LOS ANGELES – At the time of our correspondence, Clay Speas was somewhere outside of Abilene, Texas. He wasn’t exactly sure where or how long at that point he had been sitting on the bus he was riding other than it had been a long time.
And that was OK.
Speas, an Athens resident and a manager in the Varsity’s food catering division, is one of 56 people who chose to come to California and the Rose Bowl via bus. Speas signed up for a chartered trip being offered by Quality Transportation in Norcross.
“The reason why I wanted to make this trip across country is I wanted to watch the Dogs beat up on the Sooners,” Speas exclaimed.
Well, that and other considerations. Namely money.
A married father of two, Speas is a huge Bulldogs fan and couldn’t imagine not being present for their first appearance in the Rose Bowl in 75 years. He just didn’t want to go in debt while trying to do it. So he opted for a 33-hour bus ride.
Speas had surveyed all the airline and hotel options as well as Rose Bowl ticket packages, and he liked the economics and sense of adventure the charter bus trip offered. For $950, Speas got round-trip transportation to and from Pasadena, two nights stay at the hotel in Van Nuys, Calif., transportation to and from the Rose Bowl on the day of the game and, of course, one ticket to the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
A California native, Speas already had free lodging as he will house sit for his aunt and uncle in North Hollywood, 13 miles from Pasadena. Scott Woodall and some other friends from Athens also might stay there with him.
“Still having family out there made it a no-brainer for me,” Speas said.
Speas said he wanted some adventure, and he got it. It started with the bus and driver being 75 minutes late to the pick-up destination in Atlanta. Since then, they had to change buses in Waskom, Texas, because of a blown-out tire. To the organizers’ credit, they had arranged backup transportation at various points along the way.
The mechanical breakdown likely will mean the trip will take more than the 33 hours that had been advertised. The bus was scheduled to make stops in Shreveport, La.; Midland, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz., before arriving in Pasadena at about 9 a.m. on Sunday. At that point, they will have covered 2,300 miles of roads and interstate.
One of the highlights so far was discovering Jim’s Real Pit BBQ in Texas, which to the surprise of Speas, Pierce “The Georgia Joker” Wallace and Beryl Dixon was open at 7:30 a.m. Hence, their breakfast of brisket sandwich with slaw and beans.
“Breakfast of champions,” Speas quipped.
Here comes DawgNation
It’s on now. As was evidenced by the scene in and around downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, it looks like Georgia fans once again are coming in droves to support their team. By Saturday, hotel lobbies and local restaurants were starting to fill up with red-and-black-clad patrons. There were Oklahoma fans, too. But there seemed to be significantly more Bulldogs.
That was certainly the case inside the Hotel InterContinental Downtown. It was understandable, considering that is the UGA football team’s headquarters for the bowl. But it’s also the biggest and tallest hotel in the area. It’s 73 floors high — with the lobby on the 70th floor — has a restaurant called Spire 73 at the top, 1,100 feet from street level and features 889 rooms and 110 suites. The place was crawling with Georgia fans.
UGA fans also were making their way into Pasadena during the weekend, as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Over in Hermosa Beach, 20 miles southwest of the city, they were starting to see a smattering of Georgia fans come through. The Hermosa Beach Saloon, in which one enters through actual old Western-style swinging doors, considers itself a UGA stronghold. The bar is frequented by UGA alumni regulars, has power-G flags flapping above the entrance facing the Pacific Coast Highway and always has its televisions tune to the Bulldogs game every Saturday.
There were no Georgia fans inside on Friday, but there was one man from Huntsville, Ala., who goes there regularly. He said he’s rooting for the Bulldogs on Monday and even next week should they face Alabama in the National Championship Game.
“I’ve come to like them,” B.J. Strickland said. “Plus, I’m not real happy with my home state because of all that Roy Moore stuff.”
What’s going on
On Friday evening, the Bulldogs attended the Lawry’s Beef Bowl in Beverly Hills. That’s where the players are given the chance to eat as much prime rib as they can. Oklahoma was there the previous night, and supposedly they compete to see which team consumes the most. For the record, the Bulldogs defeated the Sooners 585 pounds to 440.
The agenda Saturday included media day for both teams at the L.A. Hotel Downtown, a closed practice and a Rose Bowl Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mack Brown, Cade McNown, Charles Woodson and Dr. Charles West were being enshrined.
Sunday, things quiet down and tighten up for the teams. The only media availability is the respective head coaches, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley, at their joint news conference at the L.A. Hotel.
Bob Stoops infiltration?
Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops visited Georgia’s practice three months ago in Athens. Now Smart and the Bulldogs are concerned that he might have gathered some intelligence for his team.
Not really. Smart’s not too worried. But he has had some fun with it this week.
“I was actually worried his brother [Kentucky coach Mark Stoops] was going to get pissed at us because he talked to us,” Smart quipped on Saturday. “That game was still looming down the road. I certainly wasn’t thinking all the way this far.”
Stoops, who resigned last summer shortly before the season, was there as a guest speaker for the Touchdown Club of Athens. Smart had him speak to the team that day.
“I remember it vividly, but I doubt our players remember anything because that lasts about 2 seconds,” Smart said. “At the time it was very meaningful, though, because it was a message coming from someone that is iconic, and they all recognized. … It was about being a target and just focusing on each week. At that point, we had won some games and were moving up in the rankings. He’s dealt with that success, so it was good.”