My girlfriend invited me to go to the Auburn/Georgia game. It was 1968 and my dad’s Mustang with the wood-grained sidewalls was scoring high in popularity along the hilly streets of Huntsville, Alabama.
My dad wanted to stand out in a crowd. He bought peel-and-stick wood-grained shelf liner and cut it to fit into the grooves of his white sports car. I thought it was cool being the only family in town with a woody Mustang. I was 11 years old.
Daddy was an Alabama fan, but when I asked if I could go to the Georgia/Auburn game, he obliged. In between the hesitations and a few, “I’ll be damns,” he realized that his children needed to experience a college football game first-hand and he couldn’t afford to take us to Tuscaloosa.
So off to Auburn I went.
I got carsick on the ride down the curvy roads to South Alabama. That didn’t fare well with my girlfriend’s parents who were Auburn fans. I puked all over their Auburn Tiger blanket, so they had to leave it in the trunk instead of taking it to the game. I really didn’t care.
It seems like we must have parked six miles from the stadium, but by the time I walked through the orange and blue balloon archway anchored by hand-painted signs that read, “Bite those Dawgs,” we were in. I scoured the field for a glimpse of Georgia coach Vince Dooley.
Instead, I saw Shug Jordan up close. He was a hefty giant who stalked the sidelines in a gruff sort of manner. The band lined up and started playing the Auburn fight song and the hairs stood straight up on my arms as the Tigers burst out on to the field. I thought I would surely pass out from the excitement and the lingering car sickness.
The poll system was changing. The Associated Press decided it would be best to name a Top 20 as opposed to a Top 10. I was hoping Auburn would be in the Top 20, at least. A man standing next to me told me Auburn was ranked No. 12 that day.
Georgia was No. 5 and the better team and I was nervous that they would win. Truthfully, I didn’t really care who won. This was my first college football game. I just didn’t want my girlfriend’s parents to be mad on the drive back home. They were already ticked about their blanket being ruined.
But Georgia played awesome and guess what? They beat Auburn on that November day in 1968 and I was hooked on college football in the South. It was a long ride home and to the delight of my girlfriend’s parents, I didn’t get carsick. Daddy was very happy about the Bulldog win. Someone had beaten Auburn and that was all he cared about.
Dooley’s 1968 team finished first in at least one national poll that year, giving Georgia a claim to the national championship. That game, in my opinion, made me a part of history.
Saturday will mark the 116th time Georgia plays Auburn at Georgia and the hedges are trimmed. Coming off a bye week, Auburn is forging ahead after losing to Clemson, Arkansas and LSU. They are still looking to "bite the Dawgs" after all these years.
Although this rivalry has been overshadowed by the news of the week—the Penn State scandal—if you didn't know any better, you would think they were playing the national championship in Athens.
Listen up. The Auburn Tigers are hungry for this win and a lot is at stake here in Athens. The Tigers would like nothing better than to take the glee out of Sanford Stadium. The stakes are high and if you live in the South, Penn State will be little more than a frightful nightmare by the time Saturday rolls around.
If Georgia can beat Auburn and South Carolina loses to Florida, Georgia fans can book their rooms in Atlanta for the Dec. 3 Southeastern Conference Championship game and claim the East.
As they say in the sports world: “Georgia controls their own destiny.”
The Dawgs have won their last seven games after coming off two losses. Beat Auburn on Saturday, and they regain the respect they lost after their first two opponents destroyed what would have been a perfect season.
Seems like a simple equation, but hold on. It’s not that simple. The plot thickens in Columbia at Williams-Brice Stadium. Cock-a-doodle-dos will echo for miles. The Gamecocks must lose in Columbia to seal this SEC Championship East deal for the Dawgs.
And then there’s Kentucky. Georgia must also beat them next weekend at home.
Just like in 1968, the Dawgs are probably the better team. Running back Isaiah Crowell returned this week from suspension and a taste of humble pie. This Columbus, GA native has grown up hating Auburn and has apologized to his fans for the mistakes that led to suspension. It’s going to be a tough, hard-fought game for Georgia, but this Bulldog team has matured in all areas. I predict they will handle Auburn’s young Tigers.
The South’s oldest rivalry is still the South’s oldest rivalry. And thanks to my girlfriend's invitation to the Auburn/Georgia game back in the day, I'm still the world's biggest armchair cheerleader for SEC football.
Kickoff is 3:30 EST Saturday. You can bet your stadium blanket that this one is going to be a good one, despite the polls and the curvy drive up to Athens. Eat before you go.