published Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Are Vols and Dogs merely being calm before the storm?

Where's the love, man? Or the hate? Or merely the glorious and glowering animosity that's usually so prevalent around these parts whenever Georgia-Tennessee weekend arrives? Or, if you prefer, Tennessee-Georgia weekend?

I write this after traveling to Hamilton Place early Wednesday afternoon to seek out a few Volniacs and Dawgs for their thoughts on Saturday afternoon's Southeastern Conference football showdown scheduled to unfold between Georgia's famous, fabulous hedges.

Column concepts such as this usually take 30 or 40 minutes of prep time. You find out how UGA and UT garb is selling in officially licensed souvenir shops such as The College Station and the Sports Stop. You interview five or six fans from opposing teams. Finally, you hunker down (sorry for the Bulldog reference, Big Orange Nation) and try to make sense of our town's border war in, theoretically, 850 words or less.

But not Wednesday. Nearly 90 minutes of roaming Hamilton Place's wide corridors turned up one sweet but shy senior citizen in a Tennessee sweatshirt who said she didn't want to be quoted.

And that was it. No red or black-clad Bulldog backers basking in the glow of their No. 5 national ranking. No orange-wrapped Big Orange boosters loyally and defiantly defending their eager underdogs.

No one.

Nowhere.

And it didn't grow more promising on the 25-minute drive back to my house. Not a single UT or UGA spirit flag could be seen in either the Hamilton Place parking lots I passed or the large Target parking lot on the other side of Gunbarrel Road.

I did spot one orange UT spirit flag on a late model SUV as it barreled toward town on I-24, but one was all I saw.

So I turned on SportsTalk 102.3 and Cowboy, Quake and the Doctor were getting a similar silent treatment.

"We must have had six to eight [Atlanta] Braves calls the first hour, but no Tennessee-Georgia calls," Scott "Quake" McMahon said early Wednesday evening.

"You might have expected that from the Tennessee fans after the disappointment of losing the Florida game. But you'd think the Georgia fans would be everywhere. To be honest, though, we just haven't had a whole lot of calls about it either way this week."

This isn't to say no one dares to care. Sanford Stadium will be filled with nearly 93,000 fans for Saturday's 3:30 kickoff on CBS. They'll come early, the winners will tailgate late and Highway 316 connecting Athens to I-85 north of Atlanta will likely remain a languid lava ribbon of red taillights until close to midnight.

Nor have the fan shops in Hamilton Mall experienced quite the apathy seen around town on Wednesday.

"Alabama's been our best seller," said Sports Stop manager Don Gilman. "Bama fans seem to be loyal whether they're 6-6, 5-7 or national champs. Either way, they still buy.

"But you can see a difference this week in UT and Georgia stuff. Maybe not as much as you'd like, especially after the UT-Florida game. But it's there. It's picking up."

The College Station's Ray Billingsley sees the world through a slightly more orange tinted glass.

"It's actually been an excellent fall," he said. "Georgia sales have been excellent, too. And we've probably sold more [University of Tennessee at Chattanooga] stuff than we ever have."

Indeed, the College Station has already sold more than 40 Tyler Bray No. 8 UT jerseys at $65 a piece. More than 24 Justin Hunter No. 11 jerseys have sold for the same price and Cordarrelle Patterson No. 84 jerseys are moving almost as fast as the fleet receiver.

"And if Tennessee wins Saturday, we'll double the business we're doing right now," Billingsley said.

If not, perhaps there's still time to load up on Braves gear.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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