It is Saturday. All week long you’ve waited. What started out on Monday as a tight feeling in the pit of your stomach, is now a 10,000-pound gorilla tap dancing on your spleen.
You’ve done your best to concentrate and do your job this week. You made an honest effort to put “all this” on the back burner and focus on “the important things”, but to no avail. The images just kept coming: bright fall sunshine and crisp autumn air painting the classic city in Hellenic splendor. The aroma of a thousand tailgate feasts wafting through the air, and everywhere, everything – – Red and Black.
You’ve gone from sports page to magazine, to news show, to internet site, and in every conversation in every office, diner, hallway and cubicle you entered this week, you have tried to reassure yourself of the outcome of this week’s contest. But in your heart of hearts you know there’s only one way to settle it: ‘Dawgs gotta tee it up and play.
And now it’s Saturday. As you contemplate the day ahead an image of The Hedges flashes in your mind; green grass, crisp white lines, sunshine ricocheting off the instruments of the Redcoats, and 80,000 – plus fans volleying “GEORGIA – BULLDAWGS” back and forth across the stadium, rattling you all the way to the soles of you feet. You swing out of bed, heart pounding. Grab a cuppa Joe and a quick shower as you prepare for the pilgrimage to A-town. You slam in a tape of the Redcoat Band and crank up the stereo. “Hail” bounces off the walls while you don your lucky shirt (socks, hat, pants, whatever) as you perform the pre-game ritual.
The phone rings – – Yes, you’re up. Yes, you have the tickets. “No, my cooler’s full, we’ll have to take yours, too. I’ll stop and get some ice on the way.” Gather up the tailgate supplies and load the car. Why does it take so damn long for everyone else to get ready? You check and recheck the supplies – – table, chairs, food. No need to check the drinks, no way those’ll get left behind! Cigars? Check. Binoculars? Check. Camera? Blanket? Check. ‘Dawg flags secured to the car and ready to fly – – all packed up and ready.
Finally! Time to go. You reassure yourself for the millionth time that the tickets are in your pocket and you “saddle up.” Headed to The Classic City. Dawg-patch, USA. Larry and Scott and Loran on the pre-game show, telling you how good these guys are gonna be (yeah, like you need something else to worry about!). Loran threads in a history lesson, and hey – – an interview with one of the Dawgs from way back when. Always wondered what happened to him. Corporate exec in N’awlins. Who’d of ever guessed? You smile as you remember a moment of glory for him in a past game. On the radio, James Brown is hammering out, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs” and as your friends get in the car, you all sing along.
En route, cars pass by you by: they’re singing too, and barking as they pass. It’s a rolling party and the gangs all there! You sense the excitement as it grows, mile by mile. Traffic slows to a crawl somewhere near the Clarke County line. It is a long, happy, red and black serpent winding its way toward Sanford Stadium. Dawg flags and bumper stickers. “Boiled P-nuts just ahead”. White shoe polish on windshields proclaiming the magnificence of the Dawg nation, and snatches of Larry pleading from the speakers of passing cars and trucks: “He’s at the 40, the 35, the 30, run Lindsey, run!” And your heart races, your gut tightens – – you just can’t wait to be there.
Now on final approach – – you turn down Lumpkin (Milledge, Baxter . . . ) homing in on THE tailgate spot. Other friends are already there and as you get out of the car, it hits you! Carnival atmosphere. Red. Black. “How ’bout them Dawgs!” “They Hell ain’t they?” The fragrance of charcoal heating up and barbecue on the grill. Opposing fans drifting by, good natured ribbing , and “hey, y’all eat some of this, we got plenty”. Introductions all around, and then serious discussion and comparison of the teams. Who’s hurt? How fast is that wide receiver? That O-line looked awesome last week. Y’all gonna keep that coach around next year?”
Drinks with old friends and new ones. Stories about games gone by. “Man, they’ve added a lot to the campus since the last time I was here!” and “I don’t think they grew ’em like that when I was in school!” Have another drink. Have some more barbecue. And another drink. Or two. And finally, pack it all up, it’s time to go! Man, you really didn’t need that extra barbecue, that 10,000 pound gorilla is kicking to get out right now!
You merge into the red and black sea that is moving inexorably toward Sanford, the Temple of the Dawg. The sun is as bright as you imagined it would be. Not too hot, not too cold. ‘A crisp, fall day’ as Larry might describe it. Red and Black everywhere. Sequined coats and polyester pants. Hats. Shorts. Boots. Faces painted with renderings of Uga and “Dawgs”. “Buy a program?” “You bet.” And, “Oh man, I gotta have that tee-shirt.” Barking Dawgs everywhere as you’re more or less towed towards the stadium by the throng of the Dawg nation.