‘It feels amazing’: Celebrating Georgia’s back-to-back national championships

ATHENS — Fans of the Georgia Bulldogs, hailing from across the state and elsewhere, descended on the team’s home turf Saturday fresh off the high of a second consecutive national championship.

Nothing could dissuade the University of Georgia devotees, not the bitter wind chill nor distance.

UGA crushed TCU 65-7 less than a week ago in the College Football Playoff National Championship game to become the first back-to-back national champions since Alabama in 2011-2012.

Such a decisive win did little to temper the joy of victory. By Thursday morning, tickets for the 2 p.m. celebration ceremony at Sanford Stadium were sold out.

“It feels amazing. I haven’t known what it’s like to lose,” said Arden Costopoulos, a sophomore at UGA.

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“I’ll take it either way,” said Telvin Phillips, who drove up from Augusta that morning. “I’m just happy we got another one.”

Onlookers lined up along Lumpkin Street, a crush of red and black, hours ahead of the 12:30 p.m. parade. Akin to the perfect season’s tailgating atmosphere, tents stuffed with fans blasted music as grill smoke and chants wafted through the air.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

In the morning temperatures hovered around freezing even without the accompanying wind, but families whipped out camping chairs and blankets and settled in cozily along the sidewalks.

Hawkers pulled wagons of merch overflowing with shirts and hoodies and hats emblazoned with triumphant text such as “Back 2 Back.” Kids played touch football in the lawns lining the street.

With oversized Georgia chains they bought from a hawker swinging from their necks, Shannon Volkodav and Denise Patierno drove up from Atlanta this morning.

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Credit: Curtis Compton for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Curtis Compton for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Volkodav made the pilgrimage to Athens last year, when Georgia defeated Alabama 33-18 to win its first championship in more than 40 years. Patierno said this year’s victory feels no less sweet than the first.

“How often does a back-to-back repeat happen?” she said. “We had to come back.”

Even rival SEC fans were swept up in the excitement of the day.

Gene Caso, a University of Florida alum, rooted for Georgia this year and said a win for UGA is a win for the entire conference.

“It encourages teams like Florida to get better,” Caso said.

Layered cheers and barks greeted Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who led the parade atop a silver convertible. Quarterback Stetson Bennett rolled by on a convertible of his own a few minutes later, followed by the rest of Georgia’s championship team — some in the back of pickup trucks, others atop firetrucks blaring their horns.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

When the procession of several dozen vehicles came to a stop at the intersection of Baxter and Lumpkin streets on the university campus, players hopped out and were given a hero’s welcome as still more fans lined the path to the stadium.

As festivities celebrated the team’s first back-to-back national championships, some fans already were looking ahead to a three-peat.

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Keaton Kelly, who came up from Jackson with father Tyler and mother Heather, Class of 2019, did not mince words.

The youngster said, “We ain’t got no competition.”

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