After the cheering’s done

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 9.34.19 PMOXFORD, Ala. – I’m writing this from a late-night dinner after covering the October Talladega race. I just left the track, and it looked a lot like that photo above — hazy and slightly out of focus.

Of all the parts of the sportswriting gig that I enjoy, one of the best is the time after the game/race/tournament is over, after the players have flown off and the fans have driven away. There’s a stillness to the arena that lends itself to a moment of contemplation.

Every time I cover an event, I take a bit of time to walk around the empty arena. Talladega and Daytona, where the campfire smoke hangs in the air as the team haulers are pulling out. Turner Field, where the only sounds are the echoes of the cleaning crew … and the honks from the ever-present traffic outside. Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the bass thumps from the fraternities and downtown Tuscaloosa bars duel in stereo. Augusta National, where the last of the sun silhouettes the pines alongside the silent first fairway. These places lend themselves well to thinking, whether it’s about how to wrestle that intransigent damn article into something resembling coherence … or how to deal with our impending mortality.

Because make no mistake: you don’t need to be a damn poet to understand what’s going on here. Sound and fury, and then the rest is silence, to do a little Shakespeare mashup. I can hope, good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ve got thousands more summer and fall afternoons remaining. But I don’t know how many times I’ll come back to, say, Talladega or Augusta. Five? Ten? Twenty? No matter. It’s a measurable number, and it’s a painfully small one.

I consider myself tremendously lucky to have covered so many sporting events where the noise of hundreds of thousands of people hits you with physical force. It never gets old. But I feel even luckier that I get the chance to stick around after the cheering’s done and enjoy the solitude.

See you down the road.

Jay

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