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UGA, Tech fans fired up for conference championships
UGA plays at 4 today, Tech plays at 8
Greg Caldwell checks the price of a Georgia Bulldogs shirt Friday at Hibbett Sports in Lakeshore Mall. - photo by Tom Reed

Championship Saturday

SEC: Georgia vs. Alabama, 4 p.m., Atlanta (CBS)
ACC: Georgia Tech vs. Florida State, 8 p.m., Charlotte (ESPN)

Who’s that coming down the track? It’s the mean machine in red and black.

And as the Georgia Bulldogs lay down their track from Athens to Atlanta to take on the Crimson Tide from Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game, Dawg pride can be seen all over Gainesville.

For those on the square or in the mall this week, red and black was more than a fashion choice; it was a declaration of pride.

“I think the last time there was this much excitement was preseason during (Matthew) Stafford’s senior season when they were AP No. 1,” said Greg Caldwell, a UGA fan who was buying a new shirt at the mall for his trip to the Georgia Dome today.

“But after they lost everyone kind of fell off. Now everyone is rejuvenated and ready for this game.”

Georgia (11-1, 7-1), the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, takes on No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) in a game that determines who will play Notre Dame for the national championship.

The last time the Bulldogs sniffed a title shot was in the early 1980s when Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker was carrying the ball for the “silver britches.”

Their national title came in 1980 when the undefeated Bulldogs beat the same Irish during Walker’s freshman season.

“Last time we won the national championship, it was under the same circumstances,” said Caldwell. “Hopefully everything falls into place the exact same.”

For some longtime Georgia fans, this year means more than the 1980 season.

“I think there’s more excitement around this one,” said Michelle Gresham. “Maybe because I’m older I appreciate more than I did (in 1980). I think (Georgia has) a great team and I think they have the ability to win it all.”

Even transplanted UGA fans can tell this game is different.

“I think there’s a cautious optimism, a cautious excitement,” said Mark Brown, who moved to Georgia from Oklahoma in 1996 and has a son who was just accepted into Georgia. “There’s definitely an excitement with people talking about it and talking about the game and going down to the game.”

After Georgia plays in Atlanta, Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3) will be in Charlotte, N.C., vying to win its conference title and a bid to the Orange Bowl.

The unranked Yellow Jackets take on No. 13 Florida State University (10-2, 7-1) for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Kelly Randall, a Florida Gators fan first, has a daughter attending Georgia Tech. He’s become a Yellow Jacket fan to share in the mutual rivalries: Georgia, Florida State and Miami.

“I will be watching the game tomorrow, no question,” Randall said. “I just don’t want to make any bets on which way it will go, but I am glad they’re playing.”

It comes as no surprise Randall is pulling for Alabama. But he may be in the minority in Gainesville with that school of thought.

Although he said he’s not sure what the outcome will be today, Lee Darragh, Hall County’s district attorney and 1978 graduate of UGA’s law school, said he thinks Georgia has a fighting chance.

“I think it’s certainly exciting. I think the Bulldogs have a chance to beat Alabama,” Darragh said. “I’d be very excited about the opportunity to see them play for the national championship. I would love to see that again.”

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