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Home isn't always heavenly

A trip to Georgia is filled with many highs and lows

Posted: Monday October 24, 2005 1:39PM; Updated: Monday October 24, 2005 1:39PM
Joe Tereshinski
Joe Tereshinski came in in relief of an injured DJ Shockley in Saturday's win over Arkansas.

There's an old saying, "you can't go home again," which is a lie. You can always go home again. It just may not feel like home.

I've been chasing the Miami Heat around for the last week, so I squeezed in a trip home to Atlanta this weekend and then went up to Athens for Homecoming to see my fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs battle the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.

Going home was great as always, if not a little disconcerting. My Mom, for instance, told me I could sleep "in the front bedroom or the back bedroom." I wondered if she was talking about the same house I grew up in, before realizing that at some point, my room and my sister's room had apparently lost our familial designations. Life goes on, I suppose. Even though my Spud Webb growth chart is no longer on the wall in the "front bedroom," I still consider it my room.

I get to Atlanta pretty regularly, but I hadn't made the 60-mile trip to Athens in six years. For most of the drive, my buddy Mike and I discussed our college experience at Georgia. Mike and I met on the first day of second grade and have been close friends ever since. In retrospect, we realized that while we were at UGA, we probably weren't the most dedicated students. My college memories are of playing a lot of basketball in the student gym, a lot of pool in the Tate Student Center and a lot of NBA Jams on our Sega Genesis. As it turned out, since I work in sports and Mike in computers, we did alright for ourselves and I view that time as sort of an unsanctioned independent study.

We were looking forward to checking out the campus, perhaps seeing the library where we never studied, or the building where I had a 7:55 a.m. Anthropology class every Monday of the first quarter of my freshman year. But what we couldn't stop talking about was Guthrie's, a fast food restaurant on Baxter Street which served a devastating combination platter of chicken fingers, french fries, toast and cole slaw. This always came accompanied by a small plastic container of a pumpkin-colored dipping sauce that was reputed to be able to clean pennies.

UGA has hundreds of thousands of alumni, but it can still feel like a small community. Mike and I parked over by the baseball stadium and started walking toward Guthrie's. Within five minutes we ran into a friend of ours, who broke the horrific news: Guthrie's was closed. With Guthrie's gone, we were left to look forward to slushies at the Kangaroo gas station, and there we found what was once a wide selection whittled down to four flavors. Home may be where the heart is, but the way to my heart goes through my stomach.

By virtue of their preseason ranking and a easy (by SEC standards) schedule, Georgia has snuck into the top five. The Dawgs have been consistently inconsistent offensively, and that coupled with coach Mark Richt's conservative playcalling, can be maddening to watch. At the same time, thanks to shifty quarterback DJ Shockley and a generally air-tight defense, the Dawgs can also be thrilling to watch.

Saturday was one of those maddening days. Shockley looked good early, but then the unthinkable happened: He went down hard on a scramble and limped off the field. All 92,000 of us in Sanford Stadium went silent. Even though back-up Joe Tereshinski came in and immediately hit Mohamed Massaquoi on a fade down to the 1-yard line, we all knew that our shot at winning a national championship this season rested on DJ's knee.

Without Shockley, the Dawgs did just enough to win, despite a ridiculous performance from freshman Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who repeatedly ran the ball up the middle, finishing the day with 190 yards. When the game ended, we noticed Shockley making his way off the field on crutches, his knee wrapped in a huge bandage.

I came to Athens to see the Dawgs win, and instead I might have seen our season end. Don't get me wrong, I think Richt is one of the best coaches in college football and if anyone can make Tereshinski a factor this weekend against Florida, Richt can. Still, we drove back a bit deflated, as disappointed at losing DJ as we were at finding Guthrie's gone. In the end, as it turned out, Homecoming was actually a home coming, at least for me and for Mike. I remembered everything I liked and disliked about college. Yeah, I'd do it all over again, bad times and all-night study sessions included. The bad times are what make the other times good, after all.

 I'm off to chase Shaq again, but it's comforting to know that no matter what happens, there's always a bed back in Atlanta -- and a gas station in Athens  -- with my name on it. Now I wonder if my Mom will let me re-hang my Spud Webb poster before I leave.

Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.slamonline.com/.