As you’ve probably heard by now, the University of Georgia football team is taking its talents west to play in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship game versus Texas Christian University in Inglewood, California. The No. 1 Bulldogs (14-0) are big betting favorites against the Horned Frogs (13-1) as UGA is favored by 13 points at most sportsbooks. The game, which is slated for a 7:30 p.m. EST kickoff on ESPN, will be witnessed by millions across the world and thousands more in attendance at SoFi Stadium.
Some of those fans at the game will be coming from Savannah, and Connect Savannah caught up with a few of them before the big game.
Cherie Goldman has known since August of 2021 that she would be at the 2023 championship game. It was then when she learned that she had won the 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year award for her work as an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) resource teacher at Hesse K-8 School in the Savannah Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS).
The CFP’s website explains the program as follows: “The College Football Playoff Foundation's mission is to empower and encourage teachers, and the foundation annually brings Teachers of the Year from all 50 states to the National Championship game, as a way to show appreciation for this country's K-12 educators.”
Although she knew she’d be there, she didn’t know that her Bulldogs would be the ones playing in the title game. Not until UGA’s comeback victory over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve night was complete, at least.
“I’ve been to Georgia football games before and I am a Georgia Bulldogs fan since I’ve been living (in Savannah) for 18 years now,” said Goldman during a January 5 phone call with Connect Savannah. “I never knew that it would be the Dawgs I’d be seeing but it couldn’t have worked out better.”
Goldman, 51, is flying out of Savannah on Friday with her husband and she will be honored on the field before the game, along with the other 49 winners. When asked if she had a special wave prepared should the winners be announced individually, Goldman said she wouldn’t get too fancy.
“Probably not anything special, just a huge grin for all those Georgia fans that are going to be out there,” she said. “I guess it would probably be a double-handed wave if they announced me specifically. We’ll just have to wait and see!”
FROM SAVANNAH, TO LAS VEGAS, TO LOS ANGELES
Savannah resident Lee Summerford has been a lifelong Georgia fan and has raised his 20-year-old son, Jake, to be the same way. Both Summerfords will be at the game on Monday night and they’ll be joined by family members Matt Hembree (age 29), Richard Dekle (54), Will Dekle (23) and Clay Dekle (21).
Hembree was at last year’s UGA championship win with the elder Summerford and Clay Dekle, when the Bulldogs were victorious against Alabama in Indianapolis. Jake couldn’t go, because he was sick with COVID. So, this time around, the boys will make it a trip to remember.
The group is leaving Savannah on a flight bound for Las Vegas on Saturday morning, and then they’ll drive a rental van roughly 280 miles to Los Angeles for the game. So why Vegas? Easy. Because Jake turns 21 at midnight on Saturday/Sunday and what better place to be on your 21st than the Sin City itself?
“We’ve had it all planned out for a while now,” said Lee Summerford during a January 5 phone call. “We had to wait to book the flights until after the Peach Bowl, but I’m an optimist so I always knew Georgia would win that game. We made our flights right after the game ended.”
He predicts Georgia winning by a score of 45-24.
One doesn’t need too many excuses to go to Las Vegas, but Savannah fans looking to fly out west for the game have found it much cheaper to fly into Vegas as opposed to Los Angeles directly.
Georgia alumnus Jason Jones is also leaving Savannah and flying into Las Vegas before heading to the game Monday morning.
“It’s just cheaper because Delta knows everyone from Georgia is looking for those flights to Los Angeles this week,” said Jones, who said he would also be going to the Las Vegas Raiders football game on Sunday. “It’ll be a good weekend of football.”
The Hinesville native and 2001 graduate of Georgia said he has been to hundreds of Georgia football games over the years. Both home and away, as well as being at both CFP games last season, Oregon to start this season and the Peach Bowl against Ohio State last week in Atlanta. He has only missed one Georgia/Florida game since 1992.
Jones, 44, has seen plenty of great Georgia victories. But he still remembers what he calls the "lowly times" of being a UGA fan, like his first time seeing a game in Sanford Stadium as a UGA student. It was when the Dawgs lost 11-7 in head coach Jim Donnan’s debut against Southern Mississippi in 1996. He recalls a key Bulldogs’ blunder that day with absolute clarity.
“I’ve seen them lose too many times … it just hasn’t happened much lately,” he said with a laugh during a January 5 phone call. “I remember us losing that game because (Mike) Bobo ran into (Robert) Edwards in the endzone for a safety. I don’t forget those kinds of seasons.”
Jones is going to the game with his parents, his brother and his wife and plenty of old college buddies from his time in Athens. His prediction for the game? UGA 45, TCU 28.
Also heading to Los Angeles on Friday is Savannah native and 1990 graduate of UGA, David DeWitt. DeWitt, 55, is a lifelong Georgia fan who played on the men’s basketball team while attending school in Athens. He predicts a Georgia win by a score of 42-17 and is optimistic about the Dawgs’ present and future.
“We’re in the golden age of Georgia football,” he wrote in a text. “After the oasis years with (former head coach Mark Richt), I am going to savor every one of these moments with friends and family.”