Happy Wanderer: SEC football in Georgia

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: November 12, 2010

Nothing goes together like late fall and football. Throw in a ticket to a Southeast Conference game and you’ve got a trip that’s the envy of every red-blooded football fan in America.

In the two-plus years that my daughter has attended the University of Georgia, I’ve never been to a Bulldog game. So on a brilliant fall day when the Bay Area was flirting with record highs, I flew to Athens and was greeted with freezing rain. Call me crazy, but that’s the way weather is supposed to be in early November – cold enough to see your breath.

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Athens on game day is legendary. When the “Dawgs” play at home, hotels are booked and tailgates start early for the 92,000 fans that come from all over Georgia to do battle. And that’s just for a hotdog at halftime.

One thing you can say about Southerners – they love their college football. They have coaches with names like Houston Nutt. They fly flags on their trucks that hail their home team.  In Georgia, I swear, one out of every two vehicles is red with a big G or Bulldog on the back window.

The town starts to percolate the eve before game day. Crowds descend on downtown like fans at a Taylor Swift concert. Banners and bunting hang from historic buildings like it’s Fourth of July and there isn’t a bar or a restaurant that doesn’t boast a Bulldog special. The town is awash in black and red, not to mention green (the color of money).

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like, in a town like this, without college football. It pumps up the economy of not only Athens, but the whole state. There’s a pride for the Bulldogs that’s hard to describe. It’s like the feeling you get when your team wins the Super bowl. (My apologies to Raider fans if I’ve touched a nerve).

We spent the hours before kickoff with my daughter’s sorority – Chi Omega. It was parent’s weekend and moms and dads were decked out in red and black hats, slacks and jackets. We drank Bloody Marys and ate Chick-fil-A, Georgia’s version of In and Out Burgers, with chicken.

The girls have a tradition at the University of Georgia. On game day they wear dresses – not shorts, jeans or slacks. It’s very southern and sweet and it’s caught more than a few visiting students by surprise. In fact, a friend of mine remembers being asked on a date to a Georgia football game in the 1970’s, and warned not to wear pants.

Other traditions need to be rehearsed. “When Georgia kicks off,” said my daughter, “spin your arm in the air and yell ‘sick em’, then bark like a dog.” By the seventh Georgia kickoff, my bark was sounding more like a tweeter than a woofer. Still, I was running with the big dogs.

Meanwhile, the Bulldog’s pet mascot, Uga Vlll, was chillin’ in his air-conditioned dog house on the sidelines. He came out only for pre-game festivities, halftime and photo shoots. Georgia’s English bulldog comes from a celebrated bloodline that is considered royalty to many. One of Uga’s ancestors even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies in a tux.

My visit to Athens was memorable in so many ways. It was time spent with my daughter in her world of classes and friendship and football. Her education in Georgia is about more than just getting a degree. It’s about understanding and appreciating our great autumn pastime of football – and it’s place in our national psyche.


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