Make no doubt about it, I have loved every trip that I have made to the NAIA Football National Championships. Each year has a different feel and results in new stories to tell down the road. Maybe someday I’ll write a book about all the NAIA football title games I have attended, however I might need to change a few names along the way.
After ten consecutive title games, the excitement still has not worn off for me. I still get juiced up to see the best in the NAIA compete for the honor of being called the best in the division. However, with that excitement this year I can’t help but feel a sense of remorse heading into this weekend.
The toughest thing about this week in Rome, Ga. is knowing this is without a doubt the last time the NAIA Football Championship will be in this fine city. Since 2008, Rome has been the host of the championship and its citizens have welcomed fans of eight different NAIA football teams to enjoy their city and allowed them to enjoy it like their own. Rome has set the bar pretty high for the future host of the title game.
If the previous host city, Savannah, Tenn., introduced me to southern hospitality then the city of Rome helped to redefine and reinforce it. The people of this city and the organizers of the event have gone above and beyond to take the NAIA football championship to a new level.
Probably the biggest complaint about Savannah at the time of the switch to Rome was the facility the game was held in. The athletes were certainly honored well and there was never a moment where people felt that special feeling was lacking but the field and facility left plenty to be desired.
The switch to Rome gave the participants of the game better facilities every year the game was played. The first year the game was on grass and after a week of heavy rains, the people of Floyd County knew they needed to commit to making upgrades at historic Barron Stadium.
Since then, the field has been turfed, a video board was installed, the locker rooms were upgraded and then entrance to the facility was completely revamped. Needless to say, the facility for the game rivals that of the top in the NAIA division now.
The bar has been raised and I hope the future host in Daytona Beach, Fla. can answer the call to continue to make this event great not only for the teams involved, but also for the fans attending the game. I’ll admit, I do not know anything more than what you can google off the internet about the new site and people involved. They certainly appear to know what they are doing, but I hope they don’t forget what has made this event special since 1996.
When a fan walks into a local cafe for breakfast or goes to one of the local watering holes late at night, they are greeted with a smile and a warmness from the people of the community. It’s a calming, peacefulness that you get from your neighbor that you’ve never met before, but you know you are going to get along.
That’s the feeling I get every time I come to this city and I certainly hope that it can continue in Florida.
Ranking the NAIA Title Games in Rome, Ga.:
No. 5 – (2008) Sioux Falls def. Carroll College, 23-7. Sioux Falls had one of the NAIA’s toughest defenses of all-time in this game and they were facing Carroll College’s 3rd string QB due to all the injuries from earlier in the year.
No. 4 – (2010) Carroll def. Sioux Falls, 10-7. Neither team could get much going offensively. These two teams were so good on defense that it was going to take one big play to win this, which Carroll delivered on.
No. 3 – (2009) Sioux Falls def. Lindenwood, 25-22. Another close one. More offense than what we saw in the previous games but ultimately the USF defense came up big.
No. 2 – (2011) Saint Xavier def. Carroll College, 24-20. SXU was the first team not named Carroll or Sioux Falls to win the game since 2001. Add in the vertical jump of Mike Feminis of SXU at the end of the game I witnessed and it was truly one of the finest sports moments I was a part of.
No.1 – (2012) Marian def. Morningside, 30-27 in OT. Overtime, national championship game? What’s better than that? Great game, back and forth. Good offensive showing to keep the crowd entertained.
We will have to wait and see Saturday night where Cumberlands/Grand View stacks up. The pregame anticipation has certainly increased the excitement around this game and the interaction via social media has brought even more exhilaration to the table.