The editors at CBSSports.com said it: “You can go to any bowls you want.”
There was more to the statement – something about not booking flights or paying for hotels -- but I heard the four words I had been hoping for: “Any bowls you want.”
The Belk Bowl, Dec. 27 in Charlotte was a no-brainer. It was a day trip from my Raleigh home to see Duke's first bowl appearance since the 1994 season. I carpooled with two other Triangle-area writers and was back in the wee hours, the morning of Dec. 28.
That gave me three days to rest and recover before the meat of my postseason trip -- Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, and the Orange Bowl in Miami, 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 1.
Two bowls, in two days, requiring a total of about 1,900 miles of driving, round trip.
I left at about 10 a.m. and immediately ran into trouble. New Year's Eve was also Black Monday in the NFL. As coach after coach fell, I began to worry that Panthers coach Ron Rivera would be next, requiring me to pull over and write a quick post on the breaking news.
I thought Rivera was safe, but with the NFL going French Revolution today, who knows? #offwiththeirheads— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) December 31, 2012
Fortunately, while a quarter of the NFL pulled the trigger, Carolina held off, allowing me to continue the trip.
Satellite radio seemed to know I was driving. I found a countdown of the top New Year's Eve party songs of all time, which kept me going until kickoff of the first bowl game of the day involving an ACC team.
Listening to the Music City Bowl on something called the BodyBuilding .com And Nevada Sports Network— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) December 31, 2012
NC State's loss to Vanderbilt overlapped with the start of Georgia Tech's Sun Bowl win over USC, which was still going as I arrived at the Georgia Dome.
I picked up my credential and media gift -- a Chick-fil-A Bowl backpack and cow calendar -- and found my seat.
My seat. Press box front row, at the 50 (if I lean a little). I think that makes me Press Box King twitter.com/KrestDukeCBS/s…— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) December 31, 2012
Despite the prime location, I didn't stay seated for long. One of the highlights of the Chick-fil-A Bowl pregame is the cow drop. Just before kickoff, 5,000 little stuffed versions of the Chick-fil-A cow mascot are dropped from the rafters of the Georgia Dome and parachute down to the fans.
I entered the field through the giant inflatable helmet that the teams would be using in a few minutes and got in cow-catching position.
Sure enough, just as the National Anthem ended, I looked up and saw someone on the catwalk wave a giant green flag, and it began raining cows.
Children and fans managed to catch 4,999 of the cows that fell from the sky, but one cow -- the cow that was meant for me, I assume -- didn't complete his mission. Its parachute got caught on one of the cables supporting the drone camera, and it dangled over the field for the entire first half.
I bet Nuk Hopkins could get that cow down off the wire— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 1, 2013
At halftime, the drone camera was brought down to ground level, and workers were able to rescue the cow.
THE COW IS DOWN. REPEAT: THE COW IS DOWN— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 1, 2013
@krestdukecbs at least someone cares enough for the cow. Bravo, sir.— Maggie Turner (@mcturner4) January 1, 2013
With the cow out of the way, the game took center stage in the second half. Clemson upset LSU on a last-second field goal, and, with 15 minutes remaining in 2012, writers began redoing their game stories.
OK. Let's see...how much of my original game report am I going to be able to use.— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 1, 2013
As the assembled media were hunched over their laptops, writing, a writer near me answered his cell phone. “Oh,” he said in a surprised voice. “Happy New Year to you too.”
The rest of us stopped our work and looked up in surprise. The clock said 12:03 a.m., Jan. 1, 2013. That ball had dropped without us. Like my coworkers, I shrugged my shoulders and went back to writing. I'll kiss someone next year.
Happy New Year everybody! I spent it looking up stats in the game book— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 1, 2013
Shortly after 1:00 a.m., with my game report filed and the editors happy, I left the Georgia Dome and drove south. Onward to the Orange Bowl.
Yeah, @krestdukecbs you get the Ironman award. It's like you hop in the car and stop every 12 hours for a bowl game. Insane. Stay safe!— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) January 1, 2013
I made it as far as a cheap motel in Macon, checked in at about 2:30 a.m. and got a little less than five hours of sleep before heading out again.
I had a companion on my trip to the Orange Bowl for part of the morning. But the equipment truck for the Notre Dame football team had a little more time before it was due in Miami, so I ended up passing it and moving on.
Posting the truck photo earned me a Facebook scolding from my mother, who told me to “pay attention to driving,” and my inbox filled with e-mails from friends gleefully informing me that I was in trouble.
The trip continued, and I crossed over into the Sunshine state.
Florida border! So I'm practically to Miami, right? #orangebowl— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 1, 2013
Just over a hour before the Orange Bowl's scheduled kickoff time, I arrived in the Sun Life Stadium press box and found my seat, much to the chagrin of some of Chip Patterson's friends.
You are looking live ... Inside the stadium twitter.com/KrestDukeCBS/s…— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 2, 2013
Shortly before 8:00, with the Rose Bowl running long, television moved the Orange Bowl kickoff to 8:50. I immediately began doing the math, trying to figure out how far north I'd be able to make it post game, and how late I'd have to drive.
Not sure why they delayed the start of the game. @krestdukecbs made it on time.— ACC Sports (@ACCSports) January 2, 2013
As Florida State pulled away late in the game, and my ACC beat partner Sean Bielawski began working on the game report, saving me from having to pull postgame duty, I began the long drive north. I made it as far as Cocoa, Fla., 180 miles north of Miami, before stopping for the night.
So far, I've managed to keep my New Years resolution to wake up every morning in a Motel 6!— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 2, 2013
As I continued to drive the next day, I took great care. The day before, I'd been a few hours southeast of Tampa when Jadeveon Clowney delivered his beastly hit in the Outback Bowl, but I'm pretty sure my car rocked a little. The hit was still burned in my mind as I ventured onto Clowney's home turf.
Just before 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 2, 55 hours after I started, I pulled into my driveway.
Who's with me next year?— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) January 2, 2013
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.