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Twelve Hours in Athens

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Time for an embarrassing story. Just for your entertainment.

While we’re all sitting here quarantined, or sheltered-in-place, or whatever you may be doing, we’re all looking for entertainment and content in some form or fashion. There’s only so far you can get into Netflix before kid’s shows and obscure anime start to look appealing, so we’re going to try to regale you all with a story of self-deprecation and a little Auburn football.

Let’s go back to 2009. November 14th. The scene? Athens, Georgia. Sanford Stadium. Kickoff was a 7 o’clock affair between the hedges as Auburn came in at 7-3 in Gene Chizik’s first season. Do you remember the fun of that season as Auburn started 5-0 and rolled into the rankings behind Gus Malzahn’s offense and an opportunistic defense?

2009 began with the Gus offense fooling ESPN cameras with motion, end-arounds, pump fakes, and more as the Tigers dispatched Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State. Game three was the rain-soaked epic against West Virginia, where Auburn came back from an early deficit and forced four fourth-quarter turnovers on the way to a 41-30 victory over Noel Devine and company.

After an easy Saturday night against Ball State, Auburn hit Knoxville for the first road game of the year and a tilt against Lane Kiffin. Auburn controlled the action from start to finish, and the Vols never really threatened, as Ben Tate destroyed Eric Berry’s night and the Tigers improved to 5-0.

Things were great. Auburn was rolling, and the mirth and merry-making that only a successful football can produce were rampant on campus. Unfortunately, since we were less than a year removed from Tommy Tuberville’s reign, some of his tendencies remained in the football program, and we had a stinker against Arkansas the next week. Ryan Mallett tore us up, we limped home, and the hangover lingered for the next two games.

A cold night at home led to a tepid loss to Kentucky (c’mon, guys) and then we couldn’t handle ourselves in Baton Rouge, where Chris Todd threw for only 47 yards and Auburn fell behind 24-0 before giving up and falling 31-10. Things were fine the next week at home in a win over Ole Miss (maybe the most complete win of the season) and then the next week as Furman came for the annual paycheck game.

7-3. Not bad for Gene Chizik’s first year. “We want a leader, not a loser!” had not begin to ring true yet. The airport screamer’s fears weren’t yet realized. Chizik had formed what looked like a great staff, with recruiters and motivators galore, as well as the then revolutionary mind of Malzahn running the offense. We didn’t see the cracks in the staff yet, and we weren’t quite aware of what would bring the team down three seasons later, but in year one, it was pretty good. After the first losing season since Tuberville’s first year, we would take success in any form. Especially since Alabama was sitting at #1 in the polls in Nick Saban’s third season. We needed something, man. Chizik and company began to give that to us.

So, it brings us to November 14th. Auburn hadn’t had an open week yet, playing ten straight games to begin the season. With the year starting on September 5th, teams would only get one off week in a twelve-game season. It was a rough stretch, but with Auburn not having a break yet, the team was likely feeling the bumps and bruises a little more than other schools around the league.

Georgia wasn’t particularly great that season, either. After the year when they were supposed to dominate — 2008 saw the Dawgs sit at #1 before they got whacked by Alabama — they’d been middle of the road in 2009. Mark Richt’s team beat who they should and lost to who they should. In the end, both Auburn and Georgia would finish at 8-5 in 2009. Both schools were sporting serviceable, but not special quarterbacks, very good running backs, and average wide receivers.

The game? Not so exciting, at least not in my unassisted memory. My friends and I climbed to the top of the upper deck — last row — and sat next to a Georgia fan who aggressively did the Shawne Merriman Lights Out celebration with every little victory for the Dawgs:

It was a lot.

I had to find the box score to remember exactly what happened in the game. The only lasting image that came to me was Demond Washington’s kickoff return touchdown —

— that tied the game at 24-all after Auburn initially went up 14-0 and lost that lead. Apparently Caleb King scored twice in the fourth quarter, and Auburn didn’t have the answer offensively afterward. We lost 31-24. Okay. Whatever, that was now four straight defeats at the hand of the Bulldogs. Mark Richt had our number.

So, what do we do after a loss? Well, if the 2009 meeting in Athens was any indication, we meet with the entire population of the whole world in “The World’s Greatest College Town” and go drink. I think I saw everyone I ever knew that night at different bars in Athens, and we were all drinking like it was the end of the world. Keep in mind that I was only born in 1989, so if you’re not a Georgia grad, you can do your math and figure out that I was not yet of the legal age to consume alcohol. More on that in a moment.

When we left the stadium, we had no idea which direction to head to find our friends. This was before the days of smart phones, and you had to rely on getting a signal for a phone call so that you could somewhat coherently describe your location to someone else in hopes of finding them. The plan was to meet downtown for food and some sort of healing dark liquor. Downtown is north of the stadium, so naturally, we wandered south instead.

Here’s our general route:

Eventually, we made it downtown, but not before walking an extra mile or two and complaining the entire way. The memory of the next few hours involves drowning our sorrows at the Boars Head Lounge and then seeing Brandon Cox and telling him that he wouldn’t have lost to Georgia that night. Somehow my intoxicated brain remembered only the 2005 game in Athens — still somehow the last time we’ve won there — and did not remember the eight (EIGHT) combined interceptions he threw in his last two games against Georgia.

Anyway, it made me feel better. Somehow, though, it got to be late! Imagine that. We endured too long drinking, and now we needed to eat and go home. The process was real, Nick Saban would be proud. So, we head down the road, make our way to Lumpkin Street, and start walking back in the general direction of the house where we were staying. I was told that we’d get ourselves some McDonald’s before crashing, but I’d never get to indulge my late-night craving.

We’re walking, and I feel a particular need to relieve a certain biological pressure. Whatever, I can hold it until we get home. How long will that be? Two more miles? Nope, going to have to pull off the sidewalk and find a dark spot to take care of business.

Enter the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and it’s nooks/crannies.

A campus building that won’t have many people around it? Away from the heart of downtown? Perfect. I asked my group of friends to hang on a second and I skipped back into the dark corners, did my business, and came back to the street to find that they had not waited for me. They were at least two hundred yards ahead, not even noticing that I was absent.

I shouldn’t have gotten cocky, but fortune seemed to deal me a hand that should have played out splendidly. We’d been walking all day, and I was still breaking in the new pair of cowboy boots I was wearing, so my feet were a little sore. I wasn’t pleased about the likelihood of having to speedwalk/jog to catch up with them, especially in my drunken state. And what do you know? I was given a gift from the gods.

I look down into the bushes right in front of the Learning Center, and there’s a rusty, derelict bicycle underneath some foliage. In my mind, I’m going to hop on, speed down the sidewalk, catch my friends, perform a fantastic dismount, and continue along the way.

In reality, I picked up the bike, swung one leg over it, and instantly the wash of blue lights came over me. A police cruiser careened across the road, hopped the curb, and hit me with the floodlight and loudspeaker.

“YOU. ON THE BIKE. DISMOUNT NOW.”

For one wild moment, I considered running. I could’ve disappeared into the darkness of campus and I would’ve gotten away...

Instead, I stayed put. They’d been watching that bait bike and had me like they got several other dumb kids that weekend. I let them come up and start the interrogation.

In typical fashion, the officer asked me if I’d been drinking. What did I say?

Somehow, he saw right through that, and he threw me in the cherrytop.

So now I’m on the way to the Athens Clarke County Detention Center. On the ride, the cop proceeds to ask if I went to Auburn (“Yes sir”), and then to tell me all about his wild days when he was at Georgia, and how he probably should’ve been in the back of a cop car multiple times.

We arrive at the jail. Washed out floodlights fill the parking lot behind a tall chain link fence. It’s a desolate place. Doors open with a loud clank and a buzzer. The fluorescent lighting reveals bags under every eye inside. A bunch of portly cops shuffle around moving as slowly as possible to start the processing. Fingerprints. Mugshot (it’s probably available somewhere online).

My one phone call. Here’s the secret — you actually get as many phone calls as it takes to get the wheels turning to get you out of jail. They just want your money, they don’t want you there any longer than you have to be there. Not really knowing what to do, I called my parents, at 3 AM CST in Montgomery, Alabama. Surprisingly, the phone only rang a couple times before my dad picked up with a surly “What’d you do?”

After that, I happened to call the first bail bondsmen listed in the directory.

That gave me a chuckle. After confirmation that they were processing me, I got to go sit in the drunk tank and wait.

Concrete walls, concrete toilet, concrete water fountain, and metal benches. They took my boots and jacket, and tossed me in with five other college kids. One guy immediately started crying. Another kept talking about how his dad was going to come beat up the cops. One was passed out drunk and never woke up the entire time. I sat there about two hours before my buddy arrived with the bail bondsmen. After seeing who else had been in jail, I started to believe that I was the toughest inmate in the entire place that night. That was before I walked past the other holding cell, where two 6’6, 250-pound men were pushing each other back and forth in the middle of the cell with several other giant guys egging them on. Reality check.

At this point, the sun’s thinking about coming up. We pay the guy $300, and I’m free. A couple hours later, I’ve showered, washed the jail smell off me, and have my marching orders to return in a couple months to appear before the judge. Fun.

Now, the same night that I had would’ve won me a simple ticket in Auburn, and certainly nothing aside from a small fine. In the end, I paid what amounted to a couple months’ rent in fines to the state of Georgia, had to perform community service, and check in with a probation officer for six months.

That Sunday night when I got back to my apartment in Auburn, someone showed me a news article that said something like 50 college kids had been arrested overall that weekend in Athens. I paid my fine and served my nickel at the humane society feeding puppies and hosing out kennels.

I guess the moral of the story is, go to Athens, and you’ll end up cleaning dog shit.