By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATLANTA – When Auburn and Missouri kick-off at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, it will mark the 22nd edition of the Southeastern Conference Football Championship. When it comes to Gerald Arrington, of Clanton, Ala., and five of his high school classmates, they have seen every one of them.
The group of friends, which consists of Arrington, George Edwards, Greg Green, Dara Norman, Shawn Simms and Hal Taylor, didn’t initially intend for the outing to be an annual event, after deciding to attend the inaugural championship in 1992 at Legion Field in Birmingham.
“Three of us are Alabama fans and three of us are Auburn fans,” Arrington said Thursday. “I graduated from Auburn, but Alabama was in that first game. They called me and said they wanted to the game. I went along with them and we just kept going.”
As the SEC Championship grew and transitioned to the Georgia Dome in 1994, so did the yearly trip.
“We got on the list and ordered tickets every year from the SEC Office in late February,” Arrington said. “The first two games were in Birmingham. We had so much fun and we knew that we wanted to get together once a year so we thought, why not make it the SEC Championship Game? It is the one time of year that we know we’re getting together. That’s how it started and we just kept going.”
While the friends may not see each other regularly during the course of the year, they always reunite in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, regardless of which teams are competing for the league crown.
“We look forward to it every year,” Arrington said. “The six of us all went to high school together. We know it’s on our calendar every year and we always plan for it. There’s nothing like SEC football.”
The six friends leave their homes in Alabama the Thursday prior to the Championship Game and venture to Atlanta for the Saturday title tilt. Each of the men pays monthly dues from which the expenses for Championship Weekend are paid.
Four of the six men celebrated their 50th birthdays this year.
“Looking back on it, it surprises me,” Arrington said. “I think back to that first game and we’ve seen a lot of exciting games. Most of us just turned 50 this year and when we started going, we weren’t even 30. It’s just been great seeing the games and the excitement, it’s something different every year. Our plan is to keep it going as long as we can keep going.”
In addition to the annual opportunity for fellowship, the importance of the SEC Championship Game in the national picture has added to the excitement of the friends’ yearly journey.
“It has always been exciting every single year because most years it affects the national championship picture – all the way back to 1992, which was a national championship year for Alabama,” Arrington said. “The SEC normally has a lot to say about who wins the national championship game. There’s just so much excitement; that was always there from the very first year in Birmingham and there again this year, watching Auburn and Missouri. There’s nothing like SEC football and nothing like friends. We’ve just been very fortunate to put the two together for this many years.”