.
Walking up to the stadium, there is a pedestrian bridge you have to cross to get to the stadium. It's all detailed out and it really makes you realize where you are. It's all Mizzou and you can really tell how proud those folks are of their campus and football program.
The fans and staffers there were incredibly nice and friendly. As my colleague David Murray offered, "They haven't been in the SEC long enough to know they're not supposed to be nice."
Many of the fans explained to me how playing Mississippi State seemed like a bit of a novelty. This was the first meeting since they joined the SEC, so the Bulldogs had not really been on their radar. Just about every person I talked with wanted to talk about Dak Prescott. As one Tiger staff said, "I haven't seen him play before, but #15 is really good."
It rained and rained and rained and rained. The weather and a Thursday night date kept the home crowd somewhat subdued. It felt like a non-conference game, but that is not a slight against Mizzou. It was just a different feeling with the rain, a prime time week day kick and a home team who expected to lose with star QB Maty Mauk suspended again.
The post-game presser was handled in the dark in an inch of rain water with electrical cords swimming at our feet. It was challenging to say the least, but Dan Mullen and his team did not seem to mind. Now 7-2, the Bulldogs were playing for bowl seeding after another SEC road win.
@Arkansas: Mississippi State 51 Arkansas 50
This was my first football trip to Fayetteville and man was it fun. The atmosphere in Razorback stadium is great. I told one Arkansas staffer that it was tough to imagine why they would want to play in Little Rock when they had all of this in their backyard.
It is a really clean and cozy venue and the home crowd gets loud. They call the Hogs a lot and as a college football fan you really don't seem to mind. It's just a cool experience seeing the Razorbacks in their natural environment.
The game was outstanding and the Bulldog fans who braved the distance and the cold were rewarded with a dramatic win that ended with Dak Prescott taking a knee securing the fourth win in a row over the Hogs and the second straight in the state of Arkansas.
The highlight of this trip happened by accident. At halftime, I sought some shelter from the elements, a restroom and some warm air.
Being new to the venue, I simply followed some of the other photographers as they entered the nearby building. As I made the turn to look for a restroom, there were the Razorbacks. I was in the locker room.
I went back the way I came and found those other photogs who actually worked for the University. They directed me towards a restroom that was in use by Arkansas players. Now more than a little uncomfortable, I found my way back to the door I entered.
I apologized to the security guard as I tried to leave and he said, "No, stay here with me. It's cold out there. You don't have to go."
We sat there and visited for several minutes. We were two guys talking SEC football and trying to stay warm. I left before I felt like I over stayed my welcome, but as a fan of college football that was a cool experience. I never did find a free bathroom, but it was too cold to really matter.
Belk Bowl: Mississippi State 51 NC State 28
Charlotte is not a bad drive from Starkville if you hit the Atlanta traffic just right. Once you clear Atlanta, it seems like you're almost there. There could be just about anywhere, but surviving the Interstate puzzle of I-20/I-75/I-85 and the 285 loop makes everything else seem like a drive down a Sunflower county dirt road.
The Belk Bowl officials really take their job seriously and they really wanted to be sure we had a good experience. The night I picked up my media pass, I had to turn down free pizza a dozen times or more.
The day of the bowl game, it took me a while to find the parking garage. Once in the right spot, I ran into Richie Brown's parents and wife, Erin Brown. Despite being eight hours from Starkville, I felt at home then. Familiar friendly faces seem to have that sort of impact no matter how anxious the challenges of being in a new place become.
It rained and rained and rained, again.
Walking back up to the press box at halftime, MSU media relations boss Mike Nemeth and I were treated to a stirring rendition of Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" by an older lady who seemed pretty proud of her wit. Considering that we were dry for a few minutes, it was easy to smile.
The outcome of the contest never really seemed to be in doubt as MSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead and then cruised to a 51-28 victory over the Wolfpack.
As the team took to the field for the trophy presentation, I saw Joe Morrow, who I have covered since he was a sophomore in high school. He walked up and hugged me and said, "Thanks for everything." It hit me then that it was all over.
You sort of take it all for granted sometimes. You forget that guys graduate. At some point, they move on and they become former players, but never former Bulldogs. No, that is a lifelong designation.
As Dak Prescott held up his Belk Bowl MVP, I heard a voice to my right, "It didn't feel like the last time until now."
The last time. It will take some time for Mississippi State fans to come to grips with that. The Bulldogs will have a new starting quarterback next year and some incoming freshman may wear #15. It won't seem right. It will feel foreign.
On this day, the final day of Dak Prescott's Bulldog career, smiling faces were wet with rain and some with tears, but it ended the right way. It ended with a win and it ended with Prescott leaving the playing field one final time serenaded by cowbells as he pointed to the heavens in honor of his mother, Peggy.
For those of us who were there to witness it in person, it is a moment that we will never forget.
There is simply nothing like being there.