Greenville, S.C., 5:00 am, October 18th, 2008. It's seasonably much cooler outside the #19 AMTRAK train than it was on board, and Ben (pseudonym) is not yet at the station to pick me up. Ben is the Best Friend From College (Vanderbilt), the Best Man at my wedding, and now we're chasing something rarer and harder to catch than a solar eclipse: seeing a ranked Vanderbilt football team play a ranked team (UGA, #8 AP) as a ranked team (#21) It's two games after "College Gameday" visited Nashville where Auburn had been vanquished, but I live too far away and this is my shot. The early train ensures we'll make it to Athens in time for the game in case it is the Raycom game, which of course, it is. Ben arrives, vetos my Waffle House request, and we barrel down I-85 to Georgia.
It's Homecoming in Athens, as it usual for the series. The first time I personally saw Vanderbilt beat a ranked team was #24 Georgia in 1991, the Commodores' shocking homecoming. The Atlanta Braves were on their way to the World Series that year and The Chop even carried over into the football stands at Dudley by the UGA faithful. Bryant Hahnfeldt ruined another UGA (#6) homecoming in 2006, two years prior. Needless to say there are several games I am skipping over that UGA fans may recall more fondly.
This is what I remember of Athens: Ben and I having a moral dilemma whether to visit with Coach Dooley on the second floor of the bookstore, because yes we respect him but no we don't support Georgia especially that day (we passed, a regret). Parking at the Meat Science facility and walking the campus from there. Finding a right proper Chic-fil-a in the Student Center and enjoying the pregame meal. The graveyard across from the Stadium. Not being hated for my Vandy gear, more like being observed as a rare commodity - a Vandy fan?!
The Hedges. The noise and support. Uga himself. The loss. The final blow to our being ranked. A few more years in the desert (?).
UGA-Vanderbilt is when the hopes of the season come home either in shattered pieces, in line with expectations, or in rare jubilation. Welcome to Nashville, you Silver Britches. Anchor Down.