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‘My people are food people’

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Photo courtesy of André Gallant

This is a guest essay from André Gallant, who is a writer, editor and photojournalist based in Athens. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Gravy, Bitter Southerner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Southern Cultures and Atlanta Magazine. He is the author of The High Low Tide, a work of narrative nonfiction about the Georgia oyster industry published by UGA Press in 2019.

I’d wager many of us — those of us who are being COVID-19 cautious — pine for a sit-down restaurant meal, and that longing is accompanied by harsh physical symptoms, not unlike the gut punch that DeVonta Smith delivered as he slipped behind a Georgia defender en route to an agonizing run to the endzone in 2018.

Recently, when I returned home from my first day of public, face-to-face work in months, teaching part-time at the University of Georgia, I wanted to do nothing more than shake off the stress at my most happiest of places: a booth at Tlaloc in North Athens, where I’d normally line up empty glasses of charro negro, a spiced and limed Coke and tequila cocktail, consume my weight in enchiladas de mole, and regain some sense of calm.

That therapy hasn’t felt like an option lately and I feel worse for it. It’s not the lower caloric intake or diminished buzz that hurts the most. I miss my people. 

My people are food people. 

David and D.J.

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Photo courtesy of UGA Sports Information

Nearly 16 years later, D.J. Shockley doesn’t mince any words about that particular game.

Despite this reporter’s best efforts to soft-pedal the questions around the 2004 Georgia-Georgia Tech game, it really is hard to dance around how he played. Shockley, to his credit, doesn’t shy away from his own brutal assessment of how he performed that chilly November afternoon.

He used words like “terrible” and “awful” and then “terrible” again.

“I was terrible in that game, man, just say it,” said the former Georgia quarterback with a laugh. “You’re trying to be so nice, but it’s OK to say I was terrible.”

Fair enough, but there were several contributing factors at work. That day, the temperature at kickoff in Sanford Stadium was 46 degrees with a supposed slight chance of rain. Well, there was nothing slight about the elements that day.

The rain came down steadily throughout the game, including a few brief periods of sheets of water cascading across the field. The temperature dipped as well, mixing with the frigid rain to make for miserable conditions more suitable for a January in Sussex than a fall Saturday in Athens.

Conversation with a Creator: Richard Johnson

Each Thursday, we share an essay or story just for our Patreon subscribers that covers everything from sports to history to culture. As we get BTT launched, we’re making this content available to everyone for the first few weeks. We’d love to have your support, and if you become a BTT Backer for just $5 a month, you’ll get this type of content each and every week.

Our first conversation is with Richard Johnson, a Brooklyn-based sportswriter who has worked for ESPN and SB Nation. Recently, he just helped launched Moon Crew, a new college football newsletter, and published The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends Of The NCAA, a collection of essays and stories, with several of his former SB Nation colleagues.

BTT: When did journalism, writing in particular, become something you decided to pursue?

RJ: The writing thing, for me, didn’t happen until college. I went to the University of Florida and started out thinking I was going to be on TV. My degree is in broadcast journalism. About halfway through college, I thought to myself ‘I don’t love TV, it’s not my favorite medium.’ I’m talking about the normal, two-minute newscast thing — I think it lacks some context to the stories I want to tell.

I started doing some writing, and I really fell in love with it, probably around my junior year of college. I covered a team in a beat capacity, I really, really enjoyed it. In my senior year, I started working for the school paper, and I deeply loved the medium.

The Rabbit in Life and Death

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Y’all ever heard the story of The Rabbit?

The Marlin Marvel? The Mighty Midget? The Texas Terror?

The man who bumfozzled the Auburnites? The youngster who could run barefooted on greased grass and not be at all handicapped? The runningest gent who ever floated across the cross marks?

Yeah, that’s The Rabbit — Irby Rice Curry by birth, 1st Lt. Irby Rice Curry in death.

Irby “Rabbit” Curry

A hundred years ago, there would have been no need for an explanation. Folks from Texas to Virginia and beyond knew all about Rabbit Curry, the peppery little gridiron star who died a hero in the skies over France.

They revered The Rabbit back then, only a few years removed from his glory days at Vanderbilt, and his name would take on the sheen of legend. That lore was built and maintained by the men best positioned to do that kind of thing in those days: the sportswriters.

Scribes like Zipp Newman of the Birmingham News, James Stahlman and later Ralph McGill and Fred Russell at the old Nashville Banner, and above all the incomparable Blinkey Horn of The Tennessean, made Rabbit Curry a household name as a player and ensured future generations knew his story for decades to come.

You have to remember that throughout the 24 years and six days of Irby Rice Curry’s short life, from August 4, 1894 through August 10, 1918, it was the writers who created characters, who shaped public personas. With no other medium to compete against, they conjured the most florid descriptions their typewriters would allow, day after day and year after year. And boy did they spill some ink over Rabbit Curry.

So why don’t we step aside and let them tell you the story …

There is no moral path back for college football

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.

Making moral decisions requires knowledge.

This might sound counter-intuitive at first. After all, isn’t living ethically more about doing the right thing — about carrying out a certain series of actions — rather than just knowing stuff? That instinct can seem right, but put it under even mild scrutiny and the appeal of it almost instantly disappears.

Let’s channel Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place for a moment.

If you subscribe to Deontology as a moral philosophy, this requires that you deduce ethical maxims that apply to all persons in all situations. In other words, there are moral rules that apply to everybody all the time, but the universe requires you to use your reason to figure them out—to deduce them. Sure, you have to follow those maxims, to do them, but first they have to be deduced. You have to go through a process of discernment and arrive at knowledge of the universal rules and, after that, you’re good to go. But the deducing comes first.

Athens staple adjusts to COVID-19

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Each Thursday, we share an essay or story just for our Patreon subscribers that covers everything from sports to history to culture. As we get BTT launched, we’re making this content available to everyone for the first few weeks. We’d love to have your support, and if you become a BTT Backer for just $5 a month, you’ll get this type of content each and every week.

Wilson’s Soul Food anchored the west side of downtown and the Hot Corner. Weaver D’s has been Automatic for the People since the days before Automatic for People. Then there was Peaches Fine Foods down West Broad Street, serving up the best fried chicken and mac ’n cheese — at least, for my money — in town. There were even two Plantation Buffets!

Fast forward a decade, and Wilson’s is a bar, Peaches is a parking lot and Plantation Buffet has contracted back to its NorthFarm location. Dexter Weaver has threatened to close no fewer than three times, but Weaver D’s continues to chug along.

And as COVID-19 descended upon Northeast Georgia, it looked like it may claim the most venerable — and best, if you know what good is — buffet in town.

One week from tryouts to titles

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Photo courtesy of College Disc Golf Association

In 2007 and 2008, the University of Georgia won back-to-back national championships.

Did you know that?

It seems worth mentioning, right?

Now, it didn’t have title-starved fans pouring out of the stands at the New Orleans Superdome. There was no sugar falling from the sky to celebrate this title. It wasn’t even a scrappy basketball team playing three games in 30 hours to win a conference tournament no one thought they could.

Instead, it was greeted with little fanfare on campus, even from those who were actually on the title-winning team.

It was just four guys who hung out at Sandy Creek Park in Athens who decided to snag some Georgia shirts at a Walmart and head down to Augusta to play some disc golf.

“I can’t even stress to you how casual this whole thing was,” said Pete McPherson, an All-American on Georgia’s national champion disc golf teams of 2007 and 2008. “Laid back is the positive term for it I guess, but it was just not a big deal for anyone involved.”

One night in Athens

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Photo by Rick O'Quinn, University of Georgia Photographic Services

You remember Brandi Chastain, euphoric in the Southern California sun. Sliding to her knees on the grass, biceps flexed, screaming in joy right along with the 90,000 people surrounding her in the Rose Bowl. The sports bra. The Sports Illustrated cover. The moment that will forever serve as a touchstone for women’s sports. 

A moment that would not have happened if not for the groundwork laid three years earlier at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. 

FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, awarded the 1999 Women’s World Cup to the United States on May 31, 1996. There were no other bidders for the event, the third of its kind. The previous edition had been held in 1995 in Sweden, with an average attendance of 4,316 fans at each match. 

That number set the baseline for FIFA’s thinking on how the ‘99 tournament should be staged. FIFA officials told U.S. Soccer they wanted the event held entirely in the Eastern time zone, to cut down on travel costs, and the stadiums to be small  — able to accommodate 5,000-10,000 fans. They did acquiesce to U.S. officials’ request to hold the final at Washington’s RFK Stadium, but that old 55,000-seat warhorse was the exception. 

The other nine venues submitted as possible hosts in the official bid presented to FIFA in February 1996 included college football stadiums at Rutgers and the University of Richmond, Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut, and a series of smaller college venues: the University of Buffalo, Davidson College, the University of Delaware, Lehigh University, UNC-Greensboro, and Tufts University. 

Considering what we know now about how the tournament ultimately played out, it’s mind-boggling to consider what might have been. Davidson. Lehigh. Tufts. 

The Future of Football: Bowls, scheduling and more

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Photo by Paul Abell via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

The haze of the COVID-19 pandemic has clouded the picture for all sports, and few have been impacted more than college football. 

While the NCAA did share some health and safety protocols on Aug. 5, it’s primarily been conferences and schools taking control — as much as one can in the middle of raging pandemic — of their destinies in an attempt to save football.

Teams have shuffled their schedules around and athletic directors have offered hopeful, yet vague comments about the prospects of playing football this season. The only thing to be certain of in the middle of the pandemic is uncertainty. 

That said, the prospects of conference-only schedules and spring football are intriguing to many fans, largely because it offers the promise of live sports. These adjustments, seemingly shifting on a daily basis, breed questions, suggesting that many long-sought changes might be within reach.

The question is if the pandemic has done enough to foster significant, structural change with regards to scheduling, the bowl system and the future of the College Football Playoffs.

The answer, of course, is … maybe?

The Future of Football: Collective bargaining

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Picture of Alabama football players on the field.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

We’ve updated this story after some additional conversations and new developments in the past day.

The demands don’t seem to be that outrageous, right?

Fair wages to compensate you for your work. Appropriate safety protocols to help navigate a global pandemic. A comfortable, trusting environment that fosters open dialogue.

It’s what most employees would want in their workplaces, and it’s what most individuals can seek through a variety of measures, such as job transitions or collective bargaining. In the world of college athletics, however, such demands are treated more often than not as controversial requests.

But both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd have spurred an important awakening among athletes at all levels of play. While professional athletes have the protection of their unions to give them the necessary leverage to demand — and enact — change, student-athletes have lacked that type of singular, unified voice to push for change.

That appears to be changing.

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