Game Day Lockdown

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Doors locked. Blinds closed. Cell phones off. This will be the scene at our home on Saturday afternoon.

No, this isn’t our audition for “Doomsday Preppers.” This is our game plan for the SEC championship.

For a couple of weeks now, friends have been asking what bar we’ll be at or if we’re hosting a watch party as our beloved Bulldogs go up against the Tide. My husband and I have kind of stammered, sometimes changed the subject. We want to be gracious. But we don’t want to watch this game in the company of others.

The plan is completely contrary to our usual game day M.O. We love a rambunctious crowd. We embrace lively smack talk. We frequently are the most obnoxious fans in a room.

But this game is different. And it didn’t really get like this until Oregon and Kansas State took their tumbles. That’s when title dreams creeped in and changed our whole outlook.

We’ve done the big SEC championship watch party before — and had a perfectly good time despite a terrible drubbing. Last year we were surrounded by a big group of Arkansas friends as the Dawgs showed true signs of life before LSU dominated the second half. We sensed it was coming, to be honest, and the letdown wasn’t terrible. But that game didn’t seem to have as much on the line.

Then again, it’s also hard for me to forget the last time we got a group together to watch Georgia take on Alabama. It was Saban’s second season, and the No. 3 Dawgs had just been hexed with a pre-season Sports Illustrated cover featuring Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. For this reason alone, we should have known better than to ask friends to join us at the sports bar at the Chenal Embassy Suites to watch the game.

Alabama was up 31-0 at the half, when my brother called from Athens. “It’s Dad,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to put his: He’s leaving the game early.” My father had attended nearly every home game in Sanford Stadium since at least 1971, and even when we were toddlers, it was unfathomable to leave before the clock ran out. “No. Oh, God,” I said. “Call me when y’all get back to the house.” Our friends gathered for the watch party thought someone had died.

It was a fair assessment. Bulldog fans had organized a “black out” of Sanford Stadium that day. After winning 41-30, Tide fans said the Georgia faithful had come dressed for its own funeral.

As Alabama scored over and over that night in 2008, I remember wanting to simply vanish from that room full of well-meaning Razorbacks. There’s something so cruel about watching your team’s big dreams crushed among people who are just there for the entertainment.

Fans of other non-Arkansas teams living in these parts can probably identify. And so can Razorbacks who’ve moved elsewhere. Balancing emotions as an ex-pat isn’t easy. Our Arkansas friends are genuinely kind and always ask about our thoughts on the next big game. A lot of them even seem to root for us as long as we’re not facing off against them.

But you don’t want to burden the fans of another team with your fears about a game in which they have no personal investment. Especially when you feel a little guilty knowing that if things had gone as planned this season, lots of Arkansans might also have been in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

So we’re not making the mistakes we made the last time Mark Richt and Nick Saban squared off. No smack talk. No forcing our UGA cheers on fans of other teams.

We’re calling it the Aaron Murray Model. Our all-smiles, loves-the-camera QB is on a self-imposed media lockdown this week to focus on game preparation. If he can do it, so can we.

We’ll shelter in place with our mp3s of the Redcoat Marching Band and the only Atlanta exports we can acquire in Little Rock: Chick-Fil-A and Coca-Cola.

We’re hoping that a Georgia win on Saturday isn’t a sign of the apocalypse. But if it is, at least we’ll already have a game plan in place for Jan. 7.

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