Dec. 26, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Bowl Selection Day was one of tension and excitement.
Football teams gathered around TV sets and laptops, with players and coaches constantly monitoring Twitter and text messages for a hint of their bowl location.
“There was a bit of anxiety and excitement in terms of we’re in limbo waiting and trying to plan our work schedules and our budgets,” said Calvin Days. “[Nashville] was a lot friendlier vs. driving to El Paso. We loved the El Paso experience but this was certainly better on the budget.”
The trip to Nashville, Tenn., for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl is the Days family’s third bowl excursion, the second in preparation for watching both sons play and the first not ending up El Paso, Texas.
But the Days are veterans of the road game. They have not missed a game, home or away, since Synjyn started playing football at age five. That’s 17 years ago (16 years of watching Synjyn and Jabari). It hasn’t always been easy for Calvin, a financial analyst for MARTA, and Paula, a (hell of an) engineer for the city of Atlanta — they also share “Barbers 4 Days” in Marietta and Days Properties.
“As the trips come up, we describe them as `weekly vacations,'” said Calvin. “We’re kind of candid and let people in the workplace know where our priorities are. There have been times where we’ve spent the night at work to meet a deadline so we could be at the game. But it’s worked out. These are core values that we try to teach the boys about prioritizing family.”
Having a pair of friendly faces in the crowd, no matter how hostile the environment, is something Synjyn and Jabari never take for granted.
“It’s a feeling like no other, knowing that the people that have been there since Day One are there with you,” said Days. “Knowing that my parents are there and truly care about me is a real blessing.”
“You can’t take those moments for granted because a lot of parents can’t go to their kids’ games,” said Hunt-Days. “I look at it as a blessing.”
Calvin and Paula have always been there, even coaching their sons growing up — Calvin as head coach, Paula as defensive coach.
“He asked me if I would come into coaching with him. I thought he was joking,” she recalled. “But I said, `Hey, let me try it.’ It was very exciting to me because you actually learn the game. Now, you’re not only seeing the guys run up and down the field but you actually understand the game. It’s very exciting.”
Preparing for a season of travel is exciting as well. The Days know their roles and simply await destinations.
“Calvin does it all,” said Paula, of preparation.
“I do all the planning but Paula does all the driving,” Calvin said. “If it’s a game we’re driving to, absolutely, she sends me to the passenger seat.”
The journey is a time to reflect and unplug — no cell phones calls are accepted, with the exception, of course, from their sons. Paula lists vocalists and gospel music among her favorite listening, while Calvin’s list of favorite songs includes the McFadden & Whitehead hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” (He added they have never thrown out a CD after a Tech road loss, but the trips home are quieter, “focusing on things we can do to personally aid the boys as we prepare for our Sunday evening discussions with them.”).
Upon arrival, Days trips are extremely structured. The family touches base usually the day before the game, with Synjyn and Jabari “taking the parent role,” according to Calvin in assuring their parents’ arrival.
Come game day, they meet in the morning — Calvin and Paula make sure to stay in the team hotel — have quick family prayer, then go over the family signals for the game.
“We have these little hand signals and communication as we’re watching the game, what we’re seeing and what our thoughts are,” said Calvin. “We have our own little code. We recap that before they go to their team meetings and we say our goodbyes. That’s our last time seeing them before we get to the stadium.”
Calvin has one final pregame ritual for his sons before it’s “All systems go!”. “As we see them coming out, we stand up and I wave my hat,” he said. “That’s my little signal. We have special names for each one of them, so when they hear that name it’s unique and no one else knows who or what it is.”
Acknowledging their parents is as important a pregame ritual for the sons.
“I know exactly where they sit,” said Jabari. “I point to them while we’re coming out of the tunnel then go about my business of getting ready for the game.”
“Right before kickoff, I’ll go say my prayer in the end zone and I’ll look up and see my parents waving,” said Synjyn. “I wave back at them and go on about my business. Every time I say my prayer I say it in their direction.”
There’s comfort in seeing that pregame hat wave — something Synjyn recalled failing to see only one time in all his days playing football.
“In high school my dad was late. Pregame I usually see him and he wasn’t up there,” he said. “But as I came out of our tunnel, I looked up and I saw him with my mom. They haven’t been late for a game.”
That nearly changed this past Oct. 12, when Georgia Tech traveled to Provo, Utah, to play Brigham Young University.
“We got to the airport and realized the reservation was for the previous day and the flights were booked,” Calvin recalled. “To get on the next flight was like $1,200 but there was no availability anyway. We pleaded and pleaded and explained our desperation. We considered `how can we leave and make the drive straight to Utah?'”
Fortunately, fate intervened.
“That was certainly prayer,” said Calvin. “We kept holding, went through a host of transfers with the airline and we got disconnected. We called them back and someone answered the telephone and said, `No problem.’ Just like that.”
They made the BYU game with time to spare — Paula, who would have had to drive the nearly 1,900 miles, insisted they would have been on time, regardless — uneventfully navigated the rest of Tech’s road schedule and will be in the crowd at LP Field Monday afternoon.
While Calvin and Paula won’t even consider breaking the streak while Synjyn and Jabari are still at Georgia Tech, all bets are off, should their sons make it to the next level and play on different teams, something they’ve never done.
“If that happens then they just wouldn’t play,” said Calvin, with a laugh. “I’m just kidding. We’ve pretty much said that the ride is through college. If something happens at the next level, we’re pretty clear, `Don’t expect us to be at every game.'”
But that’s down the road. Until then, there will be plenty more “weekly vacations,” hat-waving, hand-signals and both Days at every Georgia Tech game.
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