‘It Was Such a Surreal Moment’


The forecast for Tampa this weekend calls for lots of sunshine. No hurricanes, and no tornadoes. No chance of a repeat of last season’s SEC Tournament in Atlanta, when a tornado clipped the Georgia Dome as it wreaked destruction in downtown. It happened during Mississippi State’s overtime win over Alabama. The game resumed just over an hour after the twister struck, but the nightcap between Georgia and Kentucky was postponed to the next day, a Saturday, and would be played at Georgia Tech’s 9,100-seat Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Then things really got crazy. Georgia not only beat Kentucky, it came back later that day and beat MSU, the Western Division champ, en route to winning the whole thing. Going along for the whole crazy ride was Gregg Ellis, my estimable predecessor at the Daily Journal and now MSU’s basketball media relations director. He related his account last year after it happened. I spoke with Gregg today, and he echoed what he wrote then.

What will forever be seared upon his mind is “the sound.” He was sitting next to Mike Nemeth, who’s now State’s associated athletics director for media and public relations, when the a loud rumbling hit their ears. “What is that noise?” Nemeth asked. “I guess the subway,” Gregg said. “The subway?” Nemeth replied with a laugh. Neither man was laughing moments later, when the building shook and portions of the roof were ripped up. Shards of glass streamed to the floor. “It was such a surreal moment,” Gregg said.

And yet, nobody panicked. “Nobody knew what was going on, so there was no need to panic.” Back in Tupelo, the television in Gregg’s house suddenly went black. When Gregg’s wife heard there was a tornado in Atlanta, she tried in vain to contact him. Cell phone coverage had been wiped out and stayed that way for about an hour. But all Gregg could think was, “‘Time to get right with God.’ I was like, ‘I’m OK with death,’ but I wasn’t ready to go just yet.”

As he walked back to the Marriott Marquee around midnight, through what he said looked like a “war zone,” Gregg was wondering when and where the next day’s games would be played. The SEC decided on Tech’s arena, but because of its small capacity, the league limited admission to a select few people. “It’s like going to a 1A state championship game in the Big House (Mississippi Coliseum),” Gregg said. “There was zero atmosphere.”

That didn’t bother Georgia, the No. 6 seed from the East. First the Bulldogs stunned Kentucky, 60-56, then later in the day shocked MSU, 64-60. Gregg figured State would win by 20. So how’d Georgia do it? “You know how you’re so tired at night you can’t sleep sometimes?” Gregg said. “I think that’s what happened.”

Once again, Georgia finds itself as the East No. 6 seed entering the tournament. Its first-round opponent on Thursday: MSU. It seems the weather will cooperate, and we’ll have no repeat of last year. And obviously, State hopes the final result is different, too.


3 Responses to “‘It Was Such a Surreal Moment’”

  1. darkcooger Says:

    My best memory of that event was seeing Ben Hansbrough’s face in the replays. Several players looked up at the same time and saw everything shaking, but poor Ben looked like he was about to have a heart attack. I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t help but laugh.

  2. imabulldog Says:

    maybe he had a little accident… 🙂

  3. markillas44 Says:

    now we know the real reason ben transferred – being called ‘poopy-pants’ by the rest of the team was just too much. oh and state didn’t have a practice facility.

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