Georgia fans impressed with Columbia but see room for improvement

Sunday, September 9, 2012 | 3:53 p.m. CDT
Georgia Bulldog fan Josh Sauls listens to music while waiting for his flight home to Atlanta at the Columbia Regional Airport on Sunday. Sauls is a Georgia Tech alumnus but grew up a Bulldogs fan and travels to as many away games as possible.

COLUMBIA — Around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, a crowd of more than 40 Georgia fans, decked out in celebratory red and black "dawg" gear, rolled their suitcases into Columbia Regional Airport for the 10 a.m. flight to Atlanta.

They are part of the exodus of thousands of Georgia fans leaving Columbia following Missouri's 41-20 loss to Georgia in the Tiger's Saturday night Southeastern Conference debut.

What were their final impressions of Columbia as they prepared to leave?

Many said they worry Missouri fans may be "too nice" for the SEC.

Allison and Craig Yeomans described themselves as a pair of the biggest Georgia fans around, and Allison Yeomans has generations of history to prove it. Her grandfather, James Wallace "Wally" Butts, was the head football coach at Georgia from 1939 to 1960. He led the team to victory against Missouri the last time the two teams faced each other in the 1960 Orange Bowl. Georgia beat Missouri that time, too, 14-0.

She said she enjoyed her time in Columbia but worries other teams won't reciprocate the hospitality Columbia residents offered this weekend.

"The team is definitely ready for SEC football, but the fans might be too sweet," she said. "I’m afraid, if you want to fit in, you're going to have to be a little meaner, but I don’t want that."

Athens resident Dwain Blackston goes to every Georgia game, both in Athens and away, and said he felt at home in Columbia.

"People here were so nice, we thought they were Southerners," he said jokingly. "I say welcome to the SEC. It’s a big, tough conference. All the schools have a big fan base, as you saw, so it's highly competitive."

Howard Wallace has been traveling to out-of-state games since 1956 and said Missouri fans are the nicest he's ever met.

"I want to know if the people in Columbia had some sort of seminar training on how to be nice," he said. "It was unbelievable – people would stop us on the street to say, 'Welcome to Columbia and thanks for coming.'"

His wife, Micki Wallace, also has been traveling to games for more than 50 years and said she hopes other SEC schools will treat Missouri fans the way Columbia residents treated her.

"I hope people are nice when Missouri comes to Georgia," she said. "But if you think we’re bad, you oughta see Florida — they are so ugly."

Craig Yeomans, who attended Georgia for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees, said he noticed differences in tailgating.

"We didn’t see very many people with televisions," he said. "In Athens and all the other Southeastern Conference places, a lot of people have generators and TVs when they tailgate so they can watch other games."

Georgia alumni Ken McCosh said if Missouri really wants to fit in with the new conference, fans are going to have to start traveling more.

"Half the experience with Southeastern Conference football is about traveling," he said. "It’s not about supporting your team at home. It's about supporting your team wherever they go."

McCosh said he thinks the Tigers will fit in well with the SEC but the fans' true test will come on the road. 

The Tigers' play their first away SEC game in Columbia, S.C., against the Gamecocks on Sept. 22.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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