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Published: October 6th 2019
Sometimes it can be nice to make a trip back to where it all started. I decided early in the process of choosing which schools to visit on which Saturdays that this was going to need to be a local game. Next weekend is Oregon and Oregon State, so I’m flying across the country. My philosophy has been to balance out the really long trips with short ones in adjacent weeks. So Week 1 was Michigan, but Week 2 was home at Georgia. And so on. I’ve done two mid-level trips for the past two weeks (five hours away), so the 1.5 hours I spent getting to Mercer University was a cake walk.
While I’ve tried to visit schools I’ve never attended a football game at, this week was different. Second time staying in Georgia, as well as the second stadium I’ve already attended football at. As a full disclosure, I have two degrees from Mercer University: undergrad on the Macon campus, where the stadium is; and a seminary degree from the Atlanta campus. I also have a large group of friends in Macon, virtually all of them I met while at Mercer or through friends of Mercer friends. So
I have lots of history with this school, going back over twenty years.
Mercer did not have a football team while I was a student there. The program was disbanded during WWII and only revived within the past decade. Our joke while students was that Mercer football was undefeated since 1942, or something like that. That can no longer be said truthfully. And today’s game is case in point.
Since the school is so close, I decided to make a day trip of it. No overnights necessary. So it was cheap. I also got to use my faculty ID at the ticket office to score a free ticket to the game. I’ll take that deal every time. So the only thing this trip cost, money-wise, was food and gas. Gas was just a matter of finding a place selling the substance for the cheapest price. Food, however, required more thought. I had wanted to visit The Bear’s Den, a local soul-food kitchen steeped in local lore. Not only is the food so good, but it’s definitely worth a note in the ol’ Travel Blog. But to my chagrin, they are closed on weekends. So I looked up
a place I hadn’t ever tried but that had some pretty amazing credentials: H&H Restaurant. They are also a local soul-food place, and one with lots of fans around the area. They also have free parking, which is something to shout about in downtown Macon.
H&H closes at 2:00 on Saturday, which was fine as far as the game goes. Game time was 4:00. But traveling from Athens meant that I needed to leave no later than 11:30 if I wanted to make sure I could enjoy the food. So I got ready and was out the door by 11:15. After one stop for gas along the way, I rolled up at the restaurant at 1:15. As a party of one, I was seated very quickly. It’s not a large establishment, but it was founded in 1959 and still has all the feel of that era (except maybe the outright racism): the glass cases at the front, the blue-pattern tablecloths, the bright yellow walls, and the smell of southern food. Service was fast, and their sweet tea was as good as anyone can make it. Then there’s the food, and boy did it have soul. Corn bread, country-fried steak,
mashed potatoes (the best!), and macaroni and cheese. It was divine.
I left the restaurant feeling quite satisfied. I had to drive through downtown Macon to get to the restaurant, and then to get to Mercer, as well. Downtown Macon can be quite frustrating to the uninitiated. Lots of one-way streets, and then several blocks of brick pavement. If you can call it pavement. More like tire-wearer-outers. Certainly very loud when you roll over red brick after red brick. But the views are fascinating: lots of antebellum houses, and then postbellum-but-still-old houses that have been turned into housing for students. I had many a friend who stayed in one of these houses with several roommates at a time.
And then I got to Mercer. I chose to park on College Street, which is the street leading from downtown Macon to the university. Parking is free and generally safe. Once parked, I still had over an hour and half until game time. But I knew the stadium would already be open. Plus, Mercer isn’t a very big campus. We thought it was when we were students, but we were wrong. I parked on the opposite side of campus from
the stadium, and it was still only a fifteen-minute walk. I, however, chose to take thirty minutes and reminisce on the main quad.
Mercer University was founded in 1833, but not at its current site, as Mercer Institute. It was in Penfield, closer to where I live today. Much closer. Mercer moved to Macon in 1871. But they trace their heritage back to 1833. It has steadily grown from the current quad area, which is where you can find the “Three Spires” that they love to advertise. It’s a nice visual, and it works. Two of the spires are the Administration Building, and the third is on Willingham Hall, right next to the it. This is the heart of the old campus, and the quad is full of memories for most students, myself included. So I spent a little time communing with those memories before I headed toward the stadium, which is part of the new area of campus.
This new area was not exactly prime real estate when I was a student. Open fields that got swamped when it rained. The old Stadium Drive Apartments, temporary faculty housing that lasted several decades (and where I lived for
a semester). Parking. But generally the area wasn’t frequented by students unless they had to be there. Now, it’s the center of Saturday activities. I saw some tailgating, but it wasn’t all that impressive. Lots of pontoon boats on display, which I still don’t know why. And then lots of pink. Uh oh.
I began seeing people in matching pink Mercer shirts as soon as I left the quad. It was odd, since Mercer’s colors are orange and black. Always good to be a Mercer Bear around Halloween. But the pink increased in frequency as I approached the stadium. I was able to read some shirts, and they had the words “Pink Out’ in large letters. Had I missed something? Indeed I had. I pulled up Twitter, since this is usually the best way to find out if there’s anything different going on at a game. Sure enough, they were all about #PinkOut. Silly me, I had worn a white shirt with “Mercer” in orange letters. How gauche! Luckily, several tents were set up to sell you the more fashionable pink shirt that many people were wearing. Fifteen dollars. Proceeds going to United Way of Middle Georgia. (Yes, it’s
called Middle Georgia, not Central Georgia.) Since I wasn’t going to have to pay for a game ticket, this seemed like a reasonable expense. And for a good cause. And to fit in.
After this, I went to the stadium. There’s one main gate, and then I think a student gate on the other side. I’ve only ever been in the main gate. I flashed my faculty ID at the ticket window, and no questions were asked. A minute later, I was inside with no hassle at all. It always surprises me how many options are available inside Five Star Stadium (it’s a gross name, isn’t it?): Zaxby’s, Marco’s Pizza, Kona Ice, and even Chick-Fil-A shows up. There are also the typical stadium options of popcorn, hot dogs, and drinks from the food services of Mercer University. I got my usual souvenir stadium cup from them ($7) in the second quarter, since I was still quite full and hydrated from lunch.
I walked around before the game, and before any friends arrived. One end of the stadium is open, except for the score board. And the other end is open, except for the field house. So it has
the look of a high-school stadium. And probably the seating capacity: 10,200 seats. Sadly, I’ve never seen it filled up. I’m told it was overflowing for the first game back in 2013, but it has never matched that number since. Today, they did not announce the attendance, but if I had to take a guess, I would say maybe 7,000 people. Even the student section was a little sad. There were students committed, for sure. I saw them painting up before the game, and they were in the front row. They stayed the entire game, so kudos to them. And as far as the Pink Out goes, I don’t think the students got the memo. The majority of the Mercer fans appeared to get the memo, however. At least half of them were in pink, but still a fair amount of orange was to be seen. And the fans of the visiting team, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, they were in neither pink nor orange. Blue and gold are their colors. And lots of white.
It was a windy day, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the performance on the field. After my
friends found me just after the start of the game, I went to sit with them, and we all enjoyed the cooling effect of the wind, since it was still rather warm at this point in the afternoon. Jon and Tiffany were wearing the same pink shirt I had purchased, and so we looked like we had coordinated our outfits. Who knows? We’ve known each other since the last millennium, so it could be possible.
Nevertheless, the game was exciting for about half of the first quarter. Mercer got a TD on their first possession to take the lead, 7-0. Then the Mocs forced a turnover on Mercer’s next possession deep in Mercer territory and scored an easy TD to tie the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Mercer’s return man ran it all the way back for another TD, taking another lead. And it was the last one Mercer would enjoy. Despite being up 14-7, being at home, and having all the momentum at this point, Mercer found ways to get in their own way. Bad offensive line, dropped balls, and fumbles really turned the game around. UTC scored ten points in the second quarter and kept Mercer off
the board to go into the half with a three-point lead. It looked like it might still be a close game.
And then lots of people started leaving. By the start of the second half, half of the attendees had vanished. Mercer tried to get something going, but the same old problems persisted. UTC scored another ten points to go up 27-14 at the end of the third. Still not out of reach. Mercer got the ball and drove down the field, only to choose to take a field goal on 4th
-and-short instead of going for it. Three points still makes it a two-possession game, duh. They got the FG to score their only points in the second half, making them down 27-17 early in the fourth. And soon thereafter, UTC put the proverbial nail in the coffin with another TD, now up by a score of 34-17. Mercer did try again, but their efforts were too little, too late. Running out of time and options, they folded. And the final score was a disappointing 34-17, UTC.
I can’t say I’m a very big Mercer football fan. The program has only been competing since 2013, long after my
time as a student. So it didn’t break my heart to watch them lose. Come to think of it, I don’t think Mercer has ever won a football game I attended. I had hoped that my good luck for the home teams this season would continue, but either Mercer broke it this week or FSU broke it last week. I’m not sure which. But now my record is 7-1 for the home team.
This is also the first time I didn’t stay for the whole game. Jon and Tiffany told me that they honestly rarely stay past the end of the third quarter. So they were doing me a favor staying as long as they did. But they were hungry for non-stadium food, and I obliged when they asked if I wanted to join them for food downtown. We walked out the stadium as Mercer was getting close to the end zone on their final drive. We didn’t miss anything, and since it wasn’t my first time at a Mercer game, I don’t feel too bad about leaving early, just this once.
Tot: 1.303s; Tpl: 0.141s; cc: 15; qc: 33; dbt: 0.0266s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb