INDIANAPOLIS – It may seem a drastic change to drag the big Georgia-Alabama game here, the first truly cold-weather site to host a College Football Playoff Championship game. But perhaps a frosty slap in the face is just what’s needed to shake the Bulldogs free of the habit of losing to Nick Saban’s Crimson dynasty.

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At least the chill does bring people together. Rachel and Jared Shedd of Cumming are married in name but not in football. He was wrapped in his warmest Georgia stuff Saturday while she advertised for Alabama. Taking a frigid walk down Georgia Street – yes, that’s the name of a major fan gathering spot for this championship (an omen?) – the adversaries huddled closely for warmth. And further, there was no partisanship when it came to a different sort of team spirit, both sipping their antifreeze of choice from Georgia cups.

“I like bourbon, and it’s cold. Doesn’t matter what cup it’s in,” Rachel laughed.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Fans of both persuasions began flowing into town this weekend for Monday night’s championship game. It’s the fifth time in four years, and the second time in just more than a month, that Georgia and Alabama have met with each team ranked among the top four in the country and title dreams within fingertips’ reach. Being that the Crimson Tide is 4-0 in those previous meetings – not satisfied with merely winning but seeing the need to crush Georgia souls along the way – the contingents arrive with decidedly different attitudes.

The Shedds have a distinct way of marking their 15-year union. “That means we’ve (the Bulldogs) only won once in our marriage,” Jared said almost solemnly. Overall, Georgia is 0-for-its-past-7 against Alabama, last winning in 2007.

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Former Georgia kicker Kevin Butler, who mingles with fans pregame and postgame on the team’s radio network, senses the natural trepidation among Bulldogs people.

“I think this probably would take ‘cautiously optimistic’ to a new level,” he said. “You put your hand on the stove and you get burned, you get burned, you get burned, then you get another chance to go back to the stove.”

So, along with the heavy coats and the scarves, they may want to bring oven mitts to this one Monday?

“It’s a torture test for our fans,” Butler said.

Playing close to home certainly has done the Bulldogs little good. Three of those most recent losses were postseason events held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They included a pair of particularly painful defeats at both ends of 2018. The first in overtime for the national championship when Alabama landed the winning blow on a 41-yard pass on second-and-26. And the other an SEC Championship game in which the Tide rallied to win by seven after outscoring Georgia 14-0 in the fourth quarter. In both cases, Saban pulled off a daring switch at quarterback that worked with the masterful ease of Beethoven changing a note on his sheet music.

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So what if the game-time temperature is forecast to be in single-digits (but comfortable inside Lucas Oil Stadium), and pregame outdoor events figured to challenge the wardrobe of those of Southern blood. If the change of venue brings a different verdict for the Bulldogs, the long weekend will have been worth every shiver for that fan base.

For the Bulldogs, the scar tissue runs bone deep, as thick as an elephant’s hide. No matter the age, it seems.

Catelyn Lawler is only 14, and had just finished a happy, high-energy dance with her mom, Deborah, at the fan fest within the Indiana Convention Center. In from Athens for the game, she decided upon a balanced approach, “I’m excited for the game – with maybe a smidge of nervousness,” she said.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Ed Roddenbery is 69 and will be leading a three-generation caravan to the game from Columbus. Roddenbery has experienced the full range of Bulldogs fandom. He was present in New Orleans when Georgia won its last national title in 1980 – and his family has the $17 Sugar Bowl ticket stub to prove it. He also was there inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December when Alabama disassembled the favored Bulldogs and their formidable defense, 41-24 in the SEC Championship game.

A patient soul, he said he was not shaken by the most recent loss to Alabama. “As long as we stay among the top teams and keep playing well with the recruiting we have, we’ll get to the promised land,” he said.

His choice would be for that great day of deliverance to be Monday. “If not, it’s going to be a long ride home,” Roddenbery said.

Fans would be well-advised to adopt the attitude of Georgia offensive tackle Jamaree Salyer. Asked Saturday if he was worn out by all the reminders of Georgia’s record against Alabama, Salyer said, “I mean, it’s definitely motivation. I wouldn’t say ‘tired of it.’ It is what it is. It’s the truth. You can’t really run away from the truth.”

“The record has been the record, but this is a new game coming up,” he said. “A different game, different environment. We want to play this game. Not worry about the last few.”

Confronting Georgia fans is the in-their-face superiority of Alabama. The personification of that strolled through the fan fest at the city’s convention center. His name was Robin Albano. He wore a bright-red sport coat and pants bedecked in Alabama A’s. Both hands were covered in replica Alabama national-championship rings. Included in the many buttons attached to his coat was one featuring a big Saban facing a little Georgia coach Kirby Smart, asking the question, “Who’s Your Daddy?”

How to answer such smug yet well-deserved confidence?

Loran Smith, the Georgia sports historian also known for his past radio work with the Bulldogs, said he and other fans like him choose to do it with “a hopeful attitude, certainly not one of overconfidence.”

What exactly is that hope based upon? “There’s a little theme running out there, two things that give them hope,” Smith said.

“One is it’s got to come to an end sometime.

“The other thing – and this is pretty real – it’s hard to beat a good team twice in a year.”

As it was the last time these two played, Georgia is favored over Alabama on Monday night, if only slightly, by three points. Losing as a favorite only made the pain worse in December, one added twist of the knife.

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

If the Bulldogs were to break through this time, an overdue victory to be sure, shock would not be the predominant emotion. Even the Alabama half of that mixed marriage strolling the streets of Indy on Saturday had to honestly admit to that possibility. “Absolutely Georgia can win,” Rachael Shedd said. “I thought (Alabama) was going to get whipped in the SEC Championship game.”

Although if Georgia does reverse the trend of bitter disappointment, she suggested with a smile that yes, she would begrudge him that one title among all the ones she has enjoyed. And that there may need to be some temporary adjustments to the sleeping arrangements at the Shedd house.

WE HAVE YOU COVERED

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues its expansive coverage of Georgia’s quest for a college football national championship. A team of 10 reporters and photographers will provide all the news, reaction, context and stunning visuals as Georgia faces Alabama in the big game Monday night in Indianapolis. Georgia beat reporter Chip Towers, columnists Mark Bradley and Michael Cunningham and reporters Steve Hummer, Ken Sugiura and Gabriel Burns are joined by photographers Curtis Compton, Hyosub Shin, Bob Andres and Greg Bluestein on Team AJC. As you have all season, you can count on us for the most complete coverage, before and after, of the culmination of the Bulldogs’ historic journey.