Twenty-five hours before kickoff, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is essentially North Campus on half a dozen Saturdays every year: ESPN is in town and everyone is consuming alcohol with spirited, if questionable, intensity. The airport bars—forever trusted as our planet’s last bastions of lawlessness, where 8 a.m. Scotch and sodas could be consumed with confident transparency—were being crushed by platoons of college football (mostly Georgia) fans sporting winter-edition branded gear from their favorite state school. The edibles kicked in, but the line at TGI Friday’s was still way too long.
Twenty-three hours before the University of Georgia (spoiler alert) become national champions, the cold snakeskin streets of Indianapolis provided the least inviting conditions for revelry in college football playoff history. The venue should have been New Orleans, Miami, Maui, maybe even Tampa.
Even in frigid weather, one feels compelled to bar-hop at an event like this. Sunday night at the decidedly local Alley Cat Lounge on Carrollton Avenue, nobody cared about Roll Tide or Go Dawgs. The place looked very recently renovated, and maybe it should have been left alone. At Connor’s Pub on Ferguson Street, the kitchen is open until three o’clock in the morning every night of the week—get the hot wings. No red. No black. No crimson. No elephants anywhere. The Broad Ripple neighborhood was nonplussed about the following night’s game of the century.
Ten hours before kickoff, it’s time to lay down a foundation for success. Biscuits Cafe is a Mexican restaurant on Broad Ripple Avenue with a complicated 10-page menu featuring a variety of burritos, Belgian waffles and something that almost killed my friend Chris. Thankfully, Darlene—saint and bartender to the stars at Dugout Bar (since 1954) on Virginia Avenue—had a huge jug of Tums and several buckets of ice-cold Miller Lites to remedy any malady. There was a framed ancient Allman Brothers poster and an old Atlanta Braves banner on the wall—foreshadowing? When the jukebox played “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” (Drive-By Truckers) and “Crank That” (Soulja Boy) because of the $5 I fed it, it didn’t matter that it was 9 degrees outside or that the very old man sitting next to Chris wore a Trump 2024 hat.
Two hours before kickoff, I ashamedly stood in line to get into a place called The Slippery Noodle, then walked across the street into a football stadium named after a brand of motor oil nobody uses, without showing anyone my ticket. Someone I never heard of sang the national anthem. In Section 145, I watched the Georgia Bulldogs remove a massive 41-year-old monkey from their backs in front of roughly 68,000 (almost all Georgia) fans, most of them middle-aged Southern men drinking 24-ounce black cherry Bud Light Seltzers, fondly.
Everyone reading this watched the game, so the recap will be brief. That was not a fumble in any universe where this sport is played. We should find the time to talk about the fourth quarter Bennett-to-Mitchell touchdown bomb at least once a day with someone, for at least the 41 years. Brock Allen Bowers will go down as the best tight end in UGA history. If that pick-six had happened in Athens, the field would’ve been gallantly stormed, the goalposts uprooted and proudly paraded through town, then planted on the Georgia Theatre rooftop.
In Indianapolis, instead, we all froze our asses off waiting for Ubers, and the next day debated McDonald’s versus Chick-fil-A before deciding on both at the spartanly appointed Indianapolis International Airport. They say the game is in Vegas next year. Go Dawgs.
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