It’s Paul Johnson, Adrian Peterson (the one that played for the Bears) and the 2013 Florida-Georgia Southern game.
This is where my list of Georgia Southern knowledge began and ended when I moved to Statesboro just over a month ago. As a matter of fact, I mistakenly called Georgia Southern “Georgia State” in my interview with The Herald (and somehow they still hired me).
There have been plenty of people who I’ve run across in my short time in southeast Georgia who just assume since I work and live here I either went to Southern or know a lot about the school and its program history. But as mentioned above, I am very much an outsider.
I was born and raised an Auburn Tiger. Many Saturday afternoons were spent in front of the TV watching the devastating Auburn defenses coached by Tommy Tuberville. If we weren’t watching the Tigers on the tube, my family would make the trek to wherever Auburn was playing to watch the game in person. I’ll never forget those games, or the atmosphere that surrounded them.
I went on to get my college education at the University of South Carolina during the height of its football prowess. Steve Spurrier had recruited a team loaded with NFL talents like Jadeveon Clowney, Alshon Jeffery and Melvin Ingram — and the team was 41-11 with three bowl wins while I was there.
The crowds at those games were electric. Tailgate lots were packed out bumper to bumper for miles outside of Williams-Brice Stadium, where the smells of smokey BBQ, whiskey and human sweat melded into an aroma you’ll never forget. No matter who the Gamecocks played, the fans were always ready to throw down like it was the last game USC would ever play (yes, I call them USC — get over it).
They say the SEC is where the best college football is played, which for the most part I believe to be true. Along with those games are said to be the best atmospheres, stadiums and crowds in the sport. The crowds can get as large as 108,00 people, with decibel levels so loud it could deafen a small, woodland mammal.
I realize I sound like that “SEC guy” you love to troll on twitter when say, Mississippi State loses to South Alabama — but I say all this to illustrate how high my standards are when it comes to college football. I’ve lived in these environments since my brain was logged on to form memories, and I’ve only known the very best in college football experiences.
Understandably, when I came to Statesboro I took all the fan hype around the GS program with a grain of salt. I mean, GS is in the Sun Belt after all -- the conference we jokingly call the “Fun Belt” because of its reputation for housing the bottom feeders of college football like Idaho and New Mexico State.
Soon enough I began to catch on to all of the history: Erk Russell, GATA, the six national championships and the short amount of time it took GS to achieve all this. I was admittedly impressed, but I can never fully buy into a program as a whole until I go to a game and get a full taste of the gameday atmosphere.
I drove up to the stadium around 4:30 hoping to get the full tailgating experience, with my expectations tethered down. I mean, how can a “Fun Belt” team compare to what I’ve seen and experienced in the SEC?
I pulled into my parking spot and walked up to the back of Paulson Stadium, where I roamed into a scene I had definitely seen before — but wasn’t expecting here in Statesboro.
There were cars lines by the dozens all the way to the other side of the stadium with Georgia Southern flags flying high over many of them, flapping proudly in the wind. As I looked around I saw hundreds of tailgaters decked in their navy and gold polos, khaki shorts and sperrys for the men and blue dresses with Eagle tattoos on their cheek for the women.
As I mosied along, that similar smell had whisked past my nostrils. The aroma of smoked meats, dark liquors and gnat line humidity was back and as good as ever. An Armada of navy-colored golf carts patrolled the walkways as people shouted obscenities at their friends driving by, many times double-fisting cheap beer in a Georgia Southern koozie.
There were RV’s with massive TV’s playing the other games from around the country, while people who probably didn’t even know each other gathered around them to share a drink and some memories of past Georgia Southern glory. As I observed the lot and let the sights and sounds sink in, it finally hit me.
I was right at home. Here, at Georgia Southern. How on earth did this former FCS team satisfy my filling for an SEC-caliber tailgate? I continued to be amazed as I entered the stadium. There was a personal box of seats that had a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville margarita maker in it — that’s SEC as hell!
The stadium was filled at 80 percent capacity to see Savannah freaking State. You couldn’t fill Williams Brice that big when the Citadel came to town. I was blown away by the level of noise that could be made by just 20,000 people, and the pregame hype music and video only added to the fantastic atmosphere (although Cole Swindell’s part in the video was a little goofy, but that’s a different column for a different day).
The point is: bravo Georgia Southern. You made this SEC lifer feel right at home with your gameday atmosphere, and this is only the first game of the year. I can only imagine what things look like when Appalachian State comes to town.
Well, now I won’t have to imagine — because I’ll be there to get after that ass.