After a week-long roller coaster of every crippling emotion, the biggest Georgia sports week in history has finally come to a merciful end.
The highs of Austin Riley’s Game 1 blast, the Ozzie Albies solo shots to Mark Melancon and the first half lead in Tuscaloosa are gone. Now, a feeling all too familiar to fans in the state of Georgia has made its annual, horrifying return.
Clemson just dropped 66 unanswered on an up and coming Georgia Tech team to beat the Yellow Jackets 73-7. The Bulldogs dropped another game to Alabama after leading the Crimson Tide at the half. The football team that was set up in perfect position to tank for a rebuild and start over somehow won. Atlanta United, the team that actually won a championship, sent all its players off after hiring a coach that didn’t fit and then fired its coach. They also lost in extra time Sunday. Oh, and the Braves just blew a 3-1 lead in the NLCS to those damn Dodgers after leading 2-1 in Game 5 with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 6th.
As a suffering fan of the teams in Georgia, I have gone through the pain of the 2007 Thrashers-Rangers Game 3, the 2009 Georgia-LSU game, 2010 NLDS Game 3, the 2010 Georgia-Florida game, the 2012 infield fly rule, the 2012 SEC Championship, the 2014 Georgia-Georgia Tech squib kick, the 2015 ECF Hawks-Cavs Game 2, the 2018 SEC Championship, 2019 NLDS Game 5, the 2019 Georgia-South Carolina game and the 2019 MLS Cup Eastern Conference Finals in person.
That goes without even mentioning how I took in losing the Thrashers to Winnipeg, the 2013 Prayer at Jordan-Hare, the 2016 Dobbsnail Boot, 28-3 and the 2017 national championship from the comforts of my own home.
Over the years, I’ve switched schools, jobs, homes and cars. I’ve been in the stadium for plenty of maddening moments and at home for others. Heck, I even attended a watch party inside a stadium for a game played 500 miles away.
No matter where you are, at what time, the teams we love most seem to constantly let us down when the lights shine bright. Yet regardless of outcome, we all come back the next season looking for more.
Now, before I go any further on the misery of my sports fandom, I’d like to point out just a few things.
I’ve been incredibly blessed to attend so many thrilling games over the years and take in these prolific events. The memories I’ve made in sports are enough to last a lifetime. Friends have come and gone at tailgates in Athens and at stadiums around Atlanta. Some, leaving this place we call home far too soon.
In the big picture, I have a great family, friends and endless opportunities to enjoy a rather spoiled lifestyle full of fun and entertainment.
When there are bigger things going on in the world such as a global pandemic where many lost their loved ones or the constant wave of hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast this fall, getting emotional over sporting events out of your control is rather trivial.
But after dozens of Tweets, a large chunk of words and a night to sleep on the events of the past week, I’m still left typing here… with no particular answer or solution.
Sports have always been my passion and escape. Some of you may be addicted to hiking, yoga, reading, painting, singing or countless other endeavors. However, sports have always been my thing. From skipping Halloween in the First Grade to attend a Georgia-Florida game, to crying in my high school advisory the morning after 2nd and 26, these teams just always meant ‘more’ to me.
That’s why even a global pandemic, rumbling through the country like Eddie Lacy in the 2012 SEC Championship, couldn’t stop me from fulfilling my passion.
As I’ve mentioned before, I got so desperate for a team to pull for or a competition to watch, I took up NASCAR of all things in mid-May. With all the stress from my typical group of Georgia sports teams, the last thing I probably needed was another ‘team’ to cheer for, but here we are.
After a few races pulling for Chase Elliott, the son of Georgia racing legend Bill Elliott and a diehard Dawgs and Braves fan, I attended my first race.
Of course, as is tradition around here, Elliott had the lead late in just about every race I first watched, getting hosed by late cautions or overly agressive drivers such as Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, the Florida and Tennessee’s of the motor-racing world.
When there was nothing else to cheer for, Elliott became a follow like the Braves and Bulldogs, while Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were Alabama and the Dodgers.
Fittingly enough, that first race I attended at ‘Dega, the 9 Team’s day ended early after working its way to the front of the field. An unfortunate wreck at the hands of Brad Keslowski and Logano would end Elliott’s day before ‘The Big One’ even commenced.
Then, something magical happened. I got hooked on NASCAR, having witnessed the photo finish between Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the line in Alabama.
The next opportunity for fans to attend a sporting event came at Bristol Motor Speedway in mid-July. Alongside about 25,000 other race fans, I found myself at the the ‘Last Great Coliseum’ for NASCAR’s All-Star Race.
Somehow, in some way, I got to witness my favorite driver, Chase Elliott, win a race in person. Though the race would not count in the points standings or the official win column, it was still a win and an awesome experience in the height of a global pandemic.
When the Braves returned to the field that same week, I caught every last glimpse of batting practice I could from around The Battery, thinking Major League Baseball would cancel the season at any given moment.
Then, the season went on and the Braves began to roll. What looked like a promising start to the season turned disastrous after an achilles injury to Mike Soroka turned taking three of four from the Mets into a nightmare.
The season was over, I thought to myself. That’s it, the Braves only have one starting pitcher, the season’s done. A wild card spot or a lucky second-place division space in the NL playoffs seemed like the best-case scenario.
Still, the Braves battled their way through the grind of a 60-game schedule that featured four playoff teams and plenty of pesky competition from pitchers to the likes of Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer.
Somehow, in some way, the Braves found lightning in a bottle from two potential MVP candidates in Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, with Max Fried and Ian Anderson helping carry the load into the bullpen innings when the offense wasn’t on fire.
There were injuries abound both on offense from Acuña Jr. and Albies, and on the mound with Hamels as well as Soroka.
Through all that, the Braves still found a way to the NLCS, leading Game 5 by a score of 2-1, with three cracks at a trip to the World Series.
I went into the past week with plenty of hope, which I seemed to keep pretty quiet amongst others. For having hope in the past led us to 28-3, the 2nd and 26 play and 2019 NLDS Game 5, I thought.
Every possible schenanigan and voodoo piece was pulled out. From lucky hats and special socks, to changed Twitter usernames and pretending to accept defeat before it happened… all of the stops were made, yet the inevitable still occurred.
So here we are… A Monday after a weekend trip to Tuscaloosa and multiple drives to The Battery over the past week later…
The joy of last Monday and Tuesday, the quick flip of the TV on Wednesday, the surprise of Thursday and the pain of the entire weekend, all in the rearview mirror.
After all the anxiety, excitement, celebration and of course depression, the craziest week in Georgia sports history has come to a crashing end. Just like that, we’re back in the middle of the reality that is 2020.
To be completely honest with you, I don’t even know how to feel right now.
Walking into the gates of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday after the Braves blew a chance to advance to the World Series, I was pretty numb. I had a feeling Georgia would lose, on the road, facing one of the top offenses in the country with NFL wide receivers.
The Braves had lost to Los Angeles in 2013 and 2018, even with the thrilling Freddie Freeman home-run in NLDS Game 3 on former Bulldog Alex Wood.
The Dawgs had lost every game against Alabama since 2007.
I knew the mismatches Alabama had on the Bulldogs’ cornerbacks, the lineup advantages the Dodgers held over the Braves and the harsh reality that both probably would lose.
Then, I walked inside those gates and gained a thing we Georgia sports fans call hope. For a little over a half of football, it seemed as if the Dawgs may pull off the impossible.
Hope and Georgia sports are a dangerous combination to put time and faith in, if you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know. You do it, I do it, we all do it. If there wasn’t any hope, we wouldn’t be here putting on these same outfits and tricking ourselves into believing in our teams year after year.
A quick combination of a blown coverage, two questionable decisions by the officials, a missed kick and three picks after leading at the half, the Bulldogs would fall to the Crimson Tide, who took sole possession of Saturday’s game in a matter of moments.
For some odd reason, I decided to stay in Bryant-Denny till the clock hit zero. Not because I thought Georgia would come back and win, but just to sit there and sulk. I sat through Rammer Jammer, Dixieland Delight and about a half-dozen other rituals.
Driving back to Hoover, it had already hit me that the Dawgs and Braves were going down. I was pretty blue over the outcomes, but I had already accepted it by the time I got back to my hotel bed and went to sleep.
Then, I woke up the next morning, ate at what I thought was one of the best complimentary breakfast buffets in the world and departed on a stagnant drive back towards Atlanta.
I began building up more hope. That was until I found out just before leaving that the complimentary breakfast wasn’t actually complimentary.
A quick pit stop by Legion Field in Birmingham to check out a long-forgotten SEC staple. A drive by Talladega Superspeedway to bask in the glory of the fastest racetrack in the world, where NASCAR safely led fans back into the stands just four months ago.
Finally reaching Atlanta, it was time for NLCS Game 7 to begin, after an eventful sports weekend built with emotion.
You all know the story from there…
A midgame Braves lead evaporating after key base-running blunders. A late Dodgers home-run into the Texas sky. The dreams of Georgia sports fans crushed, yet again.
As the Kübler-Ross model states, there are five stages of grief that come after a sudden shock or loss.
Georgia sports seem to put us on the Kübler-Ross model at least once a year. However, after all the heartbreaking losses, we’ve come back to put on our favorite jersey and ballcap the following season, no matter the result.
Next spring, we’ll be gathered outside The Battery in our Braves jerseys, anxiously awaiting Opening Day from our back-to-back-to-back NL East Division Champions.
The Sun will continue to rise and the days ahead will go on.
I am proud of what this young Braves team accomplished given the circumstances and excited for their bright future.
Despite all that, I’m still left pecking at my MacBook this Monday morning. No matter who was available to play, how it went down and what could have been, the teams we put all our energy into the past week still came up short.
Whenever a new chapter in the tragic big-game history of Georgia sports is written, I go back to this 2018 article from UGA Wire’s Anna Parks.
“There’s A Price To Pay When You Love Something.”
2,000 words later and I’m still left wondering…
So what now?