Few athletes ever get the chance to play at a Division I college. Even fewer get the chance to play professionally. Most go their whole careers carrying their own bags, finding their own way to the game, and cooking their own meals.
For one weekend every year since 1986, though, the northern Alabama town of Florence pulls out all the stops for the two teams scheduled to battle for the Division II NCAA National Football Championship.
This year, one of those teams is the #1 ranked UMD Bulldogs.
After arriving in the Florence area late Wednesday night, the 'Dogs were greeted by several community officials and a police escort to their hotel. Five police cars ran their sirens and blocked the streets for the busful of Bulldogs, treatment usually reserved for whoever works in the Oval Office, but here in Florence, football is king.
As are those who play it.
It's amazing what's happening here. The Bulldogs itinerary for their stay in Florence includes several media sessions, honorary meals, and VIP events. It's all intended to make this an experience of a lifetime for the athletes, and, so far, it's working.
"Just enjoy it," Bulldogs senior lineback Kiel Fechtelkotter said. "There's a lot of little things that could distract you, but you've just got to have fun with it. When else are you going to get this opportunity in life?"
Another special opportunity will come Friday morning, when both teams will split up and head to four area elementary schools to read to the children. Several of the carryovers from UMD's 2008 national championship team said that was one of the most rewarding things about their experience in Florence, and are happy they get to go again.
After that, it's on to a VIP Sponsor Luncheon for both teams, the last major event before the big game kicks off at 10:05 AM on Saturday morning.
Then, it's time for the 'Dogs and the Statesmen to decide the 2010 national champion, but because of all the hard work by fine people of the Florence community, both teams will head home as winners.
Catch Zach's stories from Florence, AL through the weekend on the Northland's NewsCenter.