Liberty Blues

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December 30th 2016
Published: December 31st 2016
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The first leg of my holiday road trip is over! Those who know me know that I go to many college football games, especially those associated with schools I attend or have attended. It was a rare treat that my first two universities from the FBS of college football played each other - basically two bowl games for the price of one. I am speaking, of course, of the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The University of Georgia played Texas Christian University today at 11 AM central time. I graduated from UGA in 2011 and TCU in 2016, and I will admit that most of my sympathies were with the one that I have a longer relationship with. But that didn't mean I was only going to support them. It was an odd experience for someone who really just wanted a good, close game. I got what I wanted and what I expected, but I also managed to garner a few weird looks from people who couldn't seem to comprehend why someone would be wearing gear from both schools playing in the game. I have a suspicion that the ones who didn't bother to ask me, just assumed that I wanted to make sure to have the winning team's gear on. Those who dared to ask, I did inform them that I had graduated from both institutions.

I left Tifton at 9 AM on Thursday morning (yesterday), after having spent the previous week with the Fam there. The drive wasn't very exciting, but I did manage to find a Whataburger between Montgomery and Birmingham, so I stopped, fueled up my car and myself, and continued my journey. For those interested in driving this route, I can honestly say that I haven't seen any patrol cars since I got through Birmingham. And I'm in Texarkana, TX, tonight. So if you want to drive speedily with impunity, I recommend I-22, I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock, and I-30 between Little Rock and Texarkana. I'll keep the status updated as my trip unfolds. Anyhow, I passed through a lot of rural areas before I got to Montgomery, and I can report that I only saw 2 Trump yard signs during that 3.5 hours.

I got to Memphis Thursday afternoon in time to attend the pep rallies on Beale Street, the main street for having a good time in town. All of the parking lots were cash only, so I had the privilege of paying a gas-station ATM $3 to get some money. I ran into Georgia cheerleaders and band prop crew after I parked, so I tagged along since I figured they would be going where I needed to go. I met up with Jack and Matt there at Handy Park. Awful name for a park. The Pep Rally was a little lackluster, with both bands playing a few songs and the cheerleaders up front doing their thing. The judges said that the so-called competition between which fan base could cheer the loudest ended in a tie, which was crap. The TCU fans were definitely louder, though I'll give the music selection and sound to the UGA Redcoat band.

Once that was done with, we decided to see what Beale Street had to offer, since we had already paid to park. We ran into Nick in the Redcoat Band as we were exiting the Handy Park, so we made plans to get food once he changed. We saw all kinds of alcohol, and it's such a difference drinking scene from Athens, GA. First off, no alcohol is allowed outside of bars in Athens, but here they sell it from walk-up windows to go. Also, basically every place that has a bar in it (restaurants included) makes you pay a cover charge just to get in. Bull crap. We managed to find one place that didn't have a cover charge despite having a bar AND live music. I don't know what role the WWE wrestler/announcer Jerry "the King" Lawler has with the bar named after him, but his old wrestling matches were being looped on several TVs, and the menu items included several with a wrestling theme. You could even buy his old crowns for $300 each. We did have to wait a while to be seated, but we had nothing else pressing our time. Matt got a catfish sandwich, but the rest of us all got the smoked sausage and cheese plates. I always thought Memphis was a barbecue town, but this particular dish appeared everywhere, so it was no surprise when 3 out of our group of 4 got it. It was good, but there was not a lot of sausage compared to the amount of cheese. Still, it was damn good. We would find back at the hotel that it hadn't settled too well with Jack.

Once we were done with food, we decided to make two stops before calling it a night: the Peabody Hotel and the Mississippi River. The hotel was about 3 blocks away, and it did not disappoint. This is probably the swankiest and most historical hotel in town. For some reason, the UGA football team was staying there (for about $230/night, I might add), so we saw several players in the lobby. The decorations were intense, so check out the pictures. One of their traditions at the hotel is for the ducks to walk through twice a day. We were a bit late to see that, but we did take the elevator to the top floor to see their "Duck Palace" on the rooftop. We also managed to get some great views of the downtown Memphis area. Nick wanted to climb up on the edges for his intense selfie game. There's not much to keep somebody from going over the edge, so yeah. After the hotel, we wandered to some confederate park and down to the Mississippi River. Quite by accident, we saw what looked like the ghost of a riverboat from the early 1800s. I imagine that it's more recent than that, but it still looked dilapidated and abandoned. So we walked up, each of us sticking an appendage into the River, and I guess we all got pictures of the Steamboat Queen. A walk back to our cars ended our evening, but not before we walked back down Beale Street one last time.

Today, Friday, has been a good day. We made our way to the Liberty Bowl Stadium by about 9 AM, and the stadium was already open. It was chilly, but most of the seating was in the sun. Our seats were in the sun once the game started, but some time during the 2nd quarter, the sun dipped behind the big scoreboard and didn't come back out until the middle of the 3rd quarter. And really, without the wind, it wasn't too cold. Alas. I wore my red UGA long-sleeve shirt and my TCU baseball cap, but the chilly weather made me need a jacket, and I opted for the thicker TCU hooded jacket that I just got last week. Naturally, many people couldn't wrap their minds around the apparent conflict they were looking at when they saw me. I could overhear comments as I approached or passed by people, but I was always happy to explain my situation when people asked.

As I said earlier, I expected UGA to win, and they did, by a score of 31-23. But it was a pretty exciting game. I have never had such an experience, where I'm invested in both teams doing well. As some pointed out, I get a win either way. But I also knew that one team had to lose, too. When you're invested in only one team, it's a lot easier to cheer when one team does well and when the other team doesn't. I don't know how really to explain how conflicted it is to watch a game where you want both to do well, but that's really what I wanted. And it was close for most of the game; we didn't know who was going to win until the final minute or two. And I guess that was all I could ask for.

The bowl swag game was weak, though. I got my obligatory pin, but I had thought I could get a good shirt with both of my schools on it. I wanted to wait until the end of the game because I didn't want to have to carry it all around. But when we were heading out, the only thing available was a red UGA Liberty Bowl Champion shirts. No thanks. It's not exactly a top-tier bowl game, and I have too many red UGA shirts already. So I got nothing else at the game itself. I'm glad that the UGA folks, including Jack, will get to drive back home happy. An 8-5 record looks a lot better than 7-6. But then the loss means that TCU has a losing record (6-7) for the first time in several years.

But that chapter of this journey is over. I got back to my car at the hotel and headed further west tonight. I'm spending the night in Texarkana, TX, although Arkansas is right across the street. I'm hoping to get some good quality rest tonight before checking the town out tomorrow. My next stop is Paris, TX, for New Years, and then on to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl on Monday. That's the second leg of the trip. Once that's done, I'll head back to Athens, GA, so I can be ready to start the new semester by January 5th.

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