KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If you’re ever in downtown Kansas City on a fall Saturday – and let’s face it, it could happen – and you’re hoping to catch an football game on the SEC Network’s alternate channel, Johnny’s Tavern is the place for you.
It was for me Saturday.
My assignment: “Find somewhere they’re showing the Georgia game and watch it.”
I’ve had worse.
So it was off to an area they call the Power & Light District and one of Johnny’s Tavern nine locations.
Manager Chris King assured me over the phone that his pub would be able to cue up Georgia’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette on one of its dozens of televisions scattered throughout the restaurant. That was a good thing because it wasn’t being shown on any of the televisions in the downtown Marriott, at which I’m staying. Nor did they get the UGA game in The Yard House, an alleged sports bar around the corner from the hotel. Turns out it wasn’t being shown in a lot of places.
It was interesting watching the Bulldogs play from 858 miles away (according to the driving distance on Google Maps). Obviously it’s a little less intense. And quieter. First of all, the game was kicking off at 11 a.m. locally. So the city wasn’t exactly bustling. In fact, Johnny’s actually opened up a little early so we could catch the opening kickoff.
Fortunately I had some company. Mark Slonaker, who works for the UGA athletic association as a executive director of alumni relations, came along. Earlier in the week, I had contacted Slonaker, who oversees the Georgia Bulldogs Clubs of America among other things, to find out if the local chapter in Kansas City had a watch-party planned somewhere. Now they do have a local chapter and Slonaker found out they do have watch-parties occasionally. They just didn’t for Louisiana-Lafayette.
Not sure why.
Slonaker was part of a rather large UGA traveling party that came to Kansas City this weekend to attend the College Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies of former Georgia coach Hugh Durham and player Dominique Wilkins. Slonaker played for Durham and was his assistant coach for many years, so he was foremost among the many individuals who wanted to ring in that special occasion with Durham. In all, there were about 80 people with ties to those Durham and Wilkins – by far the largest contingent of any of the other inductees — and they watched the impressive enshrinement show at the Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midlands on Friday night.
But most of them headed back to Atlanta and other parts of the country Saturday morning. Our dream of getting Dominique to watch the football game with us went unrealized. He had to fly to New York to join the Atlanta Hawks.
So for about 30 minutes or so, Slon and I were the only ones in Johnny’s expansive venue.
It wouldn’t stay that way long. A group of Iowa fans came in and soon took over the tables to the right of ours. I’m not sure if it was what Iowa had on the line Saturday against Illinois or the fact that they were drinking what they call “beer towers” at $22 a pop, but the Hawkeye faithful were getting into it.
Slon and I would eventually get some company, too. Some of the stragglers from the basketball proceedings came down to join us. There was Vic Mitchell of Rome and his cousin Will Martin. Some people may recognize Mitchell’s name as the head women’s basketball coach at Shorter University. But in this group he’s known for being a manager for those great Durham teams from 1981-84.
Eventually we were also joined by Rae Kessler, widow of the late Alec Kessler, and her friend, Mike Sarra, along with former Georgia player Chad Kessler and his wife, Andrea. Chad and Andrea’s son, Houston, is a current senior forward with the Bulldogs, and both the Kessler brothers played for Durham. Eventually, Gary Hill, an emeritus athletics board member and loyal alum, showed up for the second half after completing a tour of a nearby World War I museum.
Eventually, the Georgia party’s noise level rivaled that produced by our Iowa friends. But it didn’t last long. Truthfully, there wasn’t much to get all that excited about watching the Bulldogs on Saturday. You kind of knew that going in with Georgia facing a nondescript, non-Power 5 opponent in the Ragin’ Cajuns. But the way Georgia’s season has gone — can you say Nicholls State? — you just could never be sure.
Thanks to Isaiah McKenzie, most of the mystery from this one was removed in the first half-quarter. The Bulldogs’ dynamic receiver/kick returner gained 55 yards on his first touch and 82 yards on his second, which staked his team to a 14-0 lead not even eight minutes into this thing.
True to form, Georgia never really made it into the blowout we were all foreseeing. It was nice to see Nick Chubb get loose a couple of times and record over 100 yards rushing again (he had 108). And his 49-yard TD reception made it 35-7 with 9:34 to play. So victory was never really in doubt.
It’s just that those two late touchdowns against the Bulldogs’ backups kind of sullied the result. There certainly weren’t any cheers from around our table at the conclusion. Just a few calls of “check, please” and some comments about really needing to beat Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Meanwhile, the noise was cranking up considerably in other areas of the room. Seems there were a few Gators in the house and their team had made some kicks. Their shouts went unreturned.