ATHENS, Ga – Bus 4, Plane 3 can be an unforgiving lot in life.
It’s the travel assignment that can find a person stranded in the lobby of a small airport terminal some three hours after witnessing a Southeastern Conference thrashing both thorough and predictable.
Bus 4 means you’re part of the University of Kentucky traveling party, say, the sidelines reporter for the UK radio network broadcast crew. If you’re not a player or a coach, you’re on Bus 4 – sort of a football caste system.
If the first three buses show up at the stadium, we can have a game. If the fourth bus takes a wrong turn and ends up stuck in the weeds somewhere, not many people will notice – except maybe the radio network’s studio producer. He’ll be stuck re-creating the game based on what he sees on television and maybe mixing in a few sound effects.
Bus 4 DID show up at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Saturday afternoon and the people aboard, for two quarters and change, saw a competitive football game. It matched a Kentucky team that was a three-touchdown underdog against a pack of Georgia Bulldogs unhappy about spending the previous week being reminded that Auburn had kicked their collective hiney.
These same Bulldogs had been feted as potential challengers to Alabama both for the SEC Championship and the national title. An upset win by the Wildcats would have had no effect on the former; Georgia already has won its way to Atlanta.
But victory by the visitors? It would have dashed any hopes the Dawgs had of adding a third national championship banner to the flagpole that overlooks their home field, the other two – from 1942 and 1980 – furling and fluttering in the afternoon breeze.
Their hopes are safe for at least another week. Georgia 42, Kentucky 13 in a game that was starting to feel like an even swap of haymakers until the Cats kicked to the Dogs in quarter number three.
Kentucky had won the opening toss and deferred to the second half; sound strategy given that Georgia had ground out a 21-6 first-half lead. The Wildcats had damaged themselves with a roughing-the-punter penalty, which kept alive a Bulldog drive that resulted in a touchdown.
The Cats had to swallow hard and settle for a field goal on another drive when a Stephen Johnson pass on third down sliced through the hands of a receiver who was mere steps from the end zone.
Then came even more pain late in the half as a well-thrown Johnson pass on fourth down skipped off the hands of another wideout. It would have kept alive a drive that surely would have ended in three or maybe seven points.
Still, Kentucky had first dibs on the football in the second half and smartly marched to the end zone, ironman Benny Snell doing the honors from a yard out. That made it 21-13 and a Bus 4 passenger wondered what this game might start to feel like if the Wildcats could get a defensive stop on Georgia’s first possession.
He would never find out.
The Bulldogs quickly drove for a score, doing loads of damage on the ground, which is how they’ve climbed to the highest echelon of college football this season. They boast the most impressive tailback tandem in the land, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both swift, shifty and powerful – two complete packages, sharing the same rotation.
Beat writers who cover Georgia football through the years, searching for metaphoric glee at the antics of Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis et al., no doubt have long since tired of references to Sherman’s march through Atlanta. It’s been done.
A weary Bus 4 typist would have to come up with some other way to describe their dominance. Perhaps he could compare the way they moved through the Wildcat defense to the storm front blowing through the southeast, the one that scrambled the travel plans for the folks on Plane 3.
Recent road successes by the Kentucky football program have given members of the travel party the opportunity to climb onto charter flights heading for home and not feel as though they were boarding a mausoleum with wings. But this was not a good day in Athens, so the stranded passengers, who had seen players and coaches climb aboard Planes 1 and 2 and start winging it back to Lexington, had to bivouac in the terminal, awaiting their ride.
They could look back down the Georgia highway at what happened at Sanford Stadium, or look ahead to what figures to be a crackling good matchup this coming Saturday between the Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals.
Or they could just try to get some sleep, until Plane 3 shows up.