'It’s THE Saturday in Athens': Fans revel in UGA football success during Athens celebration

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Some Georgia Bulldog fans have been waiting for 41 years and others haven’t waited that long, but the fact remains that everybody wearing the red and black has been waiting, and not always patiently.

The late Tom Petty may have said it best – the waiting is the hardest part.

And with the Bulldogs’ 33-18 victory over Alabama last Monday for the national football championship, the wait is finally over.

Thousands of Georgia fans gathered in Athens Saturday to commemorate Georgia’s first national title since 1980 and they lined Lumpkin Street to show their appreciation for their team during a short but memorable parade that led to the packed-house celebration at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

More: Vince Dooley explains what embrace with Kirby Smart meant after UGA's national title

“This is a huge day,” said Ryan Warren of Monroe, who had a small tailgate just off Milledge Avenue a few hours before the parade. “A lot of people always say, ‘It’s Saturday in Athens,’ but today it’s THE Saturday in Athens. We’re all out here with the world’s best fans in the world’s best city for college football.”

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While many fans convened sardine-style up and down Lumpkin Street, Wayne Hale and his family had a prime spot to watch the parade, gathering on the fourth floor parking deck next to the Georgia Center. Hale, a resident of Good Hope and a lifelong Bulldogs fan, said he had a good feeling before Georgia’s title game against Alabama, a rematch from the SEC Championship game that the Crimson Tide dominated.

“I knew that this day would come, but I do think that it took too long,” he said. “I was pretty confident about it, I guess because of the law of averages. If you get beat by a team once you’re going to beat them on the second go-round.”

Fans came from near and far to share their devotion to the 2021 edition of the Bulldogs and many expressed gratitude to be able to commune with the team one more time, even on a chilly Saturday morning in January.

Scotty Whiten, who serves as fire chief in the central Georgia city of Eastman, said he and his family left home at 6:15 a.m. Saturday and arrived three hours before the parade. A former resident of Athens, Whiten said he was delighted to see the team win another championship.

“I’ve been a fan since 1978 and I was in the 11th grade at Dodge County when we won the last one,” said Whiten, whose 7-year-old grandson Mason slept contentedly at his side. "I’m a bona fide Bulldogs fan and this is the greatest thing in the world. It feels great. I’m just ecstatic.”

More: Kirby Smart's UGA recruiting blueprint on display at 2021 national championship celebration

Although this was a day strictly for coach Kirby Smart and his charges, it wasn’t lost on those in the Bulldog Nation that this past season was also a big one for the Atlanta Braves, another team that has known its share of frustration. Casey Phillipp, a 2019 graduate of UGA now living in Nashville, said the Braves’ World Series triumph gave her extra incentive to be confident as the College Football Playoffs began.

“The Braves’ success made me feel that this might be the year,” she said. “You know, when it rains, it pours – sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a good way. This is a good rain.”

And the fanbase is quite confident that days like Saturday will be regular occurrences.

“I think it will happen sooner than folks think because of our recruiting,” said Whiten. “And obviously we’ve got a good coach.”

Logan Todd, a Memphis native who was at Saturday’s celebration with his wife Kenna McConnell and her father Robert McConnell (who said he was Terry College’s oldest graduate from the Class of 2017, when he earned a degree in finance at the age of 63), said he’s pleased to be taking a familiar phrase out of his vocabulary.

“Heartbreak Bulldogs no more,” said Todd. “Considering how the team is constructed and considering the kind of recruits we’re getting, I certainly hope to have more of these. I’m a huge football fan from a strategy standpoint and seeing how they’re built with defense first and with the guys they have, I think for the next five years we’ll see a couple more for sure.”

Warren also felt certain Georgia would be back in the championship picture future sooner than later, and added that the Bulldogs’ victory – after so many close calls – could serve as inspiration to other teams.

“I think we’ll continue the tradition the SEC has in dominating the postseason,” he said. “And I see this as hope – hope for a lot of teams that are getting close but are always the bridesmaid and never the bride.

“I think this gives a lot of hope to up-and-coming programs. But this is a start for Georgia – I’m not saying it’s the beginning of a dynasty, but it will be huge for our recruitment program and we’ll see a lot more strength come through.”

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: UGA fans celebrate national title during parade, ceremony in Athens

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