Game Day Rituals (Part IV)

Superstitions abound among sports fans.  In order to help the Bulldogs win, I wear caps picked by my son and wristwatches chosen by my niece, turn the statue of Uga on my back porch to face the site of the Georgia game, and try to talk fans of rival schools into wearing my team's colors to the stadium.  

The author of Athletics Nation puts his daughter's milk in the microwave for 35 seconds to help the Big Hurt, whose "bases clearing double against the Yankees did come when I had the milk in the microwave."  I do not consider that coincidental, inasmuch as D.J. Shockley's 45-yard touchdown pass to Sean Bailey in the S.E.C. championship game occurred while I was handing an opened packet of sugar to my son.  

There is even a quiz to help you determine your level of fan intensity, assuming that you haven't already answered that question by skipping your daughter's wedding or naming your children after football coaches and players.  

In light of the superstitious and single-minded nature of sports fans' obsessions with, and rituals regarding, their teams, I have decided to continue my series on game day rituals with an analysis of pregame dietary practices . . . an installment I like to refer to as "Dawg Food."  

The literary term for this is "foreshadowing."  In the meantime, is it just me or does Paul Prudhomme look exactly like Dom DeLuise?

During the six years that we co-hosted "The Dawg Show," Travis Rice and I liked to use the term "feasting on the flesh of the enemy" to describe the pregame victory meal.  

The principle is simple.  When your team is about to face an opponent whose mascot is edible, you prepare for the game by eating a food item made from the other team's nickname.  Before playing Arkansas, you eat barbecue.  Before playing South Carolina, you eat chicken . . . and therein lies our tale.  

In 1996, some friends of mine and I drove from Athens to Columbia to attend the Georgia-South Carolina game at Williams-Brice Stadium.  The contingent of those participating in the road trip included the aforementioned Travis Rice.  

In Trav's family, they have a saying:  "There's the right way and the Rice way."  The truth of that adage was demonstrated on this trip.  

This, by contrast, is the right way.

We parked in a field near the stadium and set up our tailgate.  Trav brought chicken, but, because we didn't have room for a full-fledged grill, he cannibalized the parts for one.  He put a bag of charcoal in a large turkey pan, set a metal grillwork atop the turkey pan, set the turkey pan atop a molded plastic crate he had stolen from his roommate, set the charcoal aflame, and put the chicken atop the grillwork.  

Already you see the problem.  In Trav's defense, he may have been doing some pregame drinking.  

Predictably, the heat from the burning charcoal caused the plastic crate to melt.  This was bad enough, but worse still was the fact that the crate did not melt evenly, so the turkey pan began slowly to sink into the molten crate at an angle, gradually tipping over at an increasingly precarious incline that put our meal in greater peril with each passing moment.  

Fortunately, we had some fellow Georgia fans on hand to lend us their advice and assistance.  Unfortunately, they, like Trav, may have been doing some pregame drinking, so their advice consisted mostly of saying, "Hey, you gotta fire there" and their assistance was confined chiefly to pointing and laughing.  

The smell from the melting crate was bad enough, but, when the sinking turkey pan had dipped so precipitously that the plastic itself caught flame, it was time to spring into action.  

I cannot stress enough at this point that Trav may have been doing some pregame drinking.  

When we left for Columbia that morning, we bought an Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Trav hastily grabbed two sections of the newspaper and, using them as makeshift oven mitts, lifted the grillwork (with the chicken atop it) from the burning grill and kicked it over so that the charcoal briquettes spilled out onto the dirt.  The rest of us poured bottled water on the empty turkey pan and the plastic crate into which it was now permanently fused.  

I really can't stand this place.

It was around this time that it occurred to Trav that there's a reason why newspapers rarely are used as oven mitts.  

He had to put the grill down---and fast---but he couldn't just drop it, lest all hope of feasting on the flesh of the enemy be lost.  The fellow denizens of Bulldog Nation who surrounded us, enjoying the spectacle, then provided useful assistance.  

One of the guys who had been drinking said, "Here" . . . and he proceeded to put an empty beer can next to the smoldering charcoal on the ground.  Another fan did likewise . . . then another . . . then another . . . and, soon, there was a ring of empty beer cans encircling the spilt charcoal.  

Trav set the grillwork down, balancing it atop the beer cans so that the chicken once more would be over the charcoal, albeit without a melting plastic crate burning beneath it.  

It was some of the best chicken I have ever eaten.  Georgia lost the game, alas, but, sometimes, even the best ritual-induced mojo cannot overcome such impediments as Jim Donnan's coaching.  

Remember how cool this was?  Well, the 1996 South Carolina game was exactly the opposite.

Naturally, I would encourage my fellow fans to plan their ritualistic pregame victory meals better than we planned ours.  It helps to bear in mind such rudimentary laws of physics as "plastic + charcoal = fire" and "flesh + newspaper + hot metal = burnt hands."  

Nevertheless, I hope the 1996 South Carolina story helps to illustrate the lengths to which the true fan will go to assist his team in pursuit of victory.  Yes, it's true, everyone who hears that story thinks Trav is a dufus . . . but, if the Bulldogs had won that day, he would be hailed as a genius.  

Such is the thin line between brilliance and stupidity . . . between victory and defeat.  Bon appetit.

Go 'Dawgs!  

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