Wiedmer: Can true love overcome football after tonight's title game?

Wiedmer: Can true love overcome football after tonight's title game?

January 8th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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Kyle Clarkson has his lucky outfit all ready for tonight's College Football Playoff national championship game in which his beloved Georgia Bulldogs will take on Alabama.

"Right down to my underwear," he said over the phone Sunday. "I've got a Nick Chubb T-shirt that says, 'Run, Chubby, Run,' on the front and has his name and number on the back. I'll also wear these workout pants that I changed into at halftime of the Oklahoma game. I had some other pants on the first half, but we were playing so bad I decided to change at halftime. After the way we played the second half, I'm wearing them again."

Then there are the Under Armour tennis shoes he'll wear, the gray-and-"Syracuse orange" ones that are "really worn out" but have been on his feet so often on game days this season, he feels the need to slip them on at least one more time.

And Clarkson, a 33-year-old graduate of Gordon Lee High School and Kennesaw State University, surely won't be alone embracing his superstitions tonight for the glory of old Georgia. What makes Clarkson a bit unique is that his fiancée, Jennifer Austin, will be cheering equally hard for the Crimson Tide.

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"I don't know who we played, but I went to my first Alabama game when I was 3 or 4 years old," said Austin, who added, "I've still got a picture of that day."

She went because her parents, Jane Anne and Lionel Austin, are "huge Alabama fans."

And though her parent's home isn't overrun with crimson-and-white memorabilia, she did admit, "We had lots of stuffed elephants."

Yet if Austin and Clarkson planned to watch the championship game in the same house, they seem to be certain of little else tonight, which puts them with most everyone else, because the Tide were favored in some betting corners by only 3.5 points Sunday after a high of 4.5 a week ago.

For instance, Austin – who teaches third grade at Dade Elementary School in Trenton, Ga. — surmised, "We'll watch in the same house, but probably in different rooms."

Clarkson — who starts a new job today with TruGreen lawn care — countered, "No, we'll watch it together, but if Georgia gets behind, we might have to switch where we're sitting."

Will there be any trash talking or ribbing each other after the game?

"No, I'm usually pretty quiet," Austin said. "I remember what it was like before (Alabama coach Nick) Saban arrived."

Said Clarkson: "Maybe a little. But not past tomorrow night."

They agree the game will be close, with probably no more than a field goal separating the teams either way.

Clarkson also worries a couple of past football victories by his schools over Austin's could come back to haunt him tonight.

"When we were in high school — we both graduated in 2003 — Gordon Lee beat Dade County our senior year," he said. "And Kennesaw beat Jacksonville State (Austin's alma mater) in the FCS playoffs this year. I'm kind of scared I can't have it all."

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On the other hand, while the Tide have won five national titles since 1992, the Bulldogs haven't won a single one since 1980, when Herschel Walker was a freshman.

"I wasn't born until 1984, but I feel like I was there, given all the times I've heard my dad talk about Herschel and 'Run, Lindsay, run,'" said Clarkson, remembering the famous Larry Munson call of Lindsay Scott's 93-yard touchdown catch against Florida that long-ago championship season.

Of course, until New Year's Day, all the talk about this year's Southeastern Conference postseason showing was pretty negative in nature. The league had sent seven teams into bowl action heading into New Year's Eve, and only South Carolina and Mississippi State had emerged victorious.

But then Clarkson changed his pants at halftime, and Georgia rallied to beat Oklahoma. Alabama followed with a thorough whipping of Clemson, a pointed payback for last year's CFP title game loss to the Tigers with a second to play.

Because of that, the league is without question SECond to none when it comes to this year's national title game. Or as conference commissioner Greg Sankey noted, "Two SEC teams made the playoffs and justified their presence."

Take that, all you SEC haters.

Still, either the Bulldogs or the Tide will lose tonight, which left a sports writer to ask Austin if such a crushing defeat could alter or halt the wedding they've scheduled for March 31.

"I hope not," she said with a small laugh. "But we haven't sent out invitations yet."

And you wonder why those all those television commercials proclaim, "In the SEC, it just means more."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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