Friday, November 27, 2009

Game Time (Metro Atlanta)

Me and Rod on Friday night

Me, Bett & Talbert Williams at the High Museum of Art

The Army used to have a commercial claiming they did more by 9am than most people do all day. On Friday, I could have made the claim that I walked farther by 1pm than most people do all month. I covered 18 miles in 5 1/2 hours from Marietta to Georgia Tech's campus by lunchtime. That allowed me to meet up with Bett & Talbert Williams for a delicious lunch at the High Museum of Art and then attend a Yellow Jacket basketball game at 4pm. That game was just the first of a three-course sports meal waiting for me in Metro Atlanta. It was my appetizer of sorts.

Appetizer: The Rodfather

Rod Mackenzie was waiting for me outside the will call window at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Rod is one in a shrinking category of people as I move south - he is someone I have met before. Rod is a friend of my father's from way back. My dad and Rod went to high school together, went to the same church, wandered around Lower Merion township looking for 2-on-2 games, went on double dates when my parents first started dating and then, as newlyweds, even briefly lived together.

Given that he and my dad used to be a potent 2-on-2 combo, it was appropriate that he was taking me to a basketball game. Rod works for the www.gojackets.com website and was covering Georgia Tech's game against Mercer. He and I sat in the press section. Given that it was an early season game and the press' attention was wholly focused on the next day's football game against Georgia, it didn't appear that I was taking anybody's seat.

The game should have never been in doubt. Georgia Tech plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) along with teams like Duke, UNC and Wake Forest. Mercer University hails from the Atlantic Sun Conference, home to titans like Stetson and Lipscomb. Yes, that was a bit of facetiousness on my part. I've been a college hoops fan my whole life and I have never even heard of those two schools. Yet despite the difference in pedigree, it was a competitive game. Mercer senior James Florence exploded for 40 points and they kept is close enough to lose with honor, 85-74.

On press row our attention was diverted by the ESPN Gamecast coverage of the Auburn-Alabama football game going on at the same time. Auburn was threatening Alabama's perfect season until a late fourth quarter drive put an exclamation point on the Crimson Tide's comeback a nail in the Tigers' coffin. All the Georgia Tech faithful, including Rod, were hoping for an Auburn win. Georgia Tech's football team was currently ranked 7th, and any stumble by the top 6 would only help their BCS prospects.

There was another thing I noticed during the game. Rod personally knew just about everyone associated with Georgia Tech athletics. He was constantly greeting people or pointing someone out to me and letting me know how where they fit in the Georgia Tech athletics hierarchy. Everybody seemed to know and like him too. My intuition was confirmed as we left the arena with a friend of his who was giving us a ride.

"They call him the Rodfather" he said jokingly, after Rod said hello and goodnight to another passerby. I figured it must be a term of affection because of the long reach of his friendships and associations with Georgia Tech sports. He seems like far too nice a guy to put a horse's head in a coach's bed when they ice him out of a press conference.

Back at his apartment we watched the Pitt-WVU football game and had dinner. Tired out from my day of activity I called it a night before the final whistle of West Virginia's upset win. Rod couldn't have been too happy about the result. He used to live in Pittsburgh back in the late 70s and early 80s and became close with a lot of guys in the football program.

Now his allegiances lie fully with the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech and tomorrow was their rivalry game against Georgia. I went to bed and let my mind digest the sports appetizer I had enjoyed and make some room for an entree and dessert later that weekend. Rod stayed up, typing up his basketball notes and probably silently hoping that the Pittsburgh game didn't portend a similar upset the next evening for his Yellow Jackets. Funny thing about rivalry games though. Anything can happen.

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