Georgia football and other schools want to win their bowl games, but does that mean they should be all business, or is a bit fun good for these college programs? There is so much more to a bowl game than just playing the game itself. The history behind each bowl game means there are traditions to be upheld, and with the help of sponsors, there will be a host of other fun things to participate in during the build-up to the game.
Even though Atlanta is a short distance from Athens, Georgia will still stay the whole week in Atlanta, which presents the coaching staff with some logistical challenges. How on earth does the coaching staff keep the student-athletes entertained while also focusing on the job?
This is a question that fascinates me. I have interviewed many NFL head coaches and players as they traveled to London to play in the NFL International series games. The London games have a different feel than regular season games. Visiting US fans have likened the atmosphere to a Super Bowl. It is different.
Georgia football can enjoy the bowl game pleasures while staying business-focused.
Bowl games with the magnitude of the Peach Bowl seem to be precisely the same, with the atmosphere building as the week progresses. During the week’s activities, both teams will be instrumental and the focal point in the lead-up to the game. Does this beg the question of is all this hoo-ha a distraction or an experience to embrace and immerse themselves in?
Responses to this question by the NFL staff, when asked, are mixed. Some head coaches are all business. Some teams practice at the hotel, never venturing from their complex except for the game. Some teams fly in shortly ahead of the game and fly straight back almost as soon as the clock counts to zero. But others embrace it.
They sample the city and the culture — meet the fans and experience the atmosphere. It is an experience to be enjoyed. Sound familiar? To me, that sounds like a Bowl game. Yes, it’s business. But it can also be a pleasure. It can be used to bond teams together. Something that stories will be talked about in the locker room for years to come.
So what of Georgia in this week’s Peach Bowl? Atlanta is a 45-minute drive from Athens, yet Georgia will spend the week away from campus. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a home away from home for the Bulldogs, breeding familiarity. So is this a busman’s holiday for the Dawgs?
In the responses I have received to my questions about the trip away from home, I am most intrigued by those from the head coach. Players typically don’t like a change in routine. They are creatures of habit and not keen on anything which deviates from the norm, but team culture comes from the top. It is the head coach who sets the tone for the program. So chances are if the head coach doesn’t embrace the challenge, then neither will his players.
This week head coach Kirby Smart spoke early in the week to the press about the activities planned ahead of gameday. Smart’s early comments set the tone for how the team will prepare for the week and the game at the end of it.
"“I think it’s part of the bowl process, and the merger is unique between CFP, the playoff games and the bowl games, because the bowl games have their traditions, have their beliefs, have their sponsors, and those traditions are very important to the bowls,” Smart said to the media. “I look forward to the activities. We had them last year at the Orange Bowl. It’s important to get your mind off of the game at times, and those activities allow you to do that.”"
The schedule leading up to the Peach Bowl is hectic and will keep both teams busy. Both teams have toured the College Football Hall of Fame and visited two children’s hospitals and the Martin Luther King historical site.
There is also some go-karting planned and five “friendly competitions” where the teams will face off against each other in a fun way. So far, Georgia has come out on top in a version of “Family Feud.” Let’s hope this early victory is an omen for the remainder of the week.
Although all of this, Smart knows there is a game to be won — a big game. The winners of the Peach Bowl will go on to challenge for the national championship. With this opportunity is the potential for Smart and this team to achieve immortality, but he won’t let himself or his team get ahead of this next game.
"“You have to balance the two. You’ve got to make sure your players understand this is my off time and they have activities that are scheduled, but we also are here for a purpose, and it’s a business trip,” Smart said. “It’s not just a joy trip. The balance of those two is important.”"
This quote leaves no doubt that the Dawgs are here for the win. So far, it has been all fun and games. However, the gloves are off on Saturday, and the actual competition can happen. The Dawgs know how to handle the hassle of bowl week festivities, and they know when to have fun and when to focus on the game plan.
Georgia players need to enjoy these events because they are part of the overall bowl game experience, but what stands elite programs from the rest is the ability to shut it on and off when the time comes to play. The Dawgs are ready for Ohio State, and this stage is far from intimidating for them. They were here last year and handled it with grace. Now it’s time to keep that going and make some more history.