The alarm clock sounds at 7 a.m. It doesn’t effect me because I have been awake off and on all night long. It’s the type of night where you can’t sleep because you are so excited. You are excited about the day to come and whenever you doze off, you immediately wake up because you are scared that you will sleep thru your alarm clock. I usually just give up and stay awake staring at the ceiling.
I turn the alarm off on my phone and I jump out of bed. I wake up my wife and my kids and I head to take a quick shower. The shower leads me to my already laid out clothes for the day. Tennis shoes, khakis, black hat and a red polo. This is my game day attire. And of course, every piece of it has a ‘G’ on it!
As I rush the family to the car for our departure time (which if you miss…you get left), I double check a list I made on Monday. I’ve already packed the car. Chairs, cooler, food, radio, and a football are all loaded. And of course, the red and black car flags will be flying from each side of our vehicle.
We pull out of the driveway with plenty of time before kick-off. Even though we are still seven and a half hours away from the start, I always feel like I have to drive as fast as I can. I can’t miss a single minute of this day! Even though most of the day will be spent sitting in a chair telling stories with my college friends, I can’t miss a thing and I can’t wait to get there!
The drive is always the same. It will take two hours. Doesn’t matter how fast you go, doesn’t matter how slow you go. I could probably make this drive blindfolded. Since I began college at the University of Georgia in 1997, I can not even try to count the number of times that I have traveled this route to Athens. The journey always makes a stop in Forsyth for a quick biscuit and to fill the car up with gas. Then it’s non-stop trip through downtown Monticello to Athens.
The drive is one of the most beautiful drives there are in the state of Georgia. The farms seem to be perfectly manicured and all the small towns you travel thru with the antebellum houses makes it feel like you are straight out of an article from Garden and Gun magazine. The rest of the trip takes us thru Madison, Georgia. Once we get to Madison I feel my blood starting to flow a little bit faster because I know that it’s only thirty minutes before I reach the Classic City.
Entering Athens on game-day is a beautiful thing. Over 100,000 people mostly dressed in red and black are running around with smiles on their faces ready for the day ahead. You can be overwhelmed by the traffic if you are not careful. Luckily because I spent some great years here receiving my education, I know a few short cuts to our tailgate spot that gets us where we need to be without too much stress.
Meeting up with my best friends from college at our tailgate spot is always like a wonderful homecoming. As soon as we walk up it’s smiles, laughs and hugs. For the next several hours it seems as though none of them will stop. We tell each other’s families stories of our college days. We throw the football and play cornhole. Best of all, we eat!
Tailgates in Athens are like no other. I have been to many different places for college football games. I’ve been to, among others, Auburn, Nashville, Jacksonville, and even Colorado Springs. There is nothing like game day at the University of Georgia. There is an aura about the place. Excitement is everywhere. Men and women alike are discussing the game. Even more are of course discussing the game the weekend before and what Coach Richt should or shouldn’t have done.
The smell in the air is unique. I’m sure it’s just a mixture of bourbon, beer and bbq, but it’s special. During the off-season, I can get a whiff of any of the ‘3 B’s’ and it automatically takes me to fall in Athens and I usually give myself a wry smile.
Music is blaring anything from REM to Hank Williams Jr. As the hours pass the excitement increases. It’s like a countdown that you can actually feel. Each fan there has that internal clock where you don’t even have to look at your watch to know what time it is. You know exactly when it’s time to start walking to the stadium.
When the time comes to pack everything up, it doesn’t even seem like a chore. People (even my kids) will gladly help you throw the tailgate supplies into the back of the car. It’s time to make the journey. A couple of miles walk doesn’t even seem that bad when you know the finish line is the greatest place on earth!
A quick detour to the Student Center to catch a glimpse of the Dawg Walk intensifies the moment as you hear the Red Coat band blaring ‘Glory, Glory to Ole Georgia’ as you come down the hill. It’s fun to look over the bridge and to see the boys who are about to buckle their helmets and strap up their shoulder pads to represent you for a couple of hours walk thru a sea of red and black.
A quick visit to the UGA bookstore to see all the things that you will want to ask your family for Christmas leads you to finally reaching the gates to Sanford Stadium. It’s time to enter the arena that you will share with 92,746 of our closest friends.
The actual game is still an hour or so away. But ever since my college days, my best friend and I had to be in the stadium to watch the team warm-up. We have to see what kind of energy the team has and then make a last minute prediction about the result of the game. We MUST be in the stadium to hear Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ as the team goes through stretches. We MUST be there as the Red Coat Band takes the field and performs the “Spell GEORGIA cheer”. We MUST be there for the National Anthem and as the trumpet player plays the first few chords of the “Battle Hymn” from the Southwest corner of the top level of the stadium. This may be the most electric moment of the pregame show and if you haven’t got chills yet, you will when the legendary Larry Munson’s recorded voice comes over the loudspeaker!
Finally it’s game time! The band forms a lane as the cheerleaders and the team come running thru the breakaway banner. The decibel level in the stadium has reached a level that pierces your ears. No sense in trying to say something to your neighbor, so do what everyone else is doing… bark as loud as you can like a true Dawg!
The game itself can go up or down. It’s a three-hour experience full of emotions. Over the years I’ve gone from euphoria to cursing everything in sight! Wins will come and so will losses. When you win it’s the greatest thing in the world (especially when you beat Auburn). When you lose…well it’s not great, but I always remind myself that it’s always great to be a Georgia Bulldog and it’s seems to end a little of the pain.
As the final horn sounds, the game is over and the day is almost, too. Wins usually lead to us staying in the stadium to listen to the band’s post game concert and maybe even a post-game tailgate to celebrate the day. Losses end with quiet walks back to the car. Hugs goodbye to our friends and then the long drive back to Thomaston.
The drive back is equally special. From Athens to Thomaston, we usually are in a long line of cars. All with their lights on and all with their red and black flags still flying in the dark of the night. It’s a really cool moment knowing that this many people just went thru the same experiences as you. It’s awesome knowing that people have traveled from all parts of the state to cheer on the team that they feel best represents us all.
Typing this article has been the easiest article I have ever written. When talking about game day in Athens, no UGA graduate or fan will ever have ‘writer’s block’. There is nothing like it in the world! I can not wait until September 5th! As I finish this article there are 26 days, 16 hours, 56 minutes and 19 seconds away from game day! I hope to see you there and last but not least, GO DAWGS!
Matt Bentley is the head coach of the Upson Lee High School Knights soccer team, and is a History teacher at ULHS.