ATHENS, Ga. -- For football fans seeking tailgating or restaurant advice at a given road destination, visiting coaches and players are among the worst sources of information.
During the regular season, their road-trip schedule is extremely regimented -- and it leaves no time whatsoever for sightseeing. Visiting fans might be partying at the Grove in Oxford on game day or along Broadway in Nashville on Friday night, but the visiting players and coaches are locked away at the team hotel finalizing their game plans right up until time to bus to the stadium.
That's why bowl games are particularly fun for the team and staff -- and why the upcoming trip to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl holds some intrigue for Georgia's players. They'll get a chance to actually experience for the first time one of the places most closely associated with Georgia football.
“You will get a chance to get out and see the city,” defensive end Ray Drew said. “I think that's why a lot of people look forward to the bowl game each year, just because it's a little more laid back rather than just flying in, going to the hotel, going to the game and flying back out. So you get a chance to relax a little bit more and just have fun. I think that's what bowl games are about. Of course it's a business trip, but you get to enjoy the city, as well.”
Drew is among a handful of Georgia players who have attended the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville as a fan. He watched the Bulldogs lose in overtime as a high school senior, months before signing in February 2011 to join the Georgia program that fall.
Otherwise, the majority of the Bulldogs -- with the obvious exception of players like Jacksonville natives John and Nathan Theus -- know only bus ride over the city's Hart Bridge, when the throngs of fans and tailgate tents and the massive party outside of EverBank Field first come into view, when they think of Jacksonville.
Sure, they've heard about the elbow-to-elbow crowds at the Jacksonville Landing and know all about the massive fraternity and sorority parties that weekend on the beaches at St. Simons Island. They usually don't get to enjoy the social aspect of the game, however, until their careers are over.
So while a BCS bowl would have been a preferable destination, getting to enjoy Jacksonville is one consolation for the Bulldogs.
“It's tough when you're limited to the bowl games when you don't reach your goals originally, you want to be optimistic and look for the best in every situation,” said senior tight end Arthur Lynch, who also attended the 2010 Georgia-Florida game as a fan while redshirting that season. “For me, it was like, 'If we get to go to Jacksonville or we get to go to the [Georgia] Dome, we've played in both those places before and it kind of gave me extra incentive to want to be at that specific bowl -- not necessarily who we're playing or what bowl it was, but the idea of the location.”
Although few of the players have been out and about in the city, Jacksonville will certainly have a home-town feel for the Bulldogs. Situated close to the Georgia-Florida border, the city boasts a sizable UGA alumni base that should turn out for the Bulldogs' first Gator Bowl appearance since 1989.
“It's definitely a city where there's a lot of Georgia fans there, there's a Georgia fan base there and a lot of alums that are connected to the city. So I have no problem wanting to go see the city for a week,” Lynch said. “Bowl trips are fun no matter what. They make it so it's enjoyable and to see the other side of Jacksonville I think will be pretty cool.”
For Drew, a junior who will be playing in a third-consecutive Florida-based bowl, he already knows where he wants to play around this time next season when he's wrapping up his college career.
“I'd say Dallas, Texas,” Drew said, although he meant nearby Arlington, which will host the inaugural College Football Championship Game next season. “That's where the national will be next year, so yeah, I'm going with that.”