But that brings us to the game. I can’t begin to put into words what a hellacious beatdown that was. That first half was about the ugliest thing I can remember seeing in person, and even though UGA has suffered worse spankings (see Spurrier’s Gators vs. just about any team in the Goof/Donnan era), this one felt so much worse because of the expectations. Preseason #1, and heading into the game with the #3 ranking. Watching USC going down, and fantasizing about the chance to jump back into that top spot. Prime time game. Coming off a sharp performance in the desert. Heisman talk. College Gameday in town. Breaking out the Black. Yes, it was all set up to be quite a show. Except for the fact that we got our asses kicked but good.
You want a pop-culture equivalent of the Bama vs. Dawgs ass-whooping? How about Ed Norton vs. Jared Leto in Fight Club. Arthur vs. the Black Knight in Holy Grail. Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed. Obi-Wan vs. Anikan Skywalker. The Code Red vs. PFC Santiago. The critics vs. Plan 9 from Outer Space. The rakes vs. Sideshow Bob. The Aliens vs. Private Hudson. We got dismembered, savagely beaten and left for dead. There are "dawgs" on Michael Vick's property that got treated more humanely.
I could use up half the googabytes on the interwebs listing all the things that went wrong. Hands of stone. Errant passes. Offensive and defensive lines about as sturdy as a damp homecoming streamer. Rampant injuries. (More) stupid penalties. Bad gameplanning and coaching. Punts that apparently had trouble clearing the line of scrimmage. Tempting fate (Mohawks? Really?). But the bottom line is, in one of the biggest games ever to hit Sanford Stadium, the Tide showed up and we didn’t. They bitchslapped us across the Classic City and deserved to win. So tip your cap, lick your wounds and move on.
If there’s anything good to take out of this (and believe me, for a cynical “glass is half empty” sort, there’s not much) it’s this: We still control our own destiny in the East. Which could lead us to the SEC Championship game, which would probably mean a ‘Bama rematch. To not have to count on others to reach that game is a small consolation, but yet there it remains. If you’re going to lose, lose early and build your way back up. A murderous schedule still offers opportunity to overcome. Hey, no more worrying about the lofty preseason expectations and the slighting of the critics!
Okay, with the humble pie buffet sufficiently engorging our stomachs, let’s move on to the tailgate and travelogue portion of the program, shall we?
I probably should have known how the game was going to turn out, reading the tea leaves as events unfolded. But dammit, I was really going to try and give this “optimism” thing a try. However, when Munson suddenly and unexpectedly stepped down, that was probably an omen. My flight was delayed about 30 minutes while they replaced a part. I got the upgrade on the way down, and quickly proceeded enjoy a little brown water while jetting south. Right before landing, as I ordered another whiskey, the flight attendant looked at me sternly and said “you’re not driving, are you?” I think I mumbled “Marta” with all the elocution of Lou Holtz. Still, it must have worked since she brought me another one. Sweet.
It was an uneventful train ride, but the Freebird was a little late picking me up. Not anything terribly inconvenient, but it was the continuation (like the Munson retirement and the airplane part) of a series of events that in hindsight, would seem like Schleprock drops a mirror walking under a ladder while tripping over a black cat in his path.
Heading to Casa Freebird, we decide to get some takeout Mexican food. Miz Freebird phones in the order, and we arrive a little later to pick it up. When we get home and unpack it all, it seems they have forgotten one whole complete order. Oooops. So in what would eventually become a running joke for the next 24 hours, the Freebird sighs, grabs his car keys and heads back into town to pick up the missing dinner. The rest of the evening was a fairly laid back affair, with several cocktails and a viewing of Munson’s Greatest Hits.
The next morning, however, is when the metaphorical storm clouds began to gather. I won’t take you through the entire narrative, dear readers, but over the course of just a few hours:
The coffeemaker malfunctions.
Freebird makes his first trip of the morning, to Mickey D’s to pick up breakfast. Neighbors are working in the yard, and he passes them and waves (both ways). Little did he realize this would be the first 2 waves of an eventual 10.
Miz Freebird leaves to drop off the Wee Freebird with the grandparents. Freebird leaves to go put gas in his car, which we will be taking to the game. (See, there’s a gas shortage in Georgia, with one yahoo even calling for the ballgame to be cancelled because of it. Still, best to gas up ahead of time than be stranded somewhere between home and Athens because the pumps done dried up). An hour and trips to 4 “empty” gas stations later, he returns. With no gas. 2 more waves to the neighbors.
With a late game, we were excited to be using the Slingbox to watch the afternoon games via wireless connection at the tailgate. Freebird is worried because we couldn’t pick up a solid wireless signal at the last home game, but packs the equipment nonetheless. As a backup, he pulls out an XM radio “boombox,” so we can at least listen to the audio of the SEC. Nice thinking. As he attempts to test the set up, it appears the regular AC adapter is missing. He tries to hook it up several times, but each time the makeshift power cables come unplugged. Profanity follows, but the boombox is packed. With batteries, I think.
Miz Freebird calls, and my lovely and welcoming hosts discuss the arrangements for picking up ice and the Subway Sandwich tray we’re taking to the tailgate. At this stage of the morning’s frustrations, I think it would probably be better if Jared Fucking Fogler personally walked it over. However, the Freebird gets back into his vehicle and ventures out. 2 more waves to the neighbors later, he returns with Sonic crushed ice (whee!) and sandwiches.
Since the Cherokee was unable to be refueled, we instead decide to take Pacifica, and pack that up with all the required accessories (or so we think).
Turns out the XM radio in the Pacifica has a problem with the antenna. So no satellite sports on the way down. Hey, I have my iPod with me, full of Southern Fried Tailgate goodness and Munson clips. A perfect fire up for the journey. There is no way, however, to connect the iPod to the car stereo. So we have flip down screens on which we can watch an entire fucking miniseries about that whimpy, bald-headed little communist bastard, but no way to listen to an iPod? Okay. But wait! The Freebirds have one of those cigarette lighter connectors that will broadcast from the device through a vacant AM radio station. Awesome. Oh, but this was an older model. Which requires software to be installed on the PC, and then the PC needs to be synced with the iPod, and just damn. Guess we’re listening to fuzzy top 40 from Atlanta (or one of White County’s many stations that have both kinds of music, country or gospel).
We’re slightly behind our scheduled departure time, but leaving around noon will still put us at the tailgate in good order. We pull out and head to the game, making our 7th and 8th waves to the neighbors, still working in their yard.
After all the hassles of the morning, we’re moving at a pretty good clip and things are looking up. However, about 25 minutes from home, the car slows down. We’re not near an intersection or in traffic. The Freebird slowly pulls into a driveway, turns the car around, and says “We have to go back to Cleveland.” Instantly, the missus and I know what’s wrong. If we had forgotten the ice or the beer or the whiskey or our black baseball caps or the trash bags or the sandwiches or the fruit tray – any of these items could have been picked up along the way or in Athens without doubling back. Nope. Freebird Forgot His Tickets.
Do you go to the OK Corral without a gun?
Do you go to play golf without your clubs?
Do you go to an orgy without your cock?
Do you go to the airport without your ID?
Do you go to a wedding without a divorce attorney?
There are some things that are just absolutely crucial to the process.
Now, if this had been the Central Michigan Game. Or the Vandy game. Or almost any other game all season, this might not have been such a big deal. Someone would have had extras, or you could have scalped some for the cost of a tank of gas (presuming, of course, that you could find some place to fill up with gas in the post-apocalyptic world of Georgia, where Mad Max hunts aboriginal gangs in his dusty police cruiser). But no, this was Back In Black: The Sequel and a Top 10 clash under the lights on national TV with College Gameday.
Conservative estimates the week prior had tickets going for upwards of $500 each. So we turned the fuck around and spent a very, very quiet 25 minutes retracing our steps back to Casa Freebird. We pulled into the neighborhood, and waved to the neighbors for the 9th time. Turned into the driveway, parked and retrieved the tickets from their resting place. Which was in the glovebox of the other car. Now, I can understand that keeping the tickets in the car so you won't forget them isn't a totally horrific idea. If you only have one car. Or always, without exception, take the same car. But that's not the case in this situation, though I will say, in the Freebird's defense, that he did have a stressful morning and that up until the situation with the lack of available fuel, we did plan on taking the vehicle with the tickets. But I felt compelled to relate the story for several reasons:
- It truly set the tone for the on-field carnage that would follow later.
- The consensus at the tailgate was that despite the attempts to impose Chinese journalistic standards and censor the story, the truth must be blogged.
- Said ticket-forgetter openly and derisively mocked me for making checklists for all my travels and endeavors. (Of course, I've never forgotten to take something I intended to on a trip, either).
Look, there's that VFW. And that Bingo parlor. And that vegetable stand. And that truck on blocks in that field. And that place with two refrigerators on the front porch. This all looks very familiar.
On the way, Miz Freebird sent a blanket text message to all the tailgaters indicating that we were at DefCon1, and please don't call or text – we'll get there eventually. Poor Hank was left in the lot alone for a while, with two Bama fans (granted, they were family) and the camo-wearing, football-throwing rednecks to the right of him. All things considered, the Freebird handled this dramatic setback pretty well. Or, as one caller on Sunday pointed out, with "maturity, wisdom and fortitude." He didn't even get pissed off and throw his (blue) hat in anger.
You'd think the clusterfuck of a day would stop there. Of course, you'd be wrong.
Despite concerns of a less than powerful available wi-fi signal, we did bring the laptop, monitor and Slingbox accessories to watch all the day's high profile football action. We never got a chance to test the signal. Because the extension chord wasn't packed. Those checklists are handy, I guess.
The rednecks who tailgate beside us did set up the whole DirecTV dish and TV (coaxial cable, receiver and dish were probably on their checklist). So we got to watch the Florida – Ole Miss game. Or at least most of it. Because at the very crucial end of the game, their generator ran out of gas. So the entire crowd moved en masse over to our area, where we had the XM boombox (remember that? Hey, we had batteries!) tuned the game. We kept listening while the dudes got the generator filled up and started again. Florida eventually loses the game, and a cheer breaks out through Athens. And while we were all thrilled with the Jorts spitting the bit, it did start to be cause for concern. USC and now Florida. Uh-oh. Is this one of those weekends where upsets are more contagious than a Columbus high-schooler back in the 80s? Turns out, yep.
Freebird somehow wound up cutting his hand. I never got the full story on how it happened (though I do know it wasn't a paper cut from a list entitled "Important Things To Take To The Game On Saturday"), but he spent several hours with paper towels wrapped around his left thumb.
And then there's "The Whitney Factor." We have a fraternity brother whose Zelig-like presence at big games spells almost certain doom. I'm not sure of all the examples and corollaries of The Whitney Factor, but perhaps that's something to sort through at the next tailgate. However, even though we know he's attended Falcons, Braves and Dawgs games where we didn't see him, or only saw him briefly, there's a very good chance that an extended sighting will inevitably cause the catastrophic collapse of the team in question.
The other thing going on was just a palpable sense of ennui regarding the game. Maybe everyone was wary of getting too drunk and too fired up too early, and not making it through the game. But I can't recall a single "call the Dawgs" cheer during the many hours we were tailgating. At the special request of The Candidate's wife, we broke out the Bulldawg Bites.
But when it came time to drink a toast, it was just lackluster. Sure, we tipped one for Larry, and 24 and 7 and CMR, but the enthusiasm just wasn't there. Had the bad karma of the day overcome us? Did we know, deep down, that we were lambs being led to the slaughter?
When we got to our seats, I will say that the pregame spectacle was quite good. The site of the stadium almost completely "blacked out" was a thing of beauty, and I think collectively we may have actually been even louder than we were for Auburn last year. We started off with a rare good kickoff, but then it went all downhill from there. That first half was about as demoralizing a two quarters as I can recall, and that includes the West Virginia Sugar Bowl (of course, I spent that game trying to figure out which random dude my purported girlfriend was going to be fucking later). To the fans credit, we stuck it out in the second half and tried to will the Dawgs back into it, and for a while, there was a faint glimmer of hope that we could make a game of it. But there were just too many mistakes, too many injuries, too many poor decisions, too many bad plays and too much bad karma to overcome against a very, very good 'Bama team. We came, we saw, we got our asses handed to us on a platter.
I think I summed it up on the walk back to our vehicle after the game: "This is the best cigarette ever and I hope the cancer kills me before we get to the car."