MEMPHIS – Rodrigo Blankenship and a few other teammates weren’t trying hard to disguise themselves when they arrived back at the Peabody Hotel, their home for the week. Blankenship was still in pads – though not a helmet, it should be pointed out in his case.
A family of fellow guests, apparently not Georgia fans, recognized that these were football players, and asked to have their pictures taken. Blankenship happily complied, then got on an elevator. The father of the family, apparently not Georgia fans, had texted friends about it and quickly heard back.
“They said to tell them,” the man said, reading the text, “Go Jackets.”
Eh, probably not a good idea. Or maybe Kirby Smart would prefer it. Extra motivation.
Bowl week, according to administrators, bowl officials and many other people whose jobs require suits, is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about the kids. It’s supposed to be a reward. And then you have Georgia’s coach.
“What I tell them,” Smart said last week, “Is what they’ll remember about this is not the game, or the city, but whether they won or lost the game.”
Maybe that comes from personal experience. Smart went 2-1 in bowls as a Georgia player, and 2-0 as an administrative assistant and then assistant coach. While at Alabama, the Crimson Tide also won more than they lost, especially those national championship games, that were decidedly not just about the bowl experience.
The Liberty Bowl, suffice to say, is a few levels down. But Smart was coaching like his usual self at Monday’s practice at Rhodes College – a football field surrounded by ornate stone buildings – and making sure players knew this wasn’t vacation.
Players said Smart has told them the same thing about only remembering whether they won or lost. So the theory was put to the test. Sophomore defensive back Deandre Baker was asked what he remembered about last year’s trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. He had to think a moment.
“I remember the Navy ship,” Baker said, “That’s about it.”
(They went on a Navy ship at Jacksonville harbor. They also stayed at a lovely golf resort, but apparently that didn’t stick out either.)
Senior receiver Reggie Davis was asked if he remembered anything from the previous three bowl trips, or whether it was just the game.
“It’s mainly the game, and mainly the free time that we get to actually sit around with each other, rather than it be football-related and then everybody going their separate ways,” Davis said.
And indeed it’s true, if you hang around the Peabody and its ornate lobby – there’s that word again, ornate – you’d see some players milling about, hanging with each other, just relaxing.
But a lot of players will also be holed up in their rooms this week, because the rooms are really nice too.
“It’s really nice, actually,” junior offensive lineman Dyshon Sims said, lowering his voice as if he didn’t want anybody to find out. “We’ve got extra stuff, a lot of big TVs in the room. And that’s real nice to play games on and stuff. So that’s good.”
It keeps people in the room too.
“The less stuff you can go out and do. You can catch more rest,” Sims said.
Georgia seemed a loose, though contained, team when it milled about the Peabody on Monday. Sims, after wrapping up a jovial interview session, wanted to make sure there weren’t any more questions, and called himself “the media man.” Smart made a point of thanking the three beat writers who had made the trip to Memphis on Monday.
Sims called this bowl week “a gift.” Practice is real, but the rest of the week is like a stretched-out road trip, with bowl activities sprinkled in, like Monday night’s shopping trip to the massive Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid. There will also be trips to St. Jude hospital – which Smart, who has a soft side for such things, will attend – and players get to attend a rodeo on Tuesday night.
“It’s a gift. But we definitely want to win,” Sims said. “That’s definitely the main goal, and everybody is invested into it. So we put all the time into it, so you’re pretty sure everybody wants to win.”