We sat on the MARTA train Saturday afternoon headed away from the Georgia Dome as the Georgia/Alabama game began. We weren’t alone. Hundreds of fans, predominately Bulldog, also headed away from the game, unable to secure tickets.
The MARTA car was filled with the loud chant of “What’s that coming down the tracks?” led by a group of fraternity guys in white shirts and red pants, who barked out the final refrain: “nothing finer in the land, than a drunk obnoxious Georgia fan!” I watched a non-fan put his hands to his ears in protest. A number of MARTA riders who had nothing to do with the game didn’t seem particularly impressed by the boisterous “Go Dawgs!” yelps of their MARTA mates. I was also ready to get some separation from the public transit pep rally.
The pre-game scalper market had been brutal. My father and I drove to Atlanta after lunch to hold up two fingers for tickets. It’s worked in years past, such as last year’s SEC championship, when I held up two fingers and almost immediately a guy offered us two tickets together at face value. The ticket bartering is a kind of game outside the game. And though the selling and buying is indeed a “black market,” I enjoy aspects of it. The haggling is kind of fun. I just have to be ready to walk away and not go to the game. That’s the only real leverage available to a buyer. Usually things get cheaper as the game approaches kickoff and sellers are ready to dump what they have. Of course, if things don’t work out, there’s always TV. I have to set a limit and be willing to fold.
It was quickly clear this was a “plan B” outing. My dad had been a little more optimistic than me. But I knew tickets were a severe long-shot.
“I got two club-level seats,” a guy said.
“$500 each,” he said.
We laughed and walked on. Another person offered two tickets for $400 each.
The fingers were raised high everywhere. The tickets were scarce. So it was quickly back to MARTA and plan B. By the time we got to my sister’s, it was the second quarter.
Over the next three hours, I would stand and sit repeatedly, startle my baby niece with a shout of elation on a blocked field goal and touchdown return, then take the final seconds of the game like a man who’s been delivered a swift kick to a tender region — unable to express much, ashen faced, a nauseating pain in the innards.
A whole lot has been written and said about that game. Here are just a few things that stand out: that Alabama guy who took the helmet-to-helmet cheapshot on Aaron Murray shouldn’t be allowed to play in the national championship. With all the recent emphasis on reducing concussions and improving player safety, there’s no way officials can let such a blatantly reckless and dangerous hit go unpunished. Any Georgia player who does the same should face a suspension, too. The game is secondary to such matters … A lot has been made over Mark Richt’s decision not to have Murray spike the ball at the 8-yard-line with the clock ticking down, but the Bulldogs had the Alabama defense reeling at that moment. I can understand Richt’s decision to go with the momentum. Had it worked, he’d look masterful, and people would praise the decision to keep the action flowing rather than breaking the momentum. Even with a spike, there was probably time for two more plays. Had the ball fallen incomplete on the last play, there would have been time for one more play. The spiking issue seems somewhat beside the point to me … Alabama’s offensive line physically manhandled Georgia’s defensive front in the second half. Teams that get pushed around like that rarely ever win, barring fluky or spectacular events … But there was almost the ultimate spectacular event — almost the miracle comeback. Oh, that hurt!
If you’re not emotionally invested in a sports team, then all this sounds like nonsense. I recognize that. And perhaps at a certain level, it is. There are far more pressing matters in life. And a lot of sports fans seem unable to acknowledge that fact.
But I love how the emotional investment in a team is like a flagpole against time. With so many things, the years pass into kind of a mush. For instance, ask me about a happening at the commissioners’ table and I probably won’t be able to tell you what year it was. When it comes to my local government memory, the years just flow together. But I can tell you something about every big Georiga game I’ve ever witnessed, and I can relate it to where I was in life and who I was with. This is true from the Herschel Walker years until now.
Yeah, Saturday was really painful for anyone who roots for UGA. And I had to go on full media shutdown on Sunday, unable to look at anything football related.
But I will always remember the afternoon with my father, when we went to the Dome and failed to get in, when we sat at my sister’s and pulled for glory not seen in Athens since the days of Walker. I appreciate that the team gave us the chance to have that day.
Saturday’s “UGAgony” is just part of the game. Without it, the good times aren’t as sweet.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.