There was a big party in Athens last Saturday and a football game finally broke out. The hype and mystique surrounding Notre Dame’s first ever trip to the University of Georgia became almost unbearable in the days leading up to the Irish’s return game after Georgia fans flocked to South Bend, Indiana two years ago. Prognosticators were predicting both a runaway Bulldog victory and an influx of revelers without game tickets. They were correct on only one of those counts. Fortunately, UGA still won on both sides of the ledger.
I was already in a full state of dread when I arrived in Athens at 11:30 a.m. but was rewarded for arriving early. Ingress into campus was smooth and easy. I was not thrilled about an all-day wait for the game, but I knew that a television would be at our tailgate location to watch other games. The day was beautiful, and the company was good.
The millennials did not disappoint. They turned out in droves, ticket in hand or not, and flooded the sidewalks as the day wore on. Even our son Wesley showed up. After six years in New York City he relocated to Atlanta this summer. It was his first Georgia game in five years, so I was fortunate enough to land him a ticket from a generous friend. It would have been impossible for all my daughter Ashley’s and Wesley’s friends to show up but many of them did. We had a great day with them as well as my sister’s family, kind of like the old days.
As for the game itself, there’s two ways to dissect it. Either Notre Dame is better than the guessperts thought or Georgia made them look better than they really are. I’ll go with the former.
The game immediately became tight when Georgia gifted the Irish a turnover on the eight yard-line, resulting in a cheap touchdown four plays later. Georgia responded with a tying touchdown, but the Dogs still trailed 10-7 at halftime. The crowd was quiet but not necessarily uneasy because Georgia would get the ball first in the second half.
Georgia dominated the third-quarter but still led only 13-10. They took a 23-10 lead with just under seven minutes left in the game, but Notre Dame refused to quit. When they scored to make it 23-17 with 3:16 left, I was spooked. The Irish had only one timeout left but Kirby Smart gifted them two clock stoppages with incomplete passes and the Irish got the ball back with two minutes left instead of one, but they could not get into the end zone.
Georgia’s team badly needed a game like this. After three cupcakes to open the season, they needed some tough steak to chew on and they got it. Seniors JR Reed, Jake Fromm, Lawrence Cager, Rodrigo Blankenship, Tae Crowder, Brian Herrien and may-as-well-be senior DeAndre Swift made big plays that have to be made in high-stakes competition. The crowd was the twelfth man, helping Notre Dame accumulate six false-start penalties.
We arrived home at 2:10 a.m., glad to be a Bulldog on a Saturday night, or a Sunday morning. My 61-year old bones aren’t cut out for hanging with my children’s crowd all day and then fighting a packed house for a tense ballgame, but I endured. I can’t wait until next time, as long as it is not today. On to Knoxville, Tennessee on October 5.
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears in the weekly editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.