Sunday, November 29, 2009

Game Time ... continued (Metro Atlanta)

The silhouette of the Atlanta skyline


Note to self: Next time I go to an Atlanta bar to watch the Georgia/Georgia Tech football game, camp out the night before for a good seat. My friend Alisha and I arrived at a bar near Georgia Tech about 30 minutes before kickoff and we felt like the last people to arrive at a party. The place was a madhouse. The hostess was announcing that it was a 2-hour wait for a table. We went to the bar and seemed to luck out when two people left a small round table only to be told that bar seating was also being reserved in advance.

Not ready to surrender, we went across the street to another establishment. It was just as packed. They had an upstairs bar, so we trudged up the steps to give it a look. That look revealed wall to wall Bulldog and Yellow Jacket fans. We walked around a bit in a daze, hoping that we would magically see two chairs open up. Nothing. Right as we considered leaving Alisha spied two free seats set up against a bar built against a side wall. There were jackets nearby, but not on the seats, leaving it ambiguous whether someone was saving them. This was no time for the meek of heart. Alisha swooped in, figuring someone would say something if they were being saved. No one said a word. Sweet victory.

Tech vs. Georgia draws a decidedly Bulldog crowd. And doesn't leave many open seats

Next challenge: getting something to drink. Problem is, I don't like the taste of beer. It almost seems unpatriotic to say, especially given all the beer ads during football games, but I prefer something sweeter. This is the point where, if I were still in college, someone would yell at me to take off my skirt. "What do you want to drink?" Alisha asked. "Hard Cider" I said a bit sheepishly. She looked at me incredulously and I steadied myself for the inevitable condescension. Instead she said, "Me too" and we exchanged a high five. There would be no snide remarks this time. We were a mutual administration society and I proposed that we bring the meeting to order with a celebratory pitcher of that sweet cider.

Getting the bartenders attention proved to be quite an undertaking. When I finally got to order my pitcher I saw him scramble around the bar for a bit and then come back empty handed. No luck. They were out of ....pitchers. Not hard cider. But pitchers. He dispatched a waiter downstairs in search of clean pitchers and I slinked back to my seat, unsuccessful.

Alisha and I waited for the clean pitchers to make their way upstairs (and really, should a bar ever run out of pitchers?). A woman came around the corner to where we were sitting. She looked at us, then at her friends, then back to us, then to her friends again. "Really guys?" she said to her friends. "The one thing I asked was for you to save my seats and you couldn't even do that?" The friends looked at us, noticing for the first time in 10 minutes that we were sitting there. "Whoops, sorry," they told her. We smiled but didn't budge. This was survival of the fittest.

We finally got our pitcher and the game kicked off. When it did, one thing became obvious - although Georgia Tech was the local team, Georgia fans outnumbered them about 2 to 1. We watched as Georgia stormed out to a lead, much to the delight of the assembled crowd. The noise level rose, the wait staff looked increasingly frazzled and overworked and Alisha and I protected our little corner of the wall with evolutionary zeal.

The great thing about college football is the over-the-top enthusiasm of the fan base. The worst thing about it is that the games take forever. For-evah. Two hours went by and it was only halftime, so we decided to leave and watch the rest at her house. We had had enough of the crowds and I needed to contact Jackie Childs about a possible sexual harassment suit. I should explain. A drunk female Georgia fan had come up to us and started running her hands through my hair. "What beautiful curly hair," she said as she fondled it. Then she kneaded my shoulders and ran her hands across my chest. I was a bit stunned at first but had to laugh when she said, "It's okay, I'm a lesbian." She asked if Alisha and I were dating and we told her we were just friends. Curious, she started quizzing me about "my type". I was non-committal. I should have told her drunk lesbian Bulldog fans were my type to see what she would say, but instead Alisha and I just laughed at her antics until she was distracted by a different shiny object. That object happened to be her friend (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Pat from Saturday Night Live fame) who needed help getting the bartender's attention.

We rushed out and met up with Alisha's friend Chris to watch the last bit of the game at her condo. As Georgia Tech mounted one final drive to try and win the game I thought of my friend Rod up in the press box, unable to cheer, but pulling for Tech to win with every fiber of his being. Tech got into Georgia territory with time running down and needed a touchdown to win. Then, on a fourth and short, Tech's quarterback hit their star wide-receiver right in the numbers with what would have been a first down pass. It bounced off his chest and onto the ground. Game. Set. Match. And bedtime. For me at least.


On Sunday Alisha and I took it easy. We had brunch with her friend Kali , Alisha took me to buy a new pair of walking pants and then we sat around the apartment and did work on our computers. We needed to save our energy. Georgia/Georgia Tech might have been the game the city of Atlanta cared most about, but as far as Alisha was concerned the Steelers game against the Ravens on Sunday night was the only one that mattered.

The bar that she and her fellow Steelers fans attend every week happens to be an outpost of the Baltimore faithful. To make matters worse, the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had suffered a concussion the week before and would not be playing, nor would All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Starting at quarterback would be Dennis Dixon, a third stringer who had started exactly zero NFL games before tonight.

Given that the ration of Baltimore to Pittsburgh fans at the bar would be roughly that of the Georgia to Georgia Tech fans the night before, I was made an honorary Steeler fan. I slipped on a Big Ben jersey and tried to look was "Western Pennsylvania" as possible. Given my high level of education, dashing good looks and ability to be articulate, that was quite a challenge, but I did my best. (I kid, I kid, don't sic Lynn Swann on me).

When we got to the bar I could see what Alisha and her friends had been fearing. One full end of the bar was swarming with boisterous Ravens fans. Their team was injury free. The Steelers were riddled with injury. This could be a long night. Sure enough, the Ravens scored quickly and the Ravens fans erupted. Chants of "B-more" rained down and any Steelers fan in their line of vision was ridiculed and mocked. We stood around in our black and gold trying not to look too pathetic.

Then something amazing happened. Even with a third string quarterback and playing in a hostile city, the Steelers made a game of it. Dixon didn't melt under the pressure, the Steelers defense showed a bit of swagger and as the game drew on we had as much cause to celebrate as the legion of Baltimore fans. Down a touchdown late in the fourth quarter Dixon led the Steelers on a long drive, punctuating it with a touchdown run of his own to tie the score.

Now it was our turn to be obnoxious. Terrible towels waved. Epithets were hurled back at the Baltimore fans. They stood around looking stupid, scared that they were about to loose a game everybody expected them to win. A final drive by Baltimore ended with a missed field goal and we were heading to overtime. The picture (below) of our small Steelers cheering section was taken at this moment of surging optimism. See the smiles on our faces? Notice our regal bearing, full of hope?

Steeler Nation, in happier times

That all came crashing down in a matter of minutes. The Steelers won the toss and were driving when Dixon suddenly remembered he wasn't a first-string quarterback. He threw an interception right to a Ravens defender at midfield and our fate was sealed. The Baltimore section of the bar exploded in rapturous celebration and before we knew it the Ravens were kicking the winning field goal and we were mounting a hurried exit from the bar.

I'm glad I took the group picture when I did. Because despite the loss, it was an extremely fun game to watch and the Steelers fans I met were great company. Our smiles in the picture reflected the total experience, if not the final result. I believe a great philosopher - possibly Socrates - once said "it's not who wins or loses, but how you play the game." And I don't care what those purple clad Ravens fans say, Pittsburgh left their heart out on the field. They can be proud of that.
Alisha, Sadie and me (back to representin' Philly)

Now I can go back to being an Eagles fan. But at least some part of my heart will be with the Steelers and in that bar each Sunday from now to the rest of the year. A big thank you to Alisha and Sadie for such showing me such a fun time over two nights in Atlanta. In case you were wondering, Sadie's Steelers doggie jersey is in the mail. Now that is a true fan.