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Press box no place for this Georgia fan

There's an unwritten rule at most sporting venues - and in many places it's written - that there's no cheering in the press box.

The press box, after all, is for people who are paid to watch the game and report what happened back to their readers who couldn't be there. The teams get the publicity and the journalists get their story (and a free meal usually). It's a win-win for everybody.

But you better act like a journalist while you're there. I suspect nothing would make your fellow reporters frown at you quicker than acting like a fan (except maybe not eating enough at the press box buffet).

Some journalists, as you've probably figured out, are pretty proud of themselves. It's these self-important types who look with special contempt at celebrities, sponsors, executives, fan tours or anyone else who obviously doesn't belong in "their" box. In essence, there's an unfortunate arrogance that comes with their press pass, a feeling that fans belong in the stands, not up here in the air conditioning with no line at the bathroom.

As for me, I don't get out of my cage at the Post very often, so I'm just glad to be there, and I usually couldn't care less who's traipsing through the press box. In return for the privilege of being there, I follow the rules. I get to watch the match, game, race, concert or whatever, I get to talk to the players afterward, I get to do what I truly love - write - and I get paid for it.

The readers are happy, my bosses are happy and I'm happy. It's almost perfect, as long as you follow the rules, and that includes no cheering.

For the most part it's an easy rule to follow.

That is, unless, you happen to be at your alma mater. And the team is ranked in the top 10. And playing one of its biggest rivals in the biggest game so far this year.

And it's not just your alma mater, but the team you've loved since you were in the second grade. The team you live and die with every game day. The team whose logo is on your checks, your key chain, your wallet, your mugs, your truck tag, your T-shirts, your ball caps, your bottle openers, your note pads, your cooler and your MasterCard. Then following the rule becomes not just difficult but a study in self-control.

I had not been in the University of Georgia press box in 15 years until Saturday. For the most part, I hadn't wanted to be in there. I'm too much of a Bulldog, and the prospect of seeing the game in exchange for a story or column has rarely outweighed the prospect of being able to pull for my team.

In fact, the only time I'd ever covered the Bulldogs was an SEC championship game. I'd gone as an extra photographer and had the unpleasant duty of taking a photo of the LSU Tigers celebrating after they beat my team. After that, I decided when it came to the Dawgs I'd just buy my ticket.

But when the sports editor gave me the opportunity this time, I thought I was ready. I can do this, I thought. I'd write a nice little nostalgia piece about how I was a journalism major at UGA in 1991 and how I'd dreamt of working in the press box as one of the reporters instead of serving lunch to them at halftime and how 15 years later, there I was doing it.

It all went out the window once I got in my seat.

All I wanted to do was join in when Sanford Stadium started rocking from one side yelling "Georgia!" and the other answering "Bulldogs!"

When Georgia took the field, I wanted to clap. When they scored their first touchdown I wanted to yell. When Tennessee took the lead I wanted to cuss and throw something like I do when I'm at home. When UGA lost I wanted to head back to the truck with the rest of the Bulldog Nation and drown my sorrows. In the locker room afterward I was as sad as the players. Instead of interviewing them I just wanted to hug their necks.

But I had to stay quiet and just take it while UGA was losing and obviously needed my help.

That's something no fair-weather fan can understand - that for that moment you really believe you're a part of the team, and your support is every bit as important as the players' and coaches' efforts. Saturday I couldn't add mine. I had to follow the rules.

But I did it. I kept quiet. I was a good, ethical journalist and put my feelings aside. I did the right thing.

And I never felt so guilty in my life.

Nate McCullough can be reached via e-mail at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.

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