Tough times all made worth it for Georgia family with football team’s run to national title game

  • Daniel Shirley
  • DawgNation
2:38 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 Sports

During her time at Georgia as a student, Alex Grill endured many hardships when it came to the football team, as did the rest of the UGA fan base and the team itself.

The day of the Alabama monsoon, a few loses to Florida and Georgia Tech (don’t forget that pesky Vanderbilt loss, too), the nightmare of the 2016 Tennessee game, the hiring and firing of coaches.

All moments that need no explanation. All moments that happened during Grill’s years in Athens and all moments etched into the minds of all Georgia fans.

The past few seasons left their mark, but when push came to shove, there was nowhere else Grill wanted to be when Georgia played in the Rose Bowl than Athens.

Grill graduated from Georgia last year and is now living in Atlanta as a production assistant for a new TV show. But when her friends held a Rose Bowl watch party at their house in Athens, she made her way back to the Classic City.

And even though it was the Georgia football team that won the game, the city of Athens won, too.

“As soon as we won, we were all like, ‘We have to be in downtown Athens right now,’ ” Grill said. “There is no place in the world that is going to be as excited as Athens.”

And excited the city was with countless fans flocking to downtown Athens where the celebration was underway. Bars and restaurants quickly filled up, and a line to ring the Chapel Bell was formed; a line that at one point during the night stretched all the way to Broad Street.

For Grill, it was an experience she couldn’t get anywhere else.

“Being in Atlanta wouldn’t have been the same as walking out into the streets [in Athens] where everyone was excited about and celebrating the same thing,” Grill said. “I wanted to be with my Georgia family.”

Across town at Pauley’s restaurant and bar, a popular place among Georgia students, Karsen Hicks, a senior journalism major, took in the game with friends and strangers alike. But you wouldn’t have known that by looking in from outside, everyone just looked like friends.

“We were talking to all of these people and high fiving people, and we had no idea who they were,” Hicks said. “In Pauley’s, people would just be running down the aisle of tables giving high fives.”

Hicks called the atmosphere “wild,” saying that once the game had been decided the place went insane with the manager and owner of the restaurant calling the Dawgs from the top of the bar counter.

The atmosphere was even wilder outside when Hicks and her friends left Pauley’s.

“As we were walking down the street everyone was honking their horns and screaming and yelling,” Hicks said. “It was really cool, honestly people were excited.”

Hicks went on to say that it meant a lot to her, in her last year at Georgia, to be able to see history being made, and to be in Athens to see it happen was even better.

“Everybody here is a Dawg fan, there was not one person in Pauley’s last night that wasn’t rooting for UGA,” Hicks said. “To be on campus where we all go to school, because at the end of the day the guys on the football team are all students here, so to be where it all happens is very cool.”

Excitement filled the air across Athens on Monday night, but according to Hicks it was indeed elation and not stunning revelation that came with a dramatic and historic Rose Bowl win.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a date with Alabama in Atlanta for the national championship.

“Two overtimes can really do a number on your nerves … but people just seemed excited,” Hicks said. “Genuinely excited, not shocked – that definitely isn’t the right word – but I feel like this entire season has been building up to this moment. We were perfect for most of the season and then recruiting has gained a lot of momentum. It has all been building up to the national championship.”

While Hicks focused on this season and the success it has been for Georgia and Georgia fans alike, Grill called back all of the hard times that fans have had to endure the past few years, saying this turnaround didn’t happen overnight and the victory feeling of the Rose Bowl is just a little bit sweeter to fans that have been there through it all.

“For so many people who have been Georgia fans, it was a rough past three seasons to be a Dawg … for those of us that have stuck through all of that, we have earned it,” Grill said. “We have clawed our way back up from the ashes to be there and it makes it so much more enjoyable because we can sit here and remember all of the times when we were still there cheering for our team.”

“Now it feels like the team is out there doing it for us.”

And Grill believes the team knows that the fans are out there, rooting for them the same way they always have.

“We have stuck through a lot with [Georgia],” Grill said. “I think the team can feel that.”

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