Mercer opener just felt right

September 1, 2013 

Mercer_Features

Mercer running back Payton Usher gets tripped up on a second quarter carry.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com Buy Photo

It wasn’t your typical football afternoon, the ones we yearn for every summer when we know fall is almost here and we want a chill in the air. It was hot and sticky and muggy.

It wasn’t Athens or Statesboro or Valdosta or even Atlanta, the places where they usually play college football. And even though it wasn’t the first college football game Macon has ever hosted, this one was different. This one felt at home.

It was Mercer. It was Mercer football. It was a Mercer home football game.

To think this community can now experience the same atmosphere other cities in Georgia have every fall is very exciting. It was obvious if you drove through downtown Macon that something different was happening. People were all decked out in their orange, just like folks in Athens wear red and people in Statesboro wear blue.

Those cities are identified with sports because of football. Perhaps it’s because those schools have had a lot of success in the sport, and maybe one day Mercer will be looked at the same way. But there’s something about football in the South that brings a community together. That’s why it seemed right to have orange and black balloons all over the place and an air of excitement we’ve really never had before.

No offense to basketball fans, and certainly head coach Bob Hoffman has done a remarkable job with the Mercer men’s program, but this was football. This is what people love in the South. It’s kind of hard to tailgate before a basketball game on a cold night in January when Kennesaw State is in town. But to sit around and wait for a football game with food on the grill ... that’s just what we do.

It was the first day, but it certainly didn’t seem like it. People around here know how to tailgate. They’ve done it elsewhere, and now they can do it at home. They’ve got an idea how to cook on the grill and keep an eye on other games. Now they can just do it in their own backyard, their own hometown.

As I walked into the stadium, I heard a man say something that really wrapped up the entire experience.

“It’s like I’m not in Macon,” he said.

He could not believe he was going to a football game at Mercer. But he was in Macon. He was at Mercer. It was real -- no longer a dream of a few college big wigs and people with money to make it happen. This was reality.

We all know this season is a dress rehearsal for next year, when Mercer will have scholarship players and will play in a real football conference. That might take the experience to an entirely different level. But this was the first day, and that made it special.

The stands were packed with people wearing orange and black. College kids who probably never believed they’d see a football game on their own campus were there. And the field looked normal, with 100 yards and all. This wasn’t intramural flag football. It was the real thing.

And it was in Macon. It was at Mercer. Touchdowns were being made a stone’s throw from Interstate 75.

I’m sure things happened that weren’t supposed to, and I’m sure mistakes were made that will be corrected. That’s what happens on day one of most everything. But things seemed to go fairly smoothly considering it had been 72 years since Mercer had hosted a football game.

It didn’t take long to know it was real football, with a good runback on the opening kickoff and then an interception on the first play from scrimmage. The fans didn’t take long getting loud, and when Mercer first scored there were fist-bumps and high-fives galore. They loved every minute of it, good plays and bad.

This is the first game of many for Mercer. Soon we’ll be over the honeymoon and euphoria of having college football back in Macon, and we’ll instead want winning seasons. But the first Mercer football game is something we’ll all remember for a long time.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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