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Liberty Bowl Travelogue (Day Four): Central Florida Knights 10, Georgia Bulldogs 6

I woke up on the last day of 2010, hopped in the shower, and found out that the hot water that briefly had been restored on Thursday was out again on Friday. When we spoke to the front desk about the problem, it was not clear whether this was the result of ongoing issues with the damaged water main or of the fact that the bands and auxiliary organizations for both schools ostensibly were staying at our hotel and using all the hot water.

On our way down to breakfast, we rode on the elevator with the Georgia cheerleaders before eating in the hotel restaurant with members of the Redcoat Band. The lobby was overflowing with folks in team apparel, and the fans of the Georgia Bulldogs finally appeared to outnumber supporters of the Central Florida Knights. More than once, we saw a full elevator car containing one UCF booster and a passel of people wearing red and black. When we went back up to our room, we had to wait for one such car to empty. The last Georgia fan off the elevator greeted me, "Go ‘Dawgs." I responded in kind as the lone Knights fan silently followed him out into the lobby. It was game day in Memphis.

Worries about the weather prompted me to ask DavetheDawg to send me periodic text messages during the game to keep me updated on the status of the gathering storms. Thomas and I went prepared with ponchos and related rain gear, which we wound up not needing. The shuttle arrived late to pick us up, and the driver seemed rather unclear on where to drop us off, but my son and I made our way to the Liberty Bowl, passing on our way in several of the high school bands who were on hand for the occasion. Memphis has been in the bowl business longer even than Atlanta, and the city knows how to put on a Division I-A postseason college football game. The Liberty Bowl is a strangely shaped stadium, and passing trains run near enough to the arena that their whistles sound as though they were coming from the scoreboard, but the organizers did a nice job of presenting the assemblage with high school and college band performances, the induction of new recruits into the armed forces through the administration of the oath on the field (seriously), and a live halftime rendition of "Love Train" by the original artist.

Thomas and I sat with podunkdawg and her sister, squillian, who were gracious enough to purchase our spare tickets to the game. While podunkdawg from time to time monitored the comment thread (which I have not yet checked, and will not until I get back to the Peach State), I fielded text messages, including one from Keith Richards that delivered the shocking news that Charlie Weis had been hired as the offensive coordinator of the Florida Gators.

I was stunned at this highly favorable turn of events, which means that, instead of having to contend with Urban Meyer’s spread innovations, Todd Grantham will get to scheme against a career NFL assistant whose attempts to adapt his offense to the college ranks failed utterly. The Sunshine State Saurians could not more completely have served up a batting-practice fastball into our defensive coordinator’s wheelhouse with this hire, leading me to remark at the time that perhaps Will Muschamp remains a loyal Bulldog, after all, and is secretly our double-agent in Gainesville. We will know for sure if one CWM hires another, bringing Willie Martinez back to the SEC to run the Gator D. Honestly, that’s about the only other hire I could hear about Florida making that would make me more giddy than the news about Coach Weis, he of the decided schematic advantage.

That positive development was for next year, though, and we had this year to close out, though on nowhere near as favorable a note. In many respects, the Liberty Bowl was the prototypical 2010 Georgia loss: a close contest in which the Red and Black entered the fourth quarter poised for victory yet let the game get away in the final 15 minutes. In other ways, though, it was an unusual loss for a game in which A.J. Green appeared, in that the defense turned in a solid performance---when the offense turns it over and gives the ball to one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, yet the defense only surrenders ten points, Coach Grantham’s charges have done their job---and the offense utterly failed to produce. Although I knew the Bulldogs wouldn’t score 30 points, I certainly didn’t expect to see a regression to the South Carolina game. While I haven’t yet checked the stats and I’m going strictly on my own observations from Row 55 of Section 123, Aaron Murray certainly seemed to suffer from the same fourth-quarter flop that ails the entire team, and no unit more than the offensive line. The decision to kick a field goal on fourth and short early in the game was an obviously bad call in the moment that only grew worse in retrospect. On the plus side, if A.J. Green was playing his final game in silver britches, he clearly decided to put on a show for the NFL scouts rather than dog his last college contest to preserve himself for the combine.

Because it was his first trip to a bowl game, Thomas was determined to stick it out until the end, but we left with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter because DavetheDawg’s text messages were becoming ever more urgent, and, when I asked him point-blank whether he thought it was safe for us to stay, Dave replied that we should go before the severe weather was right on top of us. We left, grabbed a cab, and walked through the door of our hotel room in time to see the last play of the game on television.

I called Dave to thank him for his invaluable assistance, and, while we were on the phone, we commiserated a bit over the season that had concluded just minutes before. We were in agreement that we both were glad just to see 2010 end. It has been a long year in Bulldog Nation, right up to the very end, but, for my part, I got a nice trip to Memphis with my family out of the deal, and, for your part, hey, it could be worse: you could be staying on the same floor of the Memphis Marriott with the UCF band on New Year’s Eve after the Knights beat the Bulldogs in a bowl game. Needless to say, we are in for the night, battening down the hatches, riding out the storm, and getting ready to head back to the Empire State of the South on the first day of a new year, 1/1/11.

Go ‘Dawgs!