Rivalry weekend: Why can’t we all just get along?

We’ve reached that special time in the college football season when interstate and intrastate rivals meet head-to-head for bragging rights, championships and bowl invitations.

If your family survived the political arguments over the Thanksgiving table and disagreements about decorating the Christmas tree, this display of division and antagonism can finish you off, sending family members to their respective corners refusing to speak to each other until the whole process starts over again at the next family get together.

The college football rivalry that will play out this weekend in closest proximity to my family is Georgia-Georgia Tech. I attended neither institution, but I have connections to both.

collage of two photos, one of dad and sons in Georgia Tech apparel and one of sons in Georgia Bulldog apparel
I’m coming clean from the outset. But we are not bandwagoners. We had/have our reasons.

First, I work for the university system that supports both schools, and I love all 26 of my university “children.” Second, I formerly worked at Georgia Tech and learned what “clean, old fashioned hate” meant to them, particularly during this current period when the University of Georgia has enjoyed the upper hand. Third, my oldest son, and my money, go to Georgia. He marches in the Redcoat band, and even my sports-averse spouse has spent Saturdays this fall watching WAY more college football than she ever imagined in hopes of spotting her baby on the TV.

With those bonafides out of the way, I have to confess that I have rooted for both teams in this rivalry at different times in my college football fandom. All it takes is a quick scan of my photos on Facebook to see which side we were on and when. Rather than deny it, I’m getting this out in the open now to avoid accusations of bandwagoning.

Carla grew up going with her daddy to ball games in Athens, so I married into a Bulldog family. She earned her master’s degree from Georgia, which reinforced our rooting interest in the Dawgs. But in 2012 when I went to work at Georgia Tech, I appreciated the Yellow Jackets in a new way. When the boys asked, “Does this mean we are Georgia Tech fans now?,” I responded that they were free to pull for whomever they liked, but Georgia Tech put food on our table.

We are unapologetically rooting for the Dawgs this year. Yes, I admit that I enjoyed seeing Coach Paul Johnson (CPJ in Georgia Tech parlance) lead the Jackets to several frustrating upsets over the Dawgs, but this year I am not pulling for any such unexpected outcomes. Besides, I don’t think this iteration of the Yellow Jackets under Coach Geoff Collins has it in them, but I could be wrong. That’s why they play the game, and that’s why we will watch.

The truth is, I want Barron to have the opportunity to play his trumpet on the artificial turf of Lucas Oil Stadium on Jan. 10, 2022, at the national championship game. In order for him to get to experience a dream-come-true, Georgia needs to run the table.

A native Texan, I largely ignored or was apathetic about the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry for my first 22 years of life. But when I moved to Macon in 1992, I quickly learned about its history and intensity. It does seem to be a bigger deal for Tech fans. Yes, they have conference rivalries in the ACC, but those seem to have dwindled in recent years as Tech’s performance on the field has been inconsistent.

Georgia has so many rivalries that Tech is at least third or maybe fourth or fifth on its list of adversaries. By the time you hate Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and lately Alabama, your hatred is spread too thin to muster venom for Georgia Tech.

Tech’s year revolves around this game. Their own fight song gives us much time to Georgia as their own combatants. The phrase “THWG” (I will not spell it out in this family blog) is as ubiquitous as “Go Jackets!” and is the equivalent of “Roll Tide,” “War Eagle,” “Boomer Sooner,” or “Go Dawgs!” They dedicate time each week to cursing the Bulldogs regardless of their opponent. There is much more hate on the Georgia Tech side of the equation which feels more like jealousy than anything else, at least in recent years.

It’s a fabled rivalry, though, featuring some truly great finishes. As we get farther and farther removed from years when it went back and forth, the game may pale in comparison to the heated debates around the table of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Here in the New South, I encourage all college football fans to cheer with vigor for their teams this weekend, but when the final whistle blows, adopt the spirit of sportsmanship that we teach kids in little league.

And if you can’t congratulate your opponent with a handshake, maybe you should hug it out. That’ll help clear the air so that y’all can be in the same room at Christmas.

Which college football rivalry do you follow most closely each year and who are you rooting for this Rivalry Weekend? Leave a comment with your team and why you pull for them. Please, as momma used to say, don’t be ugly.