This is a big, big game. You already know that, though. If Georgia is to keep its SEC East championship hopes alive, Coach Richt and his charges will need to beat Auburn. They'll also need to beat Kentucky and hope that Tennessee loses one of three games in which it should be favored. But those other elements of the equation are secondary. Georgia must beat Auburn.
The players know this. Especially the seniors, who will go a long way in defining their collective legacy during this game. Even if none of the other magic falls into place and the 'Dawgs end up somewhere back in the pack in the SEC, beating Florida and Auburn in the same year would stand as proof that after a year and a half of growing pains, this team is back in the hunt. The players know this. You and I know this. That's why this is a big, big game.
It's also, well, Auburn. I hate Auburn. Not as much as Kyle does, but that's really just splitting hairs. I don't hate Auburn fans. Some of my best friends and even (gasp, shame) 1 or 2 family members went to Auburn. OK, it was only one family member, and we love her anyway. I don't hate Auburn's players or coaches. I have to admit a grudging respect for Tommy Tuberville, who has put together a consistent winner at a school known mostly for its commitment to bovine science and indiscriminate waste of toilet paper. I remember as a kid thinking that Bo Jackson was a great tailback, and that it was too bad that the University of Georgia didn't want him to play for them. Why else would someone play for Auburn?
No, I hate Auburn because Auburn is Auburn. Illogical? Yes. Unfair? Probably. 100% certain? Absolutely.
But I also love Auburn because of this game. It is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. It is a game that was played when my grandfather was an undergraduate, when people who didn't wear ascots and drive Peugeots cared about the score of the Yale/Harvard game and couldn't find Athens on a map. It is a vestige of a time when the SEC was not the preeminent cash cow of college football. A time when people took backroads from Opelika and Prattville and Villa Rica and Claxton to see a game that most people in the rest of the country didn't know or care was happening. It is a showdown between two fanbases who were stark raving mad about college football long, long before it was fashionable.
The game has had its share of technicolor moments, even in the brief snippet of its history for which I've been around. Do me a quick favor. Read each one of the following phrases and then close your eyes. I challenge, no, I defy you to tell me that each one doesn't bring back a vivid memory. David Greene to Michael Johnson. If you can't beat 'em, hose 'em. That Dawg will bite you, Robert Baker. Odell returns it 99 yards. See what I mean?
This matchup is a classic, even in a down year. In a year like this, with the fate of both teams' seasons still on the line, it is shaping up to be one of the most electric gameday atmospheres in recent memory. And while you're anticipating the kickoff, don't worry what color jersies we'll be wearing. The only colors that truly matter on a football field are black and blue. Instead, down half your Coca-Cola Classic and pour in just a little Maker's Mark bourbon. Folks, this is what fall Saturdays in the South are all about. Smell the fried chicken. Inhale winter's first breath of crisp air blowing through the hills of northeast Georgia. Spend time with your family and friends, and take some pictures. Laugh. Drink. Scream at Tommy Tuberville. Repeat. But most of all, drink it in. This is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. It is one big, big football game.