By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist
Everyone thinks that Shakespeare wrote, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” about Henry IV, but he actually wrote it about whoever is ranked No. 1 in the AP’s college football poll.
And while that honor is once again Alabama’s to protect, it belonged to Georgia until last Saturday.
The Dawgs were a 29.5-point favorite last week to beat Missouri, one of those SEC programs that you always forget is in the SEC because, vibe-wise, it shouldn’t be. If you follow college football, you know that not only did Georgia not cover the spread but almost lost outright. The reigning national champs only went ahead with 4:03 left on the clock and scraped by with a 26-22 victory.
This is why I am very curious to visit Athens this week ahead of the Auburn game. Because the team that had steamrolled its competition through Week 3 “struggled” against Kent State the weekend before that most recent nail-biter against Mizzou.
I put struggled in quotes because the Dawgs ultimately beat Kent State by 17 points, but the offense committed uncharacteristic turnovers and looked a little “yikes-y” to those expecting what had become traditional Georgia blowouts.
Listen, let’s qualify all of this: I have never met a group of people who overreact more than college football fans. All the headlines after Georgia almost lost last Saturday were along the lines of “concerns arise” and “what the Georgia offense badly needs” and “Dawgs come out flat … again.”
Despite the hand-wringing, Georgia is ranked No. 2 and is still undefeated, managing to open as a 27.5-point favorite this week. Auburn hasn’t won at UGA since 2005.
But that’s where the crown comes in. It’s heavy. Expectations skyrocket when the 2021 Georgia team had the second-best defense of any national championship team in 16 years, behind only Alabama in 2011. And it’s why, from a fan perspective, I’m fascinated to feel out the atmosphere in Athens.
I’ll be spending time with two of the spirit groups on campus, the Georgia Cheerleaders and the Spike Squad. While you definitely know what the Georgia Cheerleaders are (cheerleaders), you may be wondering what the Spike Squad is.
It is, quite simply, this:
The students who dress up in football pads with spikes on the shoulders, paint their bodies and scream their heads off for four hours at home games do not take the obligation lightly. What started as an unofficial good time in 2010 has morphed into a very legitimate group on campus. The organization has two presidents, holds an interview process for those who’d like to join, and requires members to choose a look (“pick your paint”) then stick with it for a season. Some of these face-and-body painting endeavors are so involved that they require prosthetics.
So it’s not only football players that feel the pressures of being No. 1 or protecting the title. The students who support the team work hard, too — the cheerleaders have to balance many hours of practice with philanthropic and community-based appearances and rigorous academic programs (many of the cheerleaders go on to medical school). The students supporting such a great program find themselves in the limelight more often than a losing team would and take the responsibility of representing Georgia very seriously.
But there’s also something sort of … spooky … or unsettling … or — as the master of words himself said — uneasy about being the best. There is nowhere to go but down. And Georgia fans had been through 40 years of heartbreak before finally taking down Alabama (a fan base and team that understand what it means to defend a title more than anyone in college football) that the high felt almost unbelievable, making it even more precious. And precarious.
So it will be a real anthropological treat to see how people in Athens are handling a good thing. And how, both mentally and emotionally, they’re guarding the crown.
I will, as always, report back.
Some highlights from the last stop in Tennessee:
I was blessed to spend time with Smokey X and Smokey XI, the two official mascots of Tennessee …
… and also to visit with Sinan the Squirrell, the unlikely and unofficial mascot:
I also hopped aboard the Vol Navy to discover the true joys of tailgating on a river …
… and asked Vols fans just how much beating Florida means to them:
Thank you, as always, for following along. What a privilege it is to bring you with me to the biggest college football games of the season!
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– As elite teams show flaws, Ohio State, USC see an opportunity
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports. She’s honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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