Back PageSeptember 2000: Vol. 79, No. 4

Affair of the heart

There's something special about playing a foe you know—unless it's your alma mater

by Kent Hannon

You know how tennis dad Richard Williams couldn't bear to watch his daughters, Venus and Serena, play each other in the semi-finals at Wimbledon this year? How he walked the streets of London in misery, even though he knew that when the day ended one of his daughters would be in the finals?

Well, I know how Richard Williams felt because of what happened to me at the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day 2000 when my Purdue Boilermakers played my Georgia Bulldogs.

I attach personal pronouns to both schools because I graduated from Purdue and I work for the University of Georgia—which is why I felt so weird about them playing each other in the Outback Bowl. This was an affair of the heart, but it's perhaps best explained with numbers: 15 members of my family went to Purdue, including my mom, dad, sister, brother, and spouse—but this is also the 30th issue I've produced of Georgia Magazine. Purdue is my alma mater; I was born right there in Lafayette, Ind. But UGA is my adopted alma mater, and I've now lived in Athens longer than any place in my life. Can you say conflicted?

I'm nine months late writing about this, just like I'm four years late getting my '96 Olympic scrapbook together, but Jan. 1, 2000, was a traumatic day for me—and I'm still not sure I did the right thing.

Get the picture: it's 10 a.m. in Tampa, and I'm still feeling the effects of a Millennium Madness party over in Orlando, where old friends from Purdue foolishly put me in charge of pouring the champagne. I'm shuffling, Richard Williams-like, toward an unfamiliar stadium on the first day of a new century—and off in the distance I hear Purdue's "All-American" Marching Band playing its pre-game show. I marched in that band in the Sixties, just as my father did before me. So did my ex-majorette wife Sharron, who now heads the UGA News Service. I traveled with the Purdue football team for two years as a sportswriter for the college paper, and I have lived and died with the Boilermakers since I was a kid.

A thought darts into my addled brain: Have I died and gone to heaven? Is this what bowl games are like up there? You play yourself?

The strains of "Hail Purdue" jolt me back to reality. My game plan—wish the Dogs well, but root for the Boilers—still seems do-able. But as I get to the stadium, I hear my boss at UGA, voice-of-the Redcoats Tom Jackson, announcing their arrival on the field. Can you say dazed and confused?

Sharron and I are sitting in the Purdue section and, truth to tell, we're wearing gold and black—so as not to raise the ire of my old fraternity brothers. But I'm also sporting a Herschel Walker button that I got at his recent Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in New York. Can you say duplicitous?

In my defense, it was No. 34 who made me a diehard Georgia fan in my first year as a Sanford Stadium season ticket holder in 1980. I wrote a story about him for Sports Illustrated that year, and I still consider him the greatest college football player who ever lived.

But Purdue quarterback Drew Brees is also fun to watch, and when he sparks the Boilermakers to a 25-0 first-half lead I hear myself using gold-and-black pronouns:

"We look so good with Brees throwing the ball on every down, I don't see how anybody beat us this year!"

But when Terrence Edwards' 74-yard run gets Georgia on the scoreboard, I feel a disturbance in the force. I steal a glance at Sharron. She feels it, too. I whisper in her ear:

"I want Georgia to win." She whispers back, "So do I."

Late in the game, with Quincy Carter leading a furious Georgia comeback, I forget where I am and blurt out:

"We need one more first down to be in a position to tie the game!"

"Wait a minute," says a fraternity brother in front of me. "Who's we?" The jig is up. I've ratted myself out.

When Hap Hines' field goal finally wins the game for Georgia 28-25 in overtime—completing the greatest comeback in bowl game history—I feel bad for Purdue. And a bit guilty. But I also feel some of the sting from the Georgia Tech fiasco fading. My Purdue friends look like I did that day, but the smiles on the faces of the Georgia players as they high-five Bulldog fans in the stands is a Millennium Memory that will stay with me for a long time. Can you say converted?

And now if someone will just help me deal with this year's Heisman Trophy race—which is shaping up as a battle between Brees and Carter—I'll really be happy.

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