Posted: Monday November 28, 2005 5:28PM; Updated: Monday November 28, 2005 5:47PM
I was driving through midtown Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, with Portland Trailblazers point guard Sebastian Telfair riding shotgun. The Blazers were holding practice at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, the basketball arena at Georgia Tech, and Bassy and I had spent the morning doing an interview. My last work-related task for the day was getting him to practice on time.
We made a quick stop at a local Starbucks then headed around behind the arena to drop Bassy off at the player's entrance. That's when we saw them: a collection of RV's, trucks, banners, cars, and signs reading "To Hell With Georgia!" There were grills, potato salads, people in blue and gold, people in red and black, music blasting, big screen TVs running off of generators. It was tailgating at its best. I didn't ask Bassy -- who grew up in the stark environs of a Coney Island housing project and went to the NBA straight out of high school -- but by the way his eyes widened and the way he muttered "Oh my goodness!" it appeared he'd never seen anything like it. Few people have.
The big football game each fall between Georgia and Georgia Tech is titled "Good Old Fashioned Hate," though that may not be a strong enough name. There has never been much love lost between the two schools, and with families (and even couples) divided, it's always a touchy week around Atlanta. This year, there were extenuating factors at play.
Two weeks ago, Tech athletic director Dave Braine announced a five-year contract extension for football coach Chan Gailey. Compounding what was already a much-discussed decision, Braine mentioned that because of Tech's academic requirements, Tech is one of the three-hardest football coaching gigs in America (along with Army and Notre Dame), then added, "Georgia Tech can win nine or 10 games. They will never do that consistently."
Some people suggested Braine made the remarks because he knew Tech was about to be placed on probation, and others think Braine was possibly just trying to lower expectations from a consensus of Tech grads, who want a team that contends for a national championship every season. (Understandably, I might add.) I found it a curious statement at best, if for no other reason than because every school in the area will forever hold it against Tech while recruiting.
For my friend Todd, a season-ticket holder, Braine's announcement was the last straw. He was already frustrated with Gailey, and after Tech extended Gailey and said they didn't expect to contend every season, Todd fired off an e-mail asking if I wanted to buy his ticket to the UGA/GT game, because he didn't want to financially support a program that wasn't striving to be the best. As a Georgia fan, I confessed, I had no problem financially supporting Braine's public pledge toward mediocrity. (Days after Todd's offer, Tech knocked off No. 3 Miami. I e-mailed him back to see if he changed his mind, but he said no, he hadn't.)
Even though kick-off was at 8:00 p.m., my friend Steve arrived at 8:00 a.m. to set up his tailgate spot. By the time I got there, around 4:00 p.m., about a dozen people were milling around, sipping (ahem) drinks out of plastic cups and munching on sausages with peppers and onions. Steve, meanwhile, had started working and finished celebrating the match-up early, as he was laid out in the back of his Chevy Blazer, only visible because his sneakers were poking out from under the truck's rear window.