Ready for some football

Finally, after months and months and months of impatient anticipation, the big day has arrived. If you have to ask "Which big day?" you obviously ain't from around here.

It's the first Saturday in September, and they are loading up the coolers, firing up the grills and teeing up the pigskins from the bayous to the Great Lakes and from the barrier islands to the Puget Sound, but nobody - and I mean nobody - does college football the way we do it here in the South.

You can talk about the Big Ten and the Pac-10 and any other group you want to talk about, but football in Dixie is just special. Down here, we measure time by it.

Many a self-respecting Southern gal has planned her wedding around the football schedule, and I know a few folks whose funerals have had more than a little to do with who kicks off when.

Now, everybody who knows me understands that I bleed red and black. My daddy brought me up on Georgia football. I graduated from the University of Georgia - several times - and now my money and my oldest child go to UGA.

I attend every game I can, home and away, and I've got bulldogs on my underdrawers, which may be more information than most of you need to know. I have been counting down the days to kickoff since the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 3.

And even though I will be spending the day in Athens, root-root-rooting for the home team, wishing Joe T. well, while secretly hoping to see No. 7 trot onto the field, honesty compels me to admit that my friends over on North Avenue have, by far, the biggest game in town this weekend.

Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech. Now that's going to be something! Notre Dame, as you probably know, has the most storied tradition in all of college football, and every Southerner worth his salt despises them - Catholics not included.

Let me explain why.

First and foremost, of course, they are from South Bend, Ind. - which makes them "one of them Yankee teams." That, in and of itself, is enough to turn most sons of the South against the Fighting Irish.

Then there's all that winning they have done over the years. People just naturally hate Notre Dame just like they hate the New York Yankees in baseball and Duke in college basketball.

And the national media loves them and gives them all kind of preferential treatment. Ask anybody. They are the only team in football that can lose a game and go up in the rankings.

I still haven't gotten over the time they went for the tie against Michigan State, instead of the win, and were still voted national champions over a Bear Bryant-coached Alabama team with a perfect record.

But as bad as I hate Notre Dame, I am a card-carrying member of the Bulldog Nation, and we Dawgs have always been caught between the proverbial rock and hard place when Notre Dame has played the Yellow Jackets. It's hard to pull against both teams.

Our best-case scenario was realized in 1980. While Larry Munson was begging Lindsey Scott to run for the winning touchdown against Florida in the Miracle on Duval Street, Tech was tying Notre Dame, who had been the only team ranked above Georgia, 3-3.

It was beautiful. We moved into first place in the national standings and neither Tech nor Notre Dame experienced the thrill of victory or even the pleasure of scoring a touchdown.

Now, of course, there are no ties, so somebody will have to win tonight's encounter and - again - what a game it will be. While 92,746 of us have to suffer through what is sure to be a lopsided blowout over in Athens, 50,000 fans will pack out Historic-Bobby-Dodd-Stadium-at-Grant-Field-on-the-Flats-Beside-the-Varsity-and-next-to-the-Projects to see two offensive geniuses, Charlie Weis and Chan Gailey go head to head. (I'm proud of myself, y'all. I typed that with a straight face.)

A nationwide television audience will get to see two of the nation's premier quarterbacks in action - Notre Dame's Brady Quinn and Tech's four-year starter, Reggie Ball. (OK. I tried to type that with a straight face, but I'm only human.)

And two of the best receivers in the nation will be playing. The Irish have Jeff Samardzija and the Yellow Jackets have St. Calvin "4-Catches-a-Game" Johnson.

And then you've got that thing about the two schools having the two best college fight songs in history and the overall series record (I think Tech has won five times in 32 tries) and the classy way the Tech students have demonstrated true Southern hospitality to the visitors from South Bend. (They once threw fish onto the Notre Dame players as they ran onto the field and have been known to wear T-shirts that read "Rudy was offside.")

Yeah. It should be the premier game in the South tonight. And as for me, I will get home from the Promised Land in time to watch, and I have finally gotten to the point where I know exactly which team to pull for.

Wake up the echoes, y'all.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.

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