ESPN has made a documentary about the 2008 SEC basketball tournament, undoubtedly the strangest thing I have ever seen, ever.
The documentary seems to get a lot of things right, but it's one story, and one story alone. It couldn't really capture the whump-whump-whumping sound the tornado made against the roof of the Dome, or the rippling of the static fabric covering it. They missed the full splendor of an exhausted Billy Gillispie, who looked like a talking boiled egg topped with a toupee by the weekend's end. They include the water rushing down the steps of the Georgia World Congress Center's staircases, but miss the oddly tranquil sight of the Atlanta skyline through its walls.
They also clearly go on talking about the tournament, the one that would finish in front of just a few hundred people in Georgia Tech's gym in a game so quiet you could hear coaches speaking clearly in the huddles during timeouts. I'm glad they have footage of the game, and try to tell some kind of story over it. That is what you are supposed to do with events.
I don't remember events. I only remember a moment when sports were not simply overshadowed, but vaporized by the random and uncontrollable. The way players stopped in midcourt and just listened to the storm steamroll the building, or how Verne Lundquist, standing to my right, didn't dive under a table and instead just muttered "What the shit was that?" The way you could walk right into the hallway past baffled security and listen as SEC officials openly admit they had no idea what to do.
That night I had to drive home right down the storm path to my apartment. The police and fire department were overwhelmed, and swallowed up by the total, pre-Walking Dead zombieness of the night like everything else. You could walk right out of the Georgia Dome and step over fragments of the building, and then drive past the bombed-out corner of the Cabbagetown Lofts, or the completely flattened tire shop on Dekalb Avenue, and around the groups of dudes hanging around a darkened Pink City clearly out to see what doors the storm had blown open for the taking. It was terrifying, humid, a bit evil, and more thrilling than I really still want to admit.
What I remember was everything -- sports being the least of those things -- disappearing, and in a few seconds being replaced by genuine undistilled chaos. I haven't seen the rest of the documentary, and probably won't. It's about a story, and I don't remember a story. All I remember were broken things, the sound of a tornado pinballing drunkenly through downtown Atlanta, and the glow of my headlights on people wandering through unlit streets dotted with broken glass and trees who'd finally surrendered to gravity.
P.S. I drove past the fence by the CSX Hulsey yard that night. The tornado had blown it out like the curve of a lung for three blocks, leaning it back a good three feet before bouncing down the street and knocking the teeth out of the Westin Peachtree. That was five years ago. This is the same fence five years later in a picture from this morning.