SEC Sports Power Weekend: Athens, Georgia, September 17-19
By: Jared Cooper
In the first installment of his 13-part series highlighting the SEC college towns and Atlanta, the site of the SEC Championship Game on December 4, SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper takes a closer look at Athens, Georgia, home of the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia will host the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at Sanford Stadium at 12 PM ET.
The first stop on our tour of the SEC takes us to Athens, Georgia, home of the Georgia Bulldogs, which was named after the former world center for culture and higher education in Greece. Athens has come a long way since its inception in 1806, becoming a beacon of expression and the arts that would make its namesake proud.
Musical acts such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s got their start in the 40 Watt Club, and jam band Widespread Panic was formed when their two founding members met in the dorms at the University of Georgia in 1981. More recently, modern acts Bubba Sparxxx and Danger Mouse kick-started their careers in Athens before rising to national fame. Music is still inherently tied into the fabric of the town and University, as evidenced by “Fabulous Football Fridays,” a concert series held the night before Georgia home games.
While music and art may keep visitors entertained, it is the Georgia football program that brings the masses to Athens. As Georgia gets set to take on Arkansas and its high-powered aerial attack, we’ll break down the events surrounding the game for weekend visitors; the local food joints that you don’t want to miss, the cultural attractions in this southern beauty and of course the traditions surrounding the main event, Saturday’s game.
When you are on an SEC Sports Power Weekend, you don’t want to miss a meal. Make sure you arrive early on Friday night so you can fit in a nice hearty dinner. After checking into your hotel (there are 20+ hotels in the local Athens area of varying price and status), Weaver D’s (an R.E.M. favorite) should be the first restaurant you hit in Athens; the hot fried chicken plate and sweet potatoes will get your weekend started off right.
If live music is your scene, you can then head over to The Rialto Room in the Hotel Indigo for the Swinging Medallions, playing as part of the aforementioned “Fabulous Football Fridays” series. If you prefer the college town beer bar scene, you can head over to Copper Creek Brewing Co for their on-site brewed beer sampler.
A noon game means that you need to get up early if you want to get some grub before the game and its festivities. The Last Resort Grill, which opened as a music club in 1966, opens at 10 AM and is a great way to start your gameday. Not much can go wrong after taking down the drifter or the duck hash.
After getting your fill, head south on Hull St. through the heart of campus towards Sanford Stadium. Georgia will have Arkansas “between the hedges” – a phrase coined by famed Atlanta sportswriter Grantland Rice in reference to the famous Chinese privet hedges along the perimeter of the playing field – in this cross-divisional SEC matchup (buy tickets here). Sanford Stadium’s home crowd, amid their screams of “how bout them dogs,” brings one of the best home-field advantages in all of college football. At a capacity of 92,746, Sanford is the third-largest stadium in the SEC behind Neyland Stadium in Knoxville and the newly-renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and the seventh-largest on-campus stadium in the country.
After hearing the sweet sounds of the Georgia fight song “Glory, Glory,” throughout the game, the home fans hope to hear the equally beautiful ringing of the chapel bell after the game concludes; a tradition that signifies a Georgia win. And home wins are a common occurrence in Athens these days. Mark Richt has a 47-11 (.810) home record as Georgia head coach, the best mark in program history.
Georgia’s greatest football tradition is not its mascot, Uga, or the silver britches; it is their historical success. Names such as Harry Mehre, Wally Butts and Vince Dooley have to be mentioned when discussing the greatest coaches in SEC history. Butts coached Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich, Maxwell winner Charley Trippi and Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, among many other greats, and Dooley won over 200 games with the Bulldogs as well as a National Championship in 1980 led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Georgia is the only school to have three different Super Bowl MVPs: Jake Scott of the Miami Dolphins, Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos and Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and recently groomed Matthew Stafford, the number one pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
After the game there is still plenty of time left in the day to see the town. Tours range from the Terrapin Brewery Tour for beer lovers, the Classic City Tour for culture-seekers, and the Music City Walking Tour for music fans. You can also check out some of the historical or cultural landmarks around Athens such as the Double-Barreled Cannon, a Civil War relic, and the Tree That Owns Itself, a great oak that was granted its own ownership deed in the late 1800s by Professor William H. Jackson. The Georgia Museum of Natural History and Georgia Museum of Art on the University campus are worth a visit as well, although the art museum is currently under construction and slated to reopen in 2011.
All of these activities packed in such a productive day are sure to build up your appetite. Dinner at Five and Ten, where Chef Hugh Acheson has been nominated for James Beard “Best Chef Southeast” Award for four consecutive years, is sure to hit the spot.
You can finish up your great day at The Globe, Georgia’s second-best bar according to Esquire. You can also mix it up a bit by walking into any of the multitude of bars within a two-block radius of N. Lumpkin (no, not named after former UGA running back Kregg Lumpkin) and Clayton.
Sunday is generally the day of the weekend trip where you tie up some loose ends, eat some good food and relax before heading back home. On a Sports Power Weekend however, there is no time to waste. Get some brunch at Farm 255 for some local and sustainable food. Even if you aren’t interested in food politics per se, you will still enjoy the taste and freshness of your rustic eggs or farm breakfast.
There is no time to waste after brunch. There is an Atlanta Falcons home game at the Georgia Dome (site of the SEC Championship Game on December 4), only a one hour and 20 minute drive from Athens. The Falcons host the Arizona Cardinals in an important early-season NFC matchup that could go a long way towards playoff positioning.
When the clock hits double zero at the Georgia Dome, your SEC Sports Power Weekend has concluded and you’ve just experienced the best Athens has to offer. Now rest up. You have big plans in Gainesville next weekend.