ATLANTA ― It’s easy to forget, when the competition level and accomplishments increase to what it has for the Georgia Bulldogs this season, that these football players are somebody’s children. So as much as the achievement has meant for those individuals, it also has been meaningful for their families.
Jake Fromm’s parents, Emerson and Lee Fromm, have attended every game this season. That’s not surprising, until you think about how they also went to all of the games of their twin sons, Dylan and Tyler, who were starring for Warner Robins High School. And the Red Devils’ season didn’t end until the state championship.
The entire Fromm family then headed to Southern California last week for the Rose Bowl, a trip from which they didn’t return until late Wednesday afternoon. All of them were back in Atlanta this weekend, of course.
“Loving it,” Lee Fromm said.
Often forgotten on journeys like the one the Bulldogs have taken this season is that, while a limited number of tickets are provided each games for players’ families, they still have to get themselves to there. And this year, that has meant trips to Notre Dame and Jacksonville; to Nashville, Knoxville and Auburn; to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game; to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl; and now back to Atlanta.
It took Trina Blankenship, Rodrigo Blankenship’s sister, 13 hours each way to get to Pasadena, Calif., to watch her brother kick a record 55-yard field goal in the Rose Bowl. That’s because she had multiple connections to get the lowest fare ― and the trip still cost her $2,500.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Trina Blankenship said.
And that was just Trina. Her brother, Kenny, drove from Tucson, Ariz., to New Orleans to meet his father, Kenny, who drove from Atlanta. From there they drove to Phoenix to meet Rodrigo’s mother Izabel and girlfriend Logan Harrell. They then rode together to Pasadena. Afterward, they had to drive by to Phoenix where, thankfully, they were all able to fly back home.
Multiply their travails by 85 athletes, not including non-scholarship players, and you begin to realize the commitment of these players’ loved ones for being there to support them. Regardless of the outcome of the National Championship Game on Monday night against Alabama, it is number 15 for the players and their families.
It has been a remarkable year, indeed, but an expensive one, too. So hats off to all of the Bulldogs’ parents and brothers and sisters, most of whom have been there every step of the way.
Cranking up in ATL
Things are really cranking up in and around Atlanta. Musical acts and free concerts are being held all over the city.
On Sunday, the Chainsmokers are the headline act in a free concert in Centennial Olympic Park. Bebe Rexha and Spencer Ludwig also are playing. On game day on Monday, country music star Darius Rucker is playing Centennial Olympic Park with Brett Young.
In the ultimate sign that the CFP Championship Game is becoming Super Bowl Jr., there is going to be a halftime show for the first time this year. Rap artist Kendrick Lamar is the featured performer.
As is usually the case when there’s a big bowl game or the SEC Championship Game being played downtown, there’s a fan fest inside the World Congress Center.
The most commotion of the day is expected to come from the attendance of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the game. They will attend as guests of Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture and former Georgia governer – also a UGA football letterman – and Nick Ayers, a Georgia native who is Vice President Pence’s top aide.
Trump remains a close friend of Herschel Walker. It was Trump, then majority owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, who lured Walker away from Georgia after his junior season in 1983 with a three-year, $5 million contract ― then one of the richest professional contracts in history. The two men have continued to do business together and Walker supported him in the 2016 presidential election.
At the game Monday night, Walker will sit with his former coach, Vince Dooley. Dooley also is a Republican and Trump supporter. There’s no word yet as to whether the two famous Bulldogs will sit with the president.
Times have changed
Claude Felton has been UGA’s sports info guy forever. OK, not literally forever, but for a long, long time. Thirty-eight years to be exact.
The cool thing about that is he has the perspective of having also been around the last time Georgia played for a national championship in football. Actually, the Bulldogs played for national titles three years in a row from 1980-82. But the only time they won it was on Jan. 1, 1981, when then-freshman Walker led them to a 12-0 season and 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Felton now works under the more distinguished title of senior associate athletic director for sports communication. We asked him to reflect on how things have changed in the business since Georgia’s last appearance in the championship game.
“Well, first off, there wasn’t nearly as much media or different types of media,” Felton said this weekend. “Of course, there were no cell phones, no internet. But there was the same amount of excitement.”
And there was, of course, a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding Walker, who many felt should have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and eventually did as a junior. He left UGA after his junior season as the SEC’s all-time leading rusher and remains so.
At the time, though, he was a fascination for national press, who came from all around to chronicle the exploits of this ungodly freshman running back from Wrightsville, Ga.
“There was a media frenzy around him pretty much the whole year,” Felton said. “We had media from all over the country coming in to talk to him almost every week. Everything then was done pretty much in person. There weren’t a lot of phone interviews back then. A lot of national media came to Athens that year.”
15 is enough
Players and coaches for both Georgia and Alabama got a kick out of UCF (aka Central Florida) claiming to be national champions after completing an undefeated season with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The general response has been that the championship game will be played here in Atlanta at 8 p.m. Monday night.
Of course, the controversy of the Knights being left out has led again to a call for an expanded playoff. Even though the current CFP contract runs through 2025, there remains a faction that believes the playoff field should include eight teams – the five Power 5 conference champions and three at-large participants, which might include a UCF.
Detractors say that would mean too many games for the players. They are, after all, supposed to be “student-athletes.”
Georgia’s Davin Bellamy agrees. “Man, this is Week 15,” the senior outside linebacker said. “I don’t know if I could do another one. I don’t know if I could do another week.”
Bellamy said he doesn’t have a problem with UCF making its claim either.
“That’s good for their program,” he said. “Didn’t they lose like every game a couple years ago? Good for them.”