COLUMBUS — These Bulldog Club meetings — or Coaches’ Caravans, as they’re calling them this year — just aren’t that big of a deal anymore. That’s the only conclusion one can draw from the latest one, held Monday night at the Columbus Trade & Convention Center.
Beautiful venue, by the way. Cool place. The Iron Works, I think they call this particular area, which features a lot of railroad tracks and reclaimed warehouses and the like. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, men’s basketball coach Tom Crean and radio play-by-play personality Scott Howard flew down here Monday on UGA’s plane and then flew right back out after a short appearance in front of a smattering of fans and alumni.
It wasn’t a bad crowd — about 290 according to one of the organizers — but they sort of got swallowed up by the expansive venue and a goodly portion of empty chairs. And based on the dozens and dozens of untouched crabcakes and chocolate-covered strawberries, they were expecting a lot more.
But nobody was complaining. Well, there was that one guy at the back of the room. After Smart wrapped up his economical 10-minute speech — which remarkably included zero information about the actual football players — one man turned to his buddy next to him and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “he owes us another 25 minutes, doesn’t he?”
Otherwise, though, it was what you usually expect of these annual events, especially coming off a 13-2 season and National Championship Game appearance. Smart — and Crean before him — was definitely feeling the love of the crowd. Smart received a rousing standing ovation, complete with barks and a lot of “woos” and “hoos.” Then he made them laugh.
“After listening to Coach Crean, he had us all ready to bust through a brick wall,” Smart said. “I was ready to bust through the curtains and shoot some 3s.”
Smart proceeded to tell the group how glad he was to be here in Columbus, which happens to be one of his favorite places. He also remarked about the “fertile recruiting ground” that the area is and thanked the fan base, again, for following the Bulldogs around the country during the magical 13-2 run last season.
Then he basically ran through the schedule, where the Bulldogs are on the calendar, how hard the players are going to be worked this summer and the importance of the team concept. You know, “Together Everyone, Achieves More.” He hit on that for a while.
Without going into specifics, Smart also mentioned that he has some depth concerns but added he is excited about the freshmen coming in next week and the prospects his staff is currently recruiting. Otherwise, there was no question-and-answer session, usually customary at these types of events.
No, Smart addressed the pressing team matters in a 10-minute session with reporters beforehand. However, he and Crean did sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans before delivering their speeches, so perhaps fans got their pressing questions answered then.
Sort of abruptly, Smart said thanks for coming and left. It was over. Howard came back to the podium just to make sure everybody knew.
“That’s all we’ve got, folks,” he said with a wave of arms over his head, like he was stopping a play clock. “Thanks for coming. And go Dogs!”
And off the Dogs went, back on their big bird to Athens.
Of course, meetings such as these aren’t as necessary as they once were. Back when Dan Magill first made the UGA’s Bulldog Club tour the greatest of its kind in the country, it was a spectacle. It was a way to reach into the far corners of the state where perhaps Georgia’s coaches and overall presence wasn’t as readily accessible.
Nowadays, people can access the Bulldogs anytime they want. There is no shortage of avenues, thanks to the World Wide Web, conference television networks and smart phones. Did I mention DawgNation’s app?
But there is still something special about fans being somewhere live and in person with their heroes. Smart and Crean will take their mini tour next to Savannah, where they’ll likely follow a similar script Tuesday night. Then we won’t see them again in a public venue until late in the summer in Atlanta.
There will be some donor stops between now and then, but nothing that welcomes “Everyman Fan” and a little media coverage.
At the rate these events are regressing, this time next year we may only catch Kirby via hologram.