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I'd been saying for several years that I should just take a day trip over to Legion Field to attend the annual Birmingham Bowl. This year, I finally put my money where my mouth was and bought tickets near midfield. I'm glad I did.

Memphis 34, Wake Forest 37

Friend Randy drove. He's always extra fun at football games. He often sees things on the field that I would miss. However, neither one of us spotted the fireworks on the field prior to the National Anthem. We weren't the only ones in the stadium caught off guard when rockets quite literally went off with a red glare, interrupting the poor singer struggling to cope with a bad sound system.

That wasn't the only time fireworks would catch us unaware. There were explosions after every score, it wasn't until halfway through the second quarter (score 28 to 7, Memphis lead) that we finally learned to anticipate the bang.

Dreamland BBQ was one of many vendors brought in just for the event, and we were surrounded by a cloud of delicious meat smoke for most of the game. Considering the warm December sun and enthusiastic (if smallish) crowd, it was an ideal way to watch a game.

All of which was set dressing for the game itself, which was fantastic. Memphis managed both an interception and kickoff returned for touchdown on back-to-back drives, and Wake Forest fell into an early hole which would take them more than three quarters to reverse. Memphis responded, and the game came down to a missed field goal at the final gun. Very exciting.

If every Birmingham Bowl was this good, I'd go every year.

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What I did on St. Patrick's Day:

Jacksonville Icemen 5, Georgia Gladiators 4.

Minor league ice hockey might not sound an Irish way to pass the time, but they fight like true drunken expatriates. Saint Patrick would be proud.

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Today is the first day of the 12th Annual Batman and Football Month at Wriphe.com!

I started the celebration early by attending last night's inaugural Georgia State University game at Turner Field Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium. (Yeah, that name's not going to stick.)

TSU 17, GSU 10
This is an optical illusion. The stands were not this full.

Seven years ago Mom and I attended her alma mater's first ever football game, and we weren't going to miss the unveiling of their new home. Two games in seven years: that's better than I've managed for my old high school. And it might be the last GSU game I ever attend. If GSU and the city of Atlanta can't get their act together better than what I saw yesterday, I won't be back even in another seventy years.

It's not that the game was especially bad, although Georgia State was horribly outplayed by Tennessee State University. (The final score was 17-10 TSU, but it wasn't remotely that close.) Fittingly, the beer stands outnumbered concession stands three to one, which is a good ratio if your team sucks. Also disappointing was the pretzels. I never stood in the long lines to buy one, but I could see from a distance that they had ceased being twisted into "GSU" shapes. Pooh.

But what really, really sucked was the traffic. From the time I exited I-85 onto Fulton Street, it took an hour and ten minutes to drive two blocks to reach the Green Lot where I had prepaid for parking. While I'm no civil engineer, the problem appeared to be that there was absolutely no one directing traffic. Not a single policeman was seen until I was inside the stadium. Traffic was left to direct itself, and it went even more poorly than you might expect. I've been to a lot of football games, and this was the first time ever that it took longer to arrive than leave. (We left in the third quarter to avoid a second round of traffic jousting, and departure took all of 2 minutes.) If MLB games were anything like this, no wonder the Braves fled to the suburbs.

Ultimately, despite all obstacles, I had a good time because I'm just so glad that football season is back. (And the terrific TSU marching band helped, too.) Welcome back, football!

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Once every 15 years, I pay a visit to Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters. I first went to a practice round in the mid-80s and returned for Tiger Woods' "Tiger Slam" win on Sunday in 2001. And I went back again yesterday.

It's even more beautiful in person

Mom got the tickets from her boyfriend (thanks, Bill!), woke me up at the crack of dawn, and read the newspaper as I drover her to Augusta. She was eager to see the likes of Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Matt Kucher, and Jordan Spieth. She also got in a peek at former Masters winners Tom Watson, Mike Weir, Bernhard Langer, Mark O'Meara, and Vijay Singh. I swear, every hole we passed, there was Vijay Singh. Too bad Mom is no fan of Vijay Singh.

She got very excited when she spotted Tiger Woods' former caddy

Personally, I was more excited about the food. I mean, it's a beautiful course and all, but an egg salad sandwich, a pimento cheese sandwich, a sweet tea, and a cola for only $7? Seconds, please!

They've got good taste in Augusta

Despite being seriously sleep deprived, I had a great time watching a bunch of professionals practice their jobs. (Troy Merrit seemed to be having a particularly good time.) I look forward to returning in the 2030s.

We're talking about practice?

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Vacation Day 3: Patriots Point and Fort Sumter

Patriots Point is a museum primarily anchored by its star attraction, the USS Yorktown.

What a pretty day

Even at the rip old age of 72, she's an impressive ship. She survived World War II and lived to pull Apollo astronauts out of the sea. But she's showing her age in places: Brian got rust stains all over his white shirt while descending from her bridge.

Hey, where did those clouds come from?

The volunteer docents — all exceedingly friendly old sailors — were disappointed by our refusal to take the guided audio tour, but they agreed that we were short on time since we also planned to take the ferry to Fort Sumter. We hustled out to the flight deck and looked around as best we could in the time Brian and I had allotted ourselves. The ship is so big, it would probably take two days to explore fully.

Yes, that is definitely rain

Compared to a 20th century aircraft carrier, Fort Sumter feels tiny. Otherwise, its a good looking ruin on a man-made island in the middle of the busy Charleston Harbor. It's small size seems disproportionate to its importance in the Civil War. The big, black battery that now takes up most of the island didn't exist in 1861, so maybe Sumter had more room for whipping slaves back in the day.

Lightning does what the Union couldn't: close Fort Sumter

We were harried by rain all afternoon, and the recurring thunderstorms that washed over the harbor also kept us from seeing most of the island. The rain came in wave after wave, chasing us back to shore. The ferry ride back was a wet one.

Batten down the hatches!

Returning to Patriots Point, we toured the USS Laffey destroyer and USS Clagmore submarine before taking another shot at the Yorktown. This time we walked through the galley where we saw the Navy's super scientific recipe for Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches (Sandwiches No.N 014 00).

Ingredient:

  • Bread, White
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly, Grape

Method:

  1. Spread each slice of bread with 1 Tb peanut butter. Spread 1 slice bread with 1 Tb jelly. Top with second slice.
  2. Cut each sandwich in half.

Notes:

  1. in step 1, jam may be used.

And that, boys and girls, is how we won the war.

Banksy was here

More to Come.

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"This is more fun when we win," Mom said. She was right.

UGA 37, Louisville 14

The 2014 Belk Bowl game was exciting. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead, then struggled to overcome the loss of senior quarterback Hutson Mason just before halftime. A small but enthusiastic crowd cheered the Dawgs over their hurdles as Nick Chubb ran for 266 yards on the way to a 37-14 shellacking of Louisville. (Gurley who?)

I'm sure it was a satisfying win for a lot of Georgians, who savored scoring so many points against former UGA coach Todd Grantham and also enjoyed crushing Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino. He was the man who walked out on the 2007 Atlanta Falcons in the midst of a disastrous 4-12 season. (He was later fired by the team that stole him away, the University of Arkansas, for getting caught in an adulterous affair with an employee.) It will never stop being satisfying to see him lose.

Charlotte was cold on December 30, 2014, but the city was welcoming and Bank of America stadium was very nice (besides a complete failure of signage instructing visitors how to get around outside the stadium). Two consecutive bowl games, two stadiums built for the 1995 NFL expansion teams. Mom thinks Charlotte's is nicer, but that may be because it rained on last year's trip to Jacksonville.

Not to be confused with Queens College of New York

For the record, Mom jumped at the chance to visit Charlotte, home of her old alma mater, Queens University. She didn't graduate from Queens — that would come later at Georgia State University — but she still has a fondness for her first college. I can see why. It's a beautiful campus, if a bit small for my tastes. Where's the football stadium?

So that's two bowl games in one calendar year. I don't know if or when we'll head to another bowl game, but I enjoyed both that I went to in 2014.

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I woke up on Friday to a voicemail message asking if I wanted to attend the Dolphins/Falcons preseason opener that night. I had turned down the opportunity when Mom asked months ago, but in the pressure of the moment, I gave in and accepted fate.

This was all I saw of Stephen Jackson

The tickets had come to friend Brian through connections at his job, and he says he had a hard time finding someone to accompany him at the last minute. ("I said to myself, 'I'll call Walter. He'd never pass up football tickets!'," Brian explained.) Judging by the thousands of empty seats at the Georgia Dome, most people passed on the opportunity to pay $59.00 to watch a glorified practice.

The last time I attended a preseason game, it was to see Dan Marino take about 5 snaps. Not quite a decade back, I tried to get Eagles/Falcons Monday Night tickets, and ended up buying four Ravens/Falcons preseason tickets. (I blame that snafu partly on TicketMaster and partly on sleep deprivation.) I couldn't give those tickets away! The way I see it, going to this game for free is cosmic compensation for that wasted $300 all those years ago.

Preseason games in Atlanta draw about as many fans as reals game in Miami

I got my money's worth as the first-team Dolphins and first-team Falcons looked great last night on their opening drives. That wasn't too surprising. Offsenses always perform better than defenses at the beginning of the year. I considered it a better sign that the Dolphins' rebuilt O-line was able to protect Tannehill for a few plays. (The Dolphins didn't start giving up sacks until late in the game.) Maybe we'll be able to score some points this year.

Others were even more optimistic. "I think we could win the AFC East this year," said the Dolphins' fan behind me. "It's either us or the Bills." Given that the Bills haven't made finished better than .500 since 2004, I'd say those are pretty good odds. I wonder what the Patriots — division winner for nine of the last ten seasons — will have to say about that?

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Kicking off 2014 in style:

Nebraska 24, UGA 19

Georgia saved their worst for last, playing terribly in the 2014 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Nebraska. We beat the Cornhuskers 45-31 last year. This year, our offense could barely manage a single touchdown amid a flurry of field goals, losing 24-19 after a series of blown defensive plays and dropped passes. A Florida fan took pity on me in a Winn-Dixie after the game, and that's pretty bad considering that his team finished 4-8.

Walter sat here

This was the first bowl game I'd ever been to, but like most of my trips to Florida, it rained the whole time. The fans from both teams were in a great mood, and the people in Jacksonville were very welcoming. Despite the weather and the play on the field, I had a pretty good time and remain willing to go to another bowl game sometime in the future.

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Mom and I traveled to Nashville to see UGA play Vanderbilt. Instead of a football game, we saw an epic tragedy. It was cold and rainy at kickoff, and the sun didn't come out in Nashville until it had set on the Bulldog's SEC Championship chances.

UGA 27, Vanderbilt 31

I could talk about the terrible targeting call that turned a failed Vandy fourth down conversion into a first down that finally broke the spirit of our staggering team. (Replay can overturn the ejection, but not the bad call itself? Who thought that was a good rule?) Or I could talk about the inability of our coaches to improve the failures that have defined them this season (Richt's special teams muffed a punt and a snap, Grantham's defense surrendered 31 points, Bobo's offense managed only a field goal in the second half, Tereshinki's conditioning resulted in a 6th player with a knee injury.) Or I could talk about Arron Murray failing to put it together with the pressure on again.

But what it all comes down to is the fact that Georgia lost 31-27, and is now all but mathematically eliminated from SEC contention. What was such a promising season is now wasted.

Heartbreaking. There is no other word.

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Of course, the whole reason Trey, Leslie, and I went to Ohio was so that Trey could attend a professional soccer match between the Columbus Crew and the visiting Chicago Fire.

Chicago Fire 1, Columbus Crew 2

I have to admit that I had more fun at the soccer game than I had thought I would. The atmosphere was enjoyably electric, and even the soccer match was unusually exciting so far as soccer games go. (The first goal was scored within the first 9 minutes, preventing the 0-0 tie I was expecting.) The Columbus fans were friendly and reasonably well-behaved, the exception being their children. Those little bastards went largely unsupervised and seemed to enjoy throwing their Pepsi cups and other trash between sections. Clearly, they are future Ohio State University students.

Naturally, with no preference between teams, I chose to root for the Crew. Trey claimed to have no favorite MLS soccer team, but Leslie insisted that he is secretly a Chicago Fire fan. The Chicago fans made the Columbus children look like amateurs, throwing smoke bombs and bottles on the field. There was even a fire in the parking lot after the Fire lost, an event I don't consider a coincidence. I'm sure that Trey felt like he was attending a Philadelphia Eagles game.

So that was my first soccer game. Would I do it again? Yeah. Maybe next time, we can go to a stadium that serves Coke.

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To be continued...

 

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