If you want to follow the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend, and we mean REALLY follow them — like traveling to Atlanta, staying in a hotel, attending the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome, eating out — it takes a commitment.
Just ask Marlon Hulsey and his friends. These guys have been getting together and going to all of Georgia’s games — home or away — for the better part of 30 years. They were huddled around a table in the middle of the CNN Center on Friday drinking the extra-large sizes of Miller Lite beer in a can, swapping stories and taking in the scene Friday in downtown.
And man was there some scene to take in!
It’s nothing unusual for these guys. Simply put, they go wherever the Dogs go, all year, every year. But this little jaunt stung a little more financially than even they expected, especially for a group of Georgia residents.
Hulsey, from Statesboro, and his buddy, Red Lewis, from Waycross, are paying about $700 for two nights in The Omni Hotel. That doesn’t include their $35-a-day parking fees and other “incidentals,” which they predict will be considerable.
But theirs is a relative steal compared to their buddies Jeff Hagan and Tim Craft of Savannah, and Joe Craft, of Tybee Island. They’re paying $866 for the same length of stay in the same place. The Omni is the most convenient hotel to the Georgia Dome, located right next to it and the World Congress Center off Marietta Street.
The reality is, not only is the Chick-fil-A Kickoff a tough ticket at the Georgia Dome, it’s a tough ticket in the hotel lobby. Hotels all around town are filled to capacity, and they’re taking full advantage.
It will cost you $546 to stay in the Marriott Marquis downtown. The Hyatt on Peachtree was charging similar rates. But you can’t even get in at this point.
Is it all the fuss over Georgia-North Carolina, the advent of the Kirby Smart Era, Nick Chubb’s return?
Well, not exactly. There’s the annual Dragon Con Festival, the Black Gay Pride Parade, Art-in-the-Park, and all kinds of other things going on in Atlanta on this Labor Day weekend.
So if you’re gonna to come play, plan to pay.
“It’s not just the game,” said Joe Craft, the patriarch of this Bulldog clan. “It’s what goes on Friday and Saturday. It’s getting together with friends and catching up and reminiscing.”
Joe Craft and his friends would be doing this anyway, so they’re certainly not complaining if some sort of pseudo-alien-life form wants to parade in front of them as they’re awaiting kickoff.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Nothing like it.”
Of course, parents of Georgia players follow the team everywhere. So do cheerleaders, marching bands, university administrators and a large contingent of media.
But it’s guys like Hulsey and his buddies who truly “pay the freight.” But they’re willing to do it, as Saturday’s sold-out game attests.
“You have to miss a lot of funerals and weddings,” Hulsey said with a hardy laugh. “Joe left his wife in the eye of hurricane to come here this weekend. But we have to be here, for Kirby Smart, for Nick Chubb and the Bulldog Nation.”