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Bums and Bowls

All in all, it was a pretty good trip. Bowl junkets usually are. There were some things that were less than optimum, such as a solid introduction, albeit brief, into the seamier side of Atlanta life and there was the little matter of the score. On the whole, however, it ranked right up there with all other bowl trips as a good one.

I am not the biggest fan of large cities. I am a guy who has spent most of his life in communities much smaller than the huge megalopolises that are coming to dominate the landscape. Whether they are DC, New York or Atlanta , I don’t much like them.

One of the reasons for that attitude quickly became evident Friday afternoon when a trip that had been made mostly at rates of speed slightly above posted speed limits came to a screeching halt when bumper-to-bumper traffic turned I-85 into a parking lot.

This was not quite as bad as the journey to Fed Ex back in 04, when as much time was spent negotiating I-66 and the Capitol Beltway in NOVA as had been cruising the Shenandoah Valley to get there. But it was close. We had ample time to notice that the MARTA trains serving the exurbs were just as empty as were the DC Metro ones.

The traffic jams were eventually negotiated, however and we found ourselves decamped both at a hotel and the Georgia Dome RV lot. Some of us decided to take the opportunity to hit the town for an excellent Friday night dinner.

We employed our standard ‘Don’t Drive in the Bowl City ’ rule and summoned one of the many taxis that were enjoying quite an economic impact from all of the Tech fans. No sooner had it dropped us off in front of the CNN Center when we were approached by members of what seemed to be as much of a part of Atlanta as Ted’s former empire and peaches. That would be the city’s substantial population of bums.

As we attempted to enter the restaurant a gentleman approached us. He had in tow what prior visual experience had taught me looked to be a young lady with more than a passing relationship with crack cocaine. The gentleman claimed to be just a concerned friend of hers who was attempting to procure bus fare for her to return home in some other part of Georgia . Would we care to help a girl out? Our Russian noticed that there seemed to be a remarkable resemblance between the bums of Atlanta and those in Moscow before answering, ‘Nyet.’ It was not our only experience with the Atlanta Bums, who looked to be having a much better season than had the Braves.

A very enjoyable Friday evening was marred only by our final taxi driver of the night. It seemed that the entire island of Jamaica had been emptied of men in order to provide sufficient numbers of cabbies for the throngs of Hokies in town for the Chicken Bowl. One would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier lot with great knowledge of the city and how to get around it.

It also appeared that Atlanta had run short of Jamaicans and had imported at least one Ethiopian to handle the crush. He was not quite as agreeable. He was not nearly as friendly as had been our previous chauffeurs and did not exactly endear himself to us when he passed right by what I recognized was the road back to our hotel before taking us on a twenty-minute jaunt around mid-town Atlanta.

He later discovered that his attempt at maximizing the economic impact of the bowl game by screwing the out-of-town rubes that didn’t know the city had backfired when he was paid, with tip, the exact same amount as had the friendly Jamaican who had earlier ferried us the exact same distance for a much lower fare.

His getting stiffed on the tip also followed what was the greatest bit of excitement on the trip, certainly more than that provided by the Tech football team in the Second Half. Our driver was apparently a Muslim suicide driver. His attempt at taking a couple of infidels with him involved running a stop light and turning directly in front of oncoming traffic. Only the quick reflexes of the other driver and what must be very good brakes on Jeep Cherokees prevented this column from having the very different tone that would come from it being written from an Atlanta hospital room or the afterlife.

With the adrenalin rush that comes from near-death experiences at midnight Friday out of the way, we were ready for some extended Saturday tailgating. It was an excellent one, highlighted by more numerous encounters with the Bums of Atlanta.

The Georgia Dome and its immediate environs are among those sports-themed urban renewal projects that enthusiastic city planners and owners of professional sports teams getting a new stadium at taxpayer expense always tout will be a boon for the surrounding area. That never quite works out, although it never stops those who stand to make large amounts of money off of the taxation of other people from advocating them.

That it didn’t quite work out in Atlanta was evident when we arrived Friday afternoon to deposit two members of our traveling party in the Georgia Dome RV lot. Lying Mapquest directions sent us a couple of blocks away into what can best be described as a slum. It proved to be the perfect staging area for the bums as they mounted a Gameday assault on the RV lot.

Begging was widespread. It was also varied, starting with a guy who wandered outside of numerous RV encampments populated by people cooking breakfast asking for five dollars with which to buy food. He might have had better results asking for a plate.

Then there was the guy on crutches who presented as pitiful a site as could be imagined as he limped up to me and requested twenty bucks for an operation. Health care can be had on the cheap in Atlanta . My refusal to help out brought both a string of profanity hurled at me and a remarkable recovery as he tucked the crutches under his arm and purposely strode off on legs that looked to be at least as fit as my own. The power of ‘No’ looked to be quite impressive. I don’t often get to witness miracles such as that.

There was at least one who abandoned all pretenses. He cut right to the chase and, noticing that the occasional adult beverage was being consumed, asked for a beer. You at least had to admire his honesty. However, we did not award style points and when the response to him was the same given to everybody else, he became somewhat agitated and informed us that he was a fan of the Dawgs and he hoped Tech got their asses beat. The outcome no doubt provided him comfort from the subsequent DTs.

The RV parking lot and all of the other ones at the Georgia Dome were surrounded by sturdy iron fences.

The primary purpose looked to have been to keep the bums out. For the most part, this was accomplished. There were, however, exceptions.

Occasionally the bums would marshal their forces for an assault that would occasionally result in a breach of the perimeter. The cry of ‘bums in the wire’ would ring out around the RV compound as the derelicts poured through and kept coming like the Viet Minh at Dien Bein Phu. The Atlanta security forces looked to have had much experience dealing with these attacks and had perfected their defensive tactics.

REACT teams from the multi-jurisdictional police force providing security would be dispatched, complete with air support from the helicopters circling overhead, and the perimeter would again be secured with only a moderate loss of coin from the sustained pan-handling. Atlanta and the Georgia Dome were determined that bowl tourists would have a pleasant experience and we did.

After a pleasant afternoon of tailgating, it came time for the game. Things went pretty well for a half. Unfortunately and as Georgia Tech and Wake were later to also discover, second halves, including fourth quarters, must also be played. The resulting irksome football rules concerning length of games resulted in three blown leads.

In the case of the Hokies, the loss itself was not totally unexpected. Many of the media types, including what sounded like all of those on Atlanta sports radio, had picked the Dawgs to win in spite of Tech’s better record and higher ranking. The way it happened through an utter Second Half collapse was a bit disconcerting.

As said, the loss was not entirely unexpected for reasons above and beyond finally playing a team and game where Tech’s excellent defense could not hide the problems of an inexperienced quarterback and a suspect offensive line.

Tech rarely wins high-profile games such as this over anybody not named Miami . There have been a ton of wins in recent years, but few in the so-called ‘big games’ against ‘big-time teams’ such as the Chicken Bowl. The Hoos have been dominated, as has been most of the ACC.

When the opponent is a team such as Georgia , or Auburn , or Florida State , Tech usually loses. In some of those games, Tech looked to many to have the better team but still came up short. The most recent of these kinds of losses, to Georgia and last year’s ACC Championship game to Florida State . Both came when Tech did seem, at least to this observer, to be the better squad. It might not be a pattern, but it is getting close.

Frank Beamer and his staff coaxed ten wins out of this team, a terrific coaching job considering the youth and inexperience that had caused preseason predictions to call for less than a double-digit win season. Tech has won thirty-one games over the last three seasons since ACC expansion. Nobody else in the conference has come close to that many. What is going on with Tech football is certainly the envy of most league members, as the firings at Carolina and State and the ‘Beat Tech or else’ ultimatum given algroh would prove.

Tech will certainly be a better team next year than they were during this one. Sean Glennon will be a more experienced quarterback and better. The offensive line will have another year of Mike Gentry and adjusting to the new position coach. The 07 Tech team will enter the season carrying a pretty high ranking, although not as high as what might have been.

There has been a lot of griping, both after the game, at rest stops and convenience stores along I-85 and in my Inbox about Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring. After five years at his current position, the learning curve has proven to be a bit steep. While Danny Pearman learned the hard way that being a Friend of Frank does not always carry with it the promise of lifetime employment, it is highly unlikely Stiney is going anywhere. He is a member of the Inner Circle , Billy Hite’s fair-haired boy, somewhat higher up Frank’s coaching food chain than was Pearman. This almost certainly means he will stick around, for better or worse. Hopefully there will be a bit more better in big games.

There are indications that while Tech is certainly a very good program and griping about ten-win seasons is absolutely foolish, a plateau might have been reached. You are what your records say you are and Tech’s under Frank Beamer and without Vick Classic are those of a top-fifteen program that regularly contends for conference championships and occasionally wins them.

That is not a bad place to be and at this time no other ACC program can make that claim. The sneaking suspicion lingers, however, with the Georgia game lending more credence to the theory, that much of Tech’s success is the result of what is now a succession of bad conferences and Frank’s great fondness for weak OOC schedules. While Frank fields pretty good teams, they never quite live up to the enormous hype. The small circle of elite programs has not been cracked. Perhaps, given Tech’s resources compared to those who regularly field the so-called ‘elite’ programs, it can’t be.

Tech will be better next year, but so will a good chunk of the ACC and the OOC will be tougher. Another ten-win season seems a reasonable goal. Frank Beamer has built a solid program at Tech, against very high odds in the beginning. It certainly looks to have a better claim to a higher ranking than either of the two that played in the Orange Bowl, both of which Tech handled easily the last time they were played.

Louisville and Wake were in the Orange Bowl, however, while Tech was losing the Chicken. Once again, Tech had a very good season but not a great one. Hopefully, there will be a few more great seasons before Frank heads for the lake on a more permanent basis. They will involve, however, winning games against other very good teams, which didn’t happen in the Chicken Bowl and hasn’t in a while.

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