We decided not to drive into Atlanta. Driving and parking in the big city is a nightmare for small-town folks like us, so we figured the best thing to do was drive to the first MARTA station, leave the car and take the train in to the game.
We figured right.
As soon as we got into the station, there were MARTA employees who took one look at our Auburn gear and our bewildered expressions and rushed to help us get tickets and point us to the right train — I suspect the same thing was happening at MARTA stations on the other side of town where bewildered South Carolinians in Clemson gear were being helped by equally sympathetic employees. Truth is, Clemson and Auburn have a lot in common. Both share land grant, agricultural and engineering roots and are traditionally looked down on by a more “elite” in-state rival. Indeed, Clemson is sometimes called “Auburn with a lake.” There are supporters of both schools who take this as a compliment.
Yet, despite the similarities, the rivalry is keen (but not bitter) and fans on both sides are loyal to their team, win or lose, but mostly win.
My lovely wife, who should be hired to organize the world, got us all tickets to the Chick-fil-A “Fan Zone,” an extravaganza of booths and games and food and fun in an exhibition hall next to the Dome. That way, we could arrive early, have lunch, do things and then go to the game.
I was excited about this because I like Chick-fil-A.
Now, please don’t consider this a political statement. Over the years, I have eaten food prepared by racists, church ladies, limousine liberals, drawbridge Republicans, illegal immigrants and those who want to load-’em-up-and-ship-’em-back. I have been able to get past the political issues involved because I liked the food.
I was also looking forward to a Chick-fil-A lemonade.
Only when we got there, Chick-fil-A wasn’t serving lemonade. I didn’t want a soft drink, so I went to a nearby booth and bought a beer. Savoring the irony of replacing born-again Christian lemonade with a Miller Lite, I ate my meal. It was good.
Then we went to Tiger Walk.
Since both teams have Tigers for mascots, and since both have similar traditions where the teams are greeted by a double line of fans, the folks in charge of running the show had marked off two “walks” — one for Clemson and one for us. Only problem was that for the Clemson players to get to their fans, they had to walk through a gauntlet of Auburn supporters.
Out the Clemson players came, looking a little bewildered to be greeted by fans of the other tigers, but instead of booing, as more crass partisans might have done, Auburn fans chanted “SEC, SEC, SEC” — conference loyalty. The Clemson team moved on to its supporters, who cheered them mightily.
Meanwhile, over at the Auburn Tiger Walk, security personnel were making sure there was room for the players and coaches to get through. Then, just as the first Auburn players emerged, the security guard next to me reached in his back pocket, pulled out an Auburn cap, and planted it firmly on his head. Sometimes there is no room for neutrality.
That done, we visited more booths and displays and signed up for more prizes, giving the companies our email addresses and vital statistics in return for the vain hope that we might win something.
Then we went to the game.
Now folks, I understand the economics of “if you want it, you have to pay for it” and “let the buyer beware,” but at the Georgia Dome, those principles got out of hand.
It was bad enough to have to shell out $8 for a Papa John’s personal-size pan pizza, which, judging from the box, was going to be about the size of a small Frisbee. However, imagine my shock and disappointment when I opened it to find something so small that it would not even make a decent slice at an average pizzeria. Washing it down with a $6 beer that you can get for a third of that price at any self-respecting convenience store did little to improve my attitude.
Then my team lost.
Afterward, we piled back on the train, packed together like friendly sardines, rode back to our cars and from there drove home.
And yet, despite it all, I had fun.
I just don’t want to go back anytime soon.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: email@example.com.