Friday, September 9, 2016

The Games That Don't Matter

Nicholls State, or Nicholls, as they apparently prefer to be called (and who am I to argue?) comes knocking tomorrow morning.  I will climb out of bed somewhere in the neighborhood of 7am, walk my dogs, maybe even have a little pre-game warmup (read: Whiskey)... and then head over to the local bar to take in what should be, in no uncertain terms, a cake walk.  No one is expecting much out of Nicholls, even Nicholls.  They are coming to the slaughterhouse, and leaving with a nice big check.

Eason will start.  He gets his first start at home, with a very friendly crowd.  Unlike in recent years, this will probably be a full stadium (at least by the start of the 2nd quarter, when the hair-of-the-dawg students shake off the cobwebs and roll in).  With the size and skill match-ups heavily favoring the Dawgs, it is likely that he will have a barn-burner of a day.

The new offensive line will get another game to gel.

The defense will face an offensive "attack" which struggled mightily to score points last season.

I heard we may be auditioning cheerleaders at kicker.

This is one of those games that doesn't matter.

But it does.

This game matters to a great many in that stadium.  It's Kirby Smart's first home game in Athens since 1999.  That matters.  It's the first start for Jacob Eason, possibly the season's first appearance of Sony Michel.  That matters.   It's an undefeated team's next challenge.  That matters.

But, much of the enthusiasm for those storylines will wane before the second-half kickoff.  For certain people in the stadium, though, that will be when the game begins to heat up.  There are players on that team, and parents in the stands, and people watching at home... who are LIVING for the second half of UGA-Nicholls.  There are freshmen who weren't among the most highly-touted recruits, but who have worked right alongside them through the spring and summer... they'll only see that field if the DAWGS show up to play ball.  There are seniors who have pushed themselves for four and five years to work up to this moment.  There are parents who have never been to a big-time college football game before who will be so swallowed up in the atmosphere, they may almost miss the moment their boy runs out of the tunnel for the first time.

And, if there are any parents like those who birthed this writer, there will be an aging man sitting on a couch in a lakehouse, watching the game in air conditioned comfort, who leaps from his seated position when the camera catches a glimpse of his boy running onto the field for his first action.  You see, that boy isn't supposed to play at UGA.  He's undersized.  He's less than spectacularly talented.  He's just happy to wear the G on his helmet, and be in the presence of it all.

These games, though - these are the games when that boy - that young man - that football player - gets a few shining moments to live out a dream.  These are the games when all the two-a-days, all the 4am workouts, all the sprints, all the mat-drills, all the pain that comes with wearing the red and black just falls away, and the player gets to be a kid again.  He'll get to go out on that field and compete, and he'll do so with a confidence that Jacob Eason and Nick Chubb and Dominick Sanders will never feel - because he'll know that no matter what happens, no matter what HE does... there is absolutely NO WAY that he can cause UGA to lose this game... because we'll be waaaaay too far ahead by the time he gets in.

People often laugh about these games.  The only way these games matter, they believe, is if we somehow lose, or if some superstar gets hurt.  But there are over 100 kids on that team.. and for some, this may be the only game they play all season.  Even for the starters, it's only 1 of 15 (max).  Think for a moment if the thing you love most to do in the world, you're only able to do 15 times in a year.  Wouldn't that matter?

Everyone has chalked up a win for UGA.  We're ranked in the top 10.  (And, let me pause here for a second.  We're ranked in the top 10 now.  The Top 10.  We come back to defeat a basketball school in a game played in our own state, and we jump into the Top Freaking 10.  No, we don't jump into the top 10... we do some kind of Olympic Decathlete Sprinting Long Jump into the sandy pit at the top of the collegiate football landscape.  Seriously, I almost wrote a completely separate blog about the fact that one win somehow vaulted us 9 positions in the polls - a sign that either, despite what was a less than stellar overall performance, we're drastically better than anyone could have foreseen - or just further proof that preseason polls are absolute horseshit.  But, I digress.)  We're going to win, and we should win big.  This game will look more like Mark Richt's debut at Miami than it will any home opener we can remember in quite some time.  But, I implore you not to turn your TV off or get involved in a drunken, heated, Trump-Clinton debate in the second half.  Watch the game.  It matters.

Go Dawgs.