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SEC Sports Power Weekend: Knoxville, Tennessee

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


SEC Sports Power Weekend: Knoxville, Tennessee, October 22-24

SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper takes a closer look at Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee will host the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at Neyland Stadium at 7:00 PM ET.

Photo courtesy of UTSports.com

If you spend any time in Knoxville you’ll end up wondering if Tennessee’s state nickname – the Volunteer State – was named after the University of Tennessee, and not the other way around. Knoxville, the second-oldest of Tennessee’s four major cities (seven years younger than Nashville), is such a part of the state’s fabric that it was actually its first capital until 1819 when it moved to Murfreesboro and eventually its current residence in Nashville.

Even though the Old Town is such an important part of Knoxville today, this city is not a relic. Forbes Magazine named Knoxville one of the top-10 metropolitan hotspots in the United States in 2008, and ever-popular University of Tennessee keeps the town young as well.

Situated in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains and the banks of the Tennessee River, Knoxville is a beautiful college town. Don’t be fooled, though; the picturesque landscape hasn’t made Volunteers fans soft. They are as passionate and traditionally strong as supporters come.

FRIDAY

  • Litton’s Market
  • Old City
  • Barley’s Tap Room
  • Downtown Brewery

It is hard to go wrong in Knoxville when you do what Peyton Manning and homegrown hero Kenny Chesney suggest: eat at Litton’s Market and Restaurant. It is a bit removed from campus, as it is about 15 minutes north of the normal college hangouts. After filling up on your burger, you can head down to familiar territory and check out the Old City area just outside of campus. There you can sample the local beers at Barley’s Tap Room or the Downtown Brewery.

Don’t go overboard; tomorrow is a long day, though it promises to be equal parts fun and exciting.

SATURDAY

  • Trio Café
  • Market Square
  • World’s Fair Park
  • Volunteer Landing Marina
  • Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Calhoun’s on the River
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Cumberland Avenue

There is a lot to do in Knoxville, and with a 7 PM local time game against rival Alabama, not a ton of time to do it. Start off your day at Trio Café in the Market Square District with their version of eggs benedict, which they call Bennies. Market Square is a mixed-use district that features options ranging from food, shopping, entertainment, housing and office space that resides on the outskirts of campus to the east. Explore Market Square a bit before heading west onto campus to World’s Fair Park. The park incorporates many of the landmarks that remain from the 1982 World’s Fair held in Knoxville, including the iconic Sunsphere, which was renovated in 2007 and has an observation deck that is free to visit.

From there you can head south on Henley Street towards the Tennessee River for some relaxing by the water.  Just shy of the river you will reach Volunteer Landing Marina, which runs parallel to the river, where you can rent a boat of any size or even paddleboats and aqua-cycles to take out on the river for a few hours.  As you navigate through the river you will pass the Gay Street Bridge and the historic Henley Street Bridge as well as Neyland Stadium, home of the Vols. Tennessee is one of only three institutions – Washington and Pittsburgh being the others – with their football stadium adjacent to a body of water. This has uniquely created what is called the Vol Navy, where as many as 200 boats make up a “floating tailgate party” on the river prior to Tennessee home games.

For lunch you want to go to nearby Calhoun’s on the River, which not only has some world-class ribs and barbeque food, but also has a dock for mooring your boat.  Next, get in a sports mindset by visiting the Women’s College Basketball Hall of Fame where you can celebrate Lady Vols legendary head coach Pat Summitt, who has won over 1,000 games and eight national titles at Tennessee.

By now, game time is approaching. Volunteer Village, located in Humanities Plaza, opens three and a half hours before kickoff and has live entertainment, food vendors and autographs from current and former Vols and Lady Vols athletes. From there you can also catch the Vol Walk, one of Tennessee’s greatest traditions, at 4:45 PM, led by Coach Derek Dooley, the team captains, and Smokey IX – a Bluetick Coonhound that serves as the team mascot.

Smokey IX also leads the team through the “Power T” in Neyland Stadium before each game. The “Power T,” which the team runs through prior to kickoff, was conceived by former head coach Doug Dickey and is formed by the Pride of the Southland Band. Dickey also created the checkerboard pattern in the endzone when he took over as coach in 1964. The checkerboard design was not in effect between 1969 and 1989, at which point it returned as new artificial turf was installed.

Neyland Stadium, the fourth-largest stadium in the country with a capacity of 102,455, is sure to be rocking as defending national champion Alabama comes to town. The fans will be singing Rocky Top at the top of their lungs as Tennessee takes the field during its 89th season at Neyland Stadium, where the team has a 430-108-17 record (.790 winning percentage) all-time.

After the game head to the strip, a popular bar-laden area of Cumberland Avenue to celebrate a great day with some of your new friends.

SUNDAY

  • Tomato Head
  • Knoxville Zoo
  • House Mountain State Park
  • Coolato Gelato

For the true Sports Power Weekend warriors, Sunday morning will consist of an early wake up and a three-hour drive to Nashville for the 1 PM ET game between the Tennessee Titans and visiting Philadelphia Eagles at LP Field (we will explore Nashville in more depth on November 18’s Vanderbilt SEC Sports Power Weekend).

If you are spending the day in Knoxville you will be rewarded with an incredible brunch special at the Tomato Head. Their monkey bread or pizza dough rolled egg rolls and breakfast burritos are the perfect start to either a relaxing or adventurous day.

For the thrill-seekers, nearby House Mountain State Park is one of the six national parks within 90 miles of Knoxville. You can go hiking or climbing in this 500-acre natural area that is only eight miles from Knoxville. If you prefer to explore nature a little more passively, the Knoxville Zoo is a fun place to visit with your friends or family.

A couple of scoops of Coolato Gelato is a cool way to close out your Knoxville experience, but after the weekend you just had, I doubt it will be your only visit to this town.

Fields of Glory: University of Texas (video)

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


Below is an episode of “Fields of Glory” focusing on Darrell K. Royal Stadium (University of Texas):

Fields of Glory: Texas A&M (video)

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


Below is an episode of “Fields of Glory” focusing on Kyle Field (Texas A&M):

Sports Power Weekend: Greater-Houston Area, Texas, November 5-7

Monday, November 29th, 2010


Texas, the only state that was previously its own republic (1836-45), arguably has the most unique history of all the states of our great nation, and any true native Texan will be quick to politely stand by that notion.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In addition to its intriguing past, it ranks second in the U.S. in geographic size and population and hosts three of the country’s 10 most populous cities.  Topping this trio is Houston, host of the fourth-most people in the nation and a number of great Sports Power Weekend opportunities.

Texas sports are frequently depicted in the media – fictionally, factually and sometimes a combination of the two – but you will appreciate having a personal taste of the Lone Star State’s high-level action on and off the often-discussed football fields.

One of the strongest aspects of your Sports Power Weekend is that there is a bounty of athletic, entertainment and dining options in the area.  From high school football under the Friday night lights to the Texans game on Sunday and hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants to five-star eateries, the choices in the greater-Houston area are practically endless.

Just make sure to rent a car for the weekend even if aiming to stay within the city limits.  The locals will tell you that everything is a “20-minute drive away,” but each jaunt is well worth the time spent behind the wheel.

As is the case with all Sports Power Weekends, determining which events to attend plays a key role in your trip, and this journey is no different.  Interestingly enough, the most influential decision affecting your time Houston this weekend involves an entirely different city – College Station, Texas, the home of Texas A&M University.

Although educators in Austin are typically referred to as the operators of the state’s flagship school, Texas A&M was the first public institution of higher learning established between the Rio Grande, Sabine and Red Rivers.  In 1876, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas opened its doors before becoming the 38,000-plus research-intensive campus that exists today.

After over 130 years, it is no surprise that the Texas Aggies have a multitude of distinct traditions.  Every person joining the student body is taught the story behind each at a special separate orientation that is appropriately named “Fish Camp,” and among the many highlighted is Midnight Yell.

Texas A&M began hosting yell practices – Aggies never “cheer;” they yell – in the early 1900’s, but the first official Midnight Yell was held in a campus dorm in 1931 prior to that year’s game against ‘t.u.,’ a school most college fans refer to as the University of Texas (as the first school of higher learning in Texas, A&M does not call the Longhorns’ institution THE state’s university but instead another Texas university).

Midnight Yell occurs every Friday night at Kyle Field before each Aggie home game as well as at local sites for away contests.  Several thousand supporters show up to the stadium for the event prior to home games, and it truly is a great experience for anyone who has a deep appreciation for the unique atmosphere that only a college campus can provide.

For the purpose of a well-rounded Sports Power Weekend, this agenda highlights an initial evening in Houston that limits Friday travel and highlights increased nightlife options, but a night at yell practice is a solid choice, especially if you’re lucky with your lighter when it’s time to “flick your Bic” when it is complete.

FRIDAY

  • The Taste of Texas
  • High school football game
  • Main Street

Thanks to Houston’s location, it is a hotbed for all types of food, especially when looking for a hearty steak, true Southwestern barbeque, fresh seafood or authentic Tex-Mex.  The quantity of quality cuisines is only outnumbered by the amount of superb dining choices; so don’t be afraid to be adventurous if you have a hankering for something particular.

However, if you ever are in a bind and need a failsafe option throughout the weekend, there are two exceptional groups of Houston-born restaurant families that are scattered throughout the area: Goode Co. and Pappas. Each has easily accessible locations that cover a wide range of food fare, including Pappasitos (Tex-Mex) and Pappadeaux (Cajun/seafood) as well as Goode Co. Seafood and Goode Co. BBQ.  All Houstonians are familiar at minimum with these family chains, and I don’t know one who hasn’t had a pleasant experience.

For a true taste of Texas on your first night, there is no better destination than one that is named just that: The Taste of Texas (10505 Katy Freeway). The establishment sends steaks and pies nationwide, and in 22+ years of experience – my first visit was at two-months old – I’ve always left in an overly-full state of bliss.

The food is incredible and dining there is a true Texas experience. The classy, home-style ambiance is loaded with artifacts relating to Texas history and sports; so much so, the Hende family, who owns the place and is comprised of great all-around people, offers tours that focus on Texas history during non-operating hours to local elementary school students.

After eating your hand-picked steak from the butcher’s counter – don’t leave without a slice of homemade pecan pie with Blue Bell cinnamon ice cream and/or a cinnamon coffee – head to a local high school football stadium or downtown for drinks.

As easily guessed by Houston’s size, it clearly isn’t a place that shuts down entirely for Friday night games as the movies portray about smaller towns in Texas.  High school contests still have great energy, especially as teams will be preparing for the ensuing Texas state playoffs.  A list of games is available thanks the to Houston Chronicle, but the weekend’s biggest game doesn’t occur until Saturday morning.

Late-night downtown options are plentiful with numerous bars and nightclubs. For a casual drink before a full Saturday, check out the Main Street area where Flying Saucer, which boasts more than 200 beers, and Molly’s Pub are two good options to cap the evening.

SATURDAY

  • The Buffalo Grille
  • College Station

o   Chicken Oil Company or Freebirds or Layne’s
o   George H. W. Bush (No. 41) Presidential Library and Museum
o   Kyle Field
o   Texas Roadhouse
o   North Gate

  • Houston

o   Rhodes Memorial Stadium
o   Houston Museum of Natural Science/Holocaust Museum Houston/NASA
o   Pappasitos
o   Goode Co. Barbeque Armadillo Palace

Start the day early with breakfast at The Buffalo Grille (3116 Bissonnet), a popular early-morning eatery with Mexican breakfast combos, larger-than-life breakfast burritos and pancakes possessing diameters of over 12 inches.  Just get there around 9:00 am because the line gets long early throughout the week but even more so during the weekend.

After breakfast, it’s time to get prepared for football as usual, whether it’s in Houston or College Station.

College Station

Photo courtesy of AggieAthletics.com

Aggieland is a great place for a full college gameday so head north on Highway 6 to start the 90-minute trip.  The Aggies host its official Maroon Out game at 6:00 pm against No. 11 Oklahoma, and the official 12th MAN will be in full form for the primetime duel.  Take a quick pit stop in Navasota if you need to grab a coke or drive through a What-A-Burger and shortly after you’ll arrive in Bryan-College Station.

Depending on what you’re in the mood for, the best midday local food choices include the Chicken Oil Co., a tradition-rich burger shop that doubled as a gas station when it opened in 1977; Freebirds, a regional chain that serves burritos sized comparably to the length of a familiar Lynard Skynard song; or Layne’s, the Aggie-owned and operated home of the “soon-to-be famous chicken fingers.”

After satisfying the stomach, it’s time to feed the mind with a tour of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  There are plenty of intriguing pieces from Bush tenure as the 41st President, including quality documentation of US involvement in the Gulf War.

Next get ready for the Aggies’ most anticipated home game of 2010 by heading towards Kyle Field after filling the cooler with Lone Star beer or Shiner, an extremely popular brewmaster that takes its name from its hometown in southeast Texas.

Prior to the game the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets will march into the stadium, led by the First Lady of Aggieland, a female collie named Reveille.  Then its time to hope the team puts up a lot of points because when the Aggies score so does the home crowd; it’s tradition to kiss your date after every point registered.

After the game, grab some great bread and a rack of ribs at Texas Roadhouse before hopefully celebrating a victory on North Gate.  The student body regularly fills this bar scene, and its where the campus’ most revered bar, the Dixie Chicken, is located.

Houston

Staying in Houston, the No. 3 Katy Tigers (9-0) face off against No. 13 Cinco Ranch (9-0) at 11:00 am at Rhodes Memorial Stadium with the District 19-5A title on the line in the final game of the regular season.  The Tigers, who have won the Texas 5A Division II state title two (2007, 2008) out of the past three years, have a rabid, loyal fan base that in its best showings can rival a small college atmosphere, especially in such a pivotal contest like this.

For a more cultural experience, the Houston Holocaust Museum and the Houston Museum of Natural Science are of the highest caliber. To truly experience “Space City,” you won’t have a problem if your destination is NASA’s Johnson Space Center, although it is a 40-minute commute from the heart of Houston.  NASA’s presence in Houston contributed to naming the city’s sports teams the “Astros” and the “Rockets.”

Now it’s time to experience some great Tex-Mex at Pappasitos, which also has great, well-priced margaritas.  Order a platinum margarita with the seafood enchiladas or your choice of a south-of-the-border beer with any fajita plate, including the Matamoros combo, which offers a half-rack of pork ribs and an order of chicken fajitas for one with all the fixings.

After eating, you can saddle up almost anywhere to watch the A&M-OU game or see the University of Texas play Kansas State.  Sam’s Boat and Texadelphia are just two options of many.

Close the night out with a chopped beef sandwich at Goode Co. barbeque while watching the late games or stepping into the restaurant’s Armadillo Palace across the street, where you can catch some live Texas country music.

SUNDAY

  • Brennan’s brunch
  • Reliant Stadium
  • Little Woodrow’s
  • Toyota Center

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Sunday morning brunch at Brennan’s, an elegant restaurant that offers a delicious New-Orleans style brunch, is a perfect way to prepare for the Texans’ game against the San Diego Chargers at Reliant Stadium.

When you arrive to tailgate at Reliant Park, be sure to catch a glance of the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Houston Astrodome.  The Astrodome is far removed from its glory days when it was the modern marvel constructed in 1965, but as a sports fan you should at least get a first-hand glimpse of the world’s first domed sports stadium.

After the Texans-Chargers game, Little Woodrow’s (2306 Brazos St.) will provide a great environment for the late afternoon games and is less than two miles from the Toyota Center.

In the newest professional arena in Houston, the Rockets take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in their third home game of the season.  The Toyota Center is also home to the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros.

Interview with Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett

Friday, November 26th, 2010

(Interview conducted on November 17, 2010)

SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper caught up with former Vanderbilt standout and current Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett to discuss his experiences in the NFL as well as at Vanderbilt. Bennett was a three-time All-SEC performer (two first-team selections and one second-team selection) at Vanderbilt, and is the SEC career leader in receptions with 236.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Bennett: There are a lot of memories. My first touchdown was at South Carolina, but if I had to choose a moment at Vanderbilt Stadium it would probably be – it is hard for me to pick one game – but maybe Ole Miss my freshman year. That was a great game. Also the time that I set the school record for most receiving yard in a game (223 yards) against Richmond my junior year. Those really stick out to me.

Cooper: What was the most hostile road SEC game that you played in?

Bennett: Hands down, Florida.

Cooper: Was it the fans, or walking into the Swamp in particular that made it so hostile?

Bennett: I would say both. Walking into the stadium is intimidating and of course the fans are rowdy. They are loud from the time the game starts until the end.

Cooper: Switching gears a bit, what was your favorite restaurant on campus or in Nashville?

Bennett: I love the Pancake Pantry. I probably used to eat there two or three times a week.

Cooper: What were some of your favorite things to do in Nashville when you weren’t in class or playing football?

Bennett: I really love the park. Centennial Park. That place is nice. I used to go out there when I had family in town or when my wife would come to town we would go there and hang out.

Cooper: There is a pretty impressive collection of Vanderbilt players on the Chicago Bears, including you, Jay Cutler, Chris Williams, D.J. Moore and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Do you ever watch Vanderbilt games on Saturdays or discuss going back for games together?

Bennett: We have been back for a couple of games together: me, Jay and Chris. We were at homecoming last year. We just try to get down there as much as possible.

Cooper: After you play Thursday in Miami against the Dolphins, would you consider going to Nashville on Saturday for the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game?

Bennett: I may actually go down there. I am going to be in Birmingham with my wife; we are expecting our first child so we are having a baby shower down there. We may drive down to Nashville to check out the game.

Cooper: Congratulations. It sounds like a big week for you.

Bennett: (Laughter) Yes. Thank you.

Cooper: Aside from some of your big SEC road games, you also played a game at Michigan as a sophomore. What was your experience in the Big House and how did that compare to an SEC game?

Bennett: Oh man. It was right up there. Just the tradition of the stadium and being able to play there; it was crazy to see the guys run out on the field and jump and hit the banner. All of the traditional things there were doing there; and the stadium is nice. Of course the fans there are rowdy too.

Cooper: You hold a number of SEC receiving records including most receptions in a career with 236. What does it mean to you to be ahead of so many great receivers in the history of the SEC in a number of categories in the record books?

Bennett: It means a lot for me, but most importantly for the organization. For Vanderbilt University. I am blessed to be able to attend a University with such great character. Just to say that a wide receiver at Vanderbilt has the record, that means a lot.

Cooper: Being in Chicago for three years now, what are some of your favorite things about the city?

Bennett: First and foremost, I love the city as a whole. The Bears are great. The city is awesome. My first time flying in was at night and you see whole city and the skyline was beautiful. I like to go to certain restaurants like Joe’s and Ditka’s and eat there.

Cooper: What do the fans and playing at Soldier Field mean to you?

Bennett: They mean a lot. You’re talking about people who show support and are there every game. The fans here are by far the best in the NFL.

Cooper: You have played some big road games in Green Bay, New York, Seattle and Dallas, for instance. Were there any away stadiums that really stood out to you or cities you really liked going to?

Bennett: Seattle, hands down. That place is loud. It was probably the loudest stadium I have ever played in.

Cooper: That is high praise considering some of the stadiums you have played in.

Bennett: Trust me. That place is loud.

Cooper: What was the Toronto experience like; going out of the country to a city and stadium you have never played in before?

Bennett: It was a lot of fun to play internationally and just see how many fans we have internationally. I was surprised that so many people showed up to support us. Hopefully we can play another international game.

Cooper: Looking ahead a bit, and I know you don’t like to do this, but there is potential for a Week 17 matchup in Green Bay that could potentially decide the NFC North. What do you expect the atmosphere to be like at Lambeau Field for that game?

Bennett: It is going to be crazy. I think this game is definitely going to mean a lot, because it is a division game and it is our rivalry game. I know they are going to be pumped up and we’ll be pumped up. We just need to go out there and play to win, most importantly, and get ready for the playoffs.

Interview with Washington Redskins CB Carlos Rogers

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010


SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper caught up with former Auburn standout and current Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers to discuss his experiences at Auburn and in Washington.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Cooper: What is your favorite tradition at Auburn football games?

Rogers: Number one is the Tiger Walk. Just getting off of the bus, with all the fans on both sides, and taking that half a mile walk, that is number one. The crowd – our fans are always behind us no matter where we go. Those are the two most important things to me.

Cooper: Tell us about the tradition of the eagle circling the stadium?

Rogers: It is a good tradition for the school and for the fans. [As players] we are inside so the only time I have seen it is when I came back to visit. I have seen it once coming to some games. Just seeing how much the fans react to it is neat. It is wonderful how smart the eagle is to fly around the stadium and fly back. It is wonderful and a great tradition for the school.

Cooper: What do you think about the tailgating that goes on before the games?

Rogers: It is wonderful. When I was there, especially on the last home game, tailgating started on a Wednesday for all the fans, fraternities and sororities. Whatever you want to call it, them tailgating, having parties and having fun is wonderful. I even attended a couple.

Cooper: Have you ever “rolled” Toomer’s corner after a big win?

Rogers: I did once. I can’t remember the game, but I think we played Georgia my senior year and my family went off to do something and that is when I did it. I went out to party and I went through that. I caught the end of it. I caught the end of it just to see how much that tree is covered with toilet paper and it is wonderful.

Cooper: What do you think about the tradition of ”rolling” Toomer’s corner?

Rogers: It is big. We have a lot of things students participate in before the game, during the week of the game and after the game. My senior year we gave fans 13 wins, so they had a lot of toilet paper to throw around the tree. It is a great tradition.

Cooper: What do you think of Redskins safety LaRon Landry talking smack about Aubie in a previous SEC “My Town” interview (here)?

Rogers: LSU’s tiger mascot can’t be better. When you see commercials, you see our mascot. I don’t remember ever seeing LSU tiger in any commercials. We got the most hype mascot and fun mascot. My senior year he was dancing at times and doing dances I didn’t even think he could do. What was that major dance that came out? I think it was “lean with it” or something like that. Some dance he was doing. There was a lot of dancing. I didn’t think he could do it. It is fun and he always was getting the crowd up. He gets really involved and into the game. Like I said, when you go 13-0 and have an undefeated season, everybody gets involved.

Cooper: What is your most memorable moment at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

Rogers: It probably has to be my senior year. You know, just walking out with my mom, dad and all the seniors that have been there since I was there – even some of the guys that redshirted a year before me. We all walked out together. Our last game at that stadium was fun. We played against some sorry team. Leaving there with all the guys who put in so much work to have, like I said, a season that we had as seniors, you can’t leave much better then that. I think that game I had an interception I returned for a touchdown. It was a wonderful game and a wonderful experience for us and probably my most memorable.

Cooper: How would you compare your experience at Jordan-Hare Stadium to some of the SEC road stadiums you played in?

Rogers: You know, for us and our home games I would say we have our crowd behind us no matter what. Our stadium gets loud as I don’t know what. We gave the fans a lot to cheer about, so it was very loud. The only stadium I would say that would compare to us is LSU. Going down there and playing those guys – if they are up or they are winning or if they are doing something good, it is real loud. Their stadium is kind of like a bowl so it gets real loud in that stadium. Other then that I don’t any stadium that compares to ours.

Cooper: What is the most hostile SEC road game you have ever played in?

Rogers: LSU.

Cooper: What are some of your favorite restaurants in Auburn?

Rogers: There was this soul food restaurant that my roommates and I went to all the time. I forgot the name of it, but it was across from the Zaxby’s that we got. I loved that soul food place. I love Guthrie’s and I love Zaxby’s. We went to Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s every week. I wasn’t a Niffer’s guy – I was always up for junk food and something fast. Zaxby’s and Guthrie’s. Guthrie’s, you know that restaurant had been there for so long – their chicken fingers and fries, yum. I was always that type of guy who would eat on the run stuff. My roommate Carnell Williams, or Cadillac Williams as everybody knows him, and I would always go to Ruby Tuesday’s, Applebees and this Mexican restaurant – I forgot the name of it. Late night was always Waffle House.

Cooper: Are you planning on going back to an Auburn home game this year?

Rogers: Being that our season is during their season and we don’t have many breaks, I can’t go this year. Hopefully I can go to the BCS Championship game that we are going to – hopefully (laughing).

Cooper: What is the first thing you would do if you could go back to a game this year?

Rogers: I would go and talk to the team. They are doing really good right now and they have an undefeated season. It kind of reminds me of our senior season with what the guys are going through. I know it is real fun for them. Other then that, I would probably go hit up some of the parties.

Cooper: What are you thoughts on what might happen if there are multiple undefeated teams and one team gets left out of the title game like Auburn did in 2004?

Rogers: I think that is messed up because some teams don’t play conference championship games but those teams can play in the National Championship. Then their strength of schedule is not that good so they put those teams above SEC teams like they did us, you know, I don’t think that is good and they know that. If we go undefeated again and maybe lose one game, our strength of schedule is so good they should put us in that championship game – even just an SEC team that lost one game, especially at the end.

Cooper: Do you still feel jilted six years later for not getting to go to the Championship Game?

Rogers: Yes, of course. Damn straight. That is why I am putting up for the team this year to go undefeated and make sure we get in that game this year. They can’t do it to us again a second time. Alabama, a team that is known traditionally; Michigan, one of the high-power teams; Texas, they are known and have gone to the championship numerous times; but us they did us wrong because we are Auburn.

Cooper: What is your assessment of Cam Newton this year?

Rogers: Wonderful. The Heisman hands down. He took that team from a team that was ranked 24 or 25 and they are ranked number one right now. He started going, started building and started pushing those guys and seeing them get stronger and stronger. They talk about all the other guys that were potential Heisman winners before him and his name wasn’t even mentioned. Those guys started declining in their play and Newton started rising ahead, so I think he is wonderful. I thought Jason [Campbell] was a top quarterback that I experience and that I knew about dealing with, but he makes Jason look like he is nothing. His ability to run, to throw and he is awesome.

Cooper: What is your assessment of Auburn’s team this year?

Rogers: They are doing good – they are doing wonderful actually. I can’t compare them [to our team], [they are] kind of a title team – their defense isn’t nearly as strong as ours, but their offense is putting up the numbers. You think they are down and they start climbing back in and taking over a game. I think they are a good team. I think [Head Coach Gene] Chizik has the program going back in the right direction that it is supposed to be going in.

Cooper: What are your thoughts on Coach Chizik?

Rogers: Wonderful. He was my defensive coordinator when I was there. We have a great relationship and I have a great relationship with his family. I was glad when he got the job. Some people wanted somebody else to get the job and when he first got there he got booed. They talked about not wanting him to have it because of his record at another school that had no talent. Now, that he is back on top everybody is like, “oh, we love Chizik and oh, we wanted Chizik,” but they booed him when he got off the plane. Now they are all happy.

Cooper: Was being coached by Gene Chizik and playing for Auburn good preparation for the NFL?

Rogers: Playing for Auburn did too, along with me having a lot of talent. He took my talent and made it even better then it was. When I came there I was starting as a freshman and I had a lot of talent. Then for him to come there and put me in his defense, put me in his schemes and prepare me for the NFL with a defense of mindset of how the players see things, how to play a scheme, how to disguise coverages and how to do things so the quarterback wouldn’t know what I am doing and getting in my cover. His overall technique and ways that he coached prepared me for the league.

Cooper: Did playing at an SEC school helped prepare you for the NFL?

Rogers: Yes, no doubt. We have the best conference and the fastest conference. The SEC has more stronger and powerful players in it then across the whole nation. Some of the other conferences are known as passing conferences and some are known to just run the ball, but we have both. We have a lot of teams that pass the ball, some that are fast, some that are strong and some teams that run the ball. All the mixes of football that you are going to face in the NFL, the SEC has.

Cooper: What are your predictions for the Auburn versus Georgia game?

Rogers: That we will win no doubt and it is not hard to predict that with the way we are going. The way we are going right now I think we are going to win and let’s just get ready for Alabama.

Cooper: Auburn’s Cam Newton or Georgia’s AJ Green?

Rogers: Oh, Cam Newton no doubt, no doubt about it. He has Auburn number one and he is going to show them how undefeated teams are supposed to play and how we are supposed to play. Georgia is coming to our stadium so it is going to be a hostile environment. AJ Green; I like him. He came back and kind of helped their program out because before that Georgia wasn’t doing anything. He is a good guy and I wish him well every other game but this game.

Cooper: What Auburn victory has meant the most to you this year?

Rogers: The most this year, well that is probably LSU and then Arkansas. I got another game that is coming up and that is Alabama – we will see how that turns out. Those games probably mean the most because those are the only games people thought that we were going to lose to those teams.

Cooper: Now that you have spent a number of years in D.C., what are some of your favorite things about the city and being a Redskin? What are your favorite places to go out and eat?

Rogers: The fans support you anywhere you go. Sometimes, they are down and sometimes they are up and no matter where we go they support us. We have fans in other states that support the team. Traditionally a lot of guys that were here before us come back around. We get to meet those guys. Some of those guys come in our complex and see those trophies in our complex. They are the ones who tell us what Redskins tradition is about and I love it. Being in D.C., there is a lot of politics here and sports fans, Redskins fans. We see a lot of it going on here with the White House and we are in our nation’s capital. It is wonderful.

Jared Cooper worked for the National Football League’s PR department for four years before creating SportsPowerWeekends.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@SportsPowerWknd) or contact him at Jared.Cooper@SPWtravel.com.

SEC Sports Power Weekend: Baton Rouge

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper takes a closer look at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of the LSU Tigers. LSU will host the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at Tiger Stadium at 2:30 PM CT.

Photo courtesy of LSUSports.net

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we’ll be venturing into an actual swamp, or at least the one at the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. The home of the LSU Tigers, Baton Rouge, situated alongside the Mississippi River, is a confluence of many cultures and flavors, and lives up to its motto, “authentic Louisiana at every turn.”

Baton Rouge is a versatile city: it is the capital of Louisiana, but houses universities like LSU and Southern. It is young, as it was named one of the 10 best places for young adults by Portfolio magazine, but it is professional, as illustrated by being named the No. 9 place to start a business by CNN Money.

Most notable about Baton Rouge, however, is how it comes together on Saturday nights in the fall to create one of the greatest home-game atmospheres in all of sports, let alone college football. The LSU Tigers will take on the Tennessee Volunteers in a rare day game at Tiger Stadium, but don’t fret; Death Valley is still plenty intimidating in the sunlight.

FRIDAY NIGHT

Let there be no doubt, when you are hungry in Louisiana you go Cajun and Creole or you go home. Go to The Chimes Restaurant and Tap Room and don’t be shy; with crawfish etouffee, catfish, New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, and a variety of fried seafood platters among the many local favorites on the menu, you are in for a treat. Wash it down with an Abita or one of their dozens of other beers on tap and there is hardly a better way to start your weekend.

The night is still young as you go from one of Louisiana’s favorite pastimes (food) to another (partying). Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s is a good spot to let your hair down and listen to some live music. As part of the “Live After 5” fall series, Blaine Roy & Second Wind will treat the crowd to some country/southern rock. At midnight the bar switches gears and turns into a dance party. There is something for everyone at B&T.

SATURDAY

With LSU playing its only day home game of the year, you will not have a ton of time to take in the city before starting to tailgate and preparing for the main event. That doesn’t mean you should just sleep in though.

Head into downtown Baton Rouge after grabbing a quick bite at Louie’s Café; that is if you didn’t stop in their last night after B&T’s. Check out the Old Louisiana State Capitol Building (also called the Castle of Baton Rouge), which is adjacent to Baton Rouge City Hall and the Old Governor’s Mansion. You will also pass the nearby USS Kidd, where you can walk the decks of the Fletcher-class destroyer, known as the “Pirate of the Pacific,” that serves as part of a memorial to honor America’s Armed Forces. Make your way up North River Road to the Louisiana State Capitol, which is the tallest state capitol building in the United States, and was once the tallest building in the south. The building is nestled between State Capitol Park and Arsenal Park, and makes for quite the spectacle.

As the old cliché goes, you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been. Well, now that you know where Baton Rouge has been, you should be excited about where its people are going; Tiger Stadium. The accolades heaped on Tiger Stadium seem to go on and on. The Sporting News proclaimed Tiger tailgating and “Saturday Night in Death Valley” as the top gameday tradition in all of college football, ESPN.com named it the scariest place to play in 2007, and it was named the most spirited student section by ESPN the Magazine in 2008. For the time being, we will focus on another piece of lofty praise from ESPN the Magazine regarding Tiger Stadium: the country’s top tailgating location.

The Tigers have the eighth-largest on-campus stadium in the country (92,400 fans) with another additional 20,000+ who show up on gameday just to tailgate. LSU estimates that over two-thirds of Tiger fans tailgate for five or more hours before each game. All of the best Cajun food (jambalaya, seafood gumbo, duck, gator, rabbit, shrimp, etc.) that you can imagine is being cooked up all around you. Soak in the scene.

About two hours before kickoff you can witness the “March Down the Hill,” where LSU coaches and players walk down Victory Hill between Tiger Stadium and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Shortly thereafter, the mascot, Mike the Tiger, will precede the greatest band in all the land, the Golden Band from Tigerland down the same hill. Make sure to be at your seat at least 15 minutes before kickoff to see one of the top pregame routines in college football as the band takes the field.

The Tigers have a 32-6 record at home under Les Miles, who instituted the tradition of having the players and coaches sing the Alma Mater after each home win. Before the 2009 season, Tiger Stadium added an 80-foot wide, 27-foot high high-definition video board to the north endzone of the facility. Renovations to the area surrounding Tiger Stadium on North Stadium Drive are also forthcoming.

After the game you’ll probably need some time to unwind, but this is a Sports Power Weekend, so you’ll need to keep your head in the game. If you head back into downtown Baton Rouge you can check out the Shaw Center and go up to Tsunami on the sixth floor. More than being known for having the best sushi in town, Tsunami has the best view of the sun setting over the Mississippi in Baton Rouge. Get a drink there if you aren’t looking for a full dinner in this upscale $55 million, five-year-old building.

For a more low-key dinner you can head out east to Dempsey’s for some potboys and authentic Louisiana cooking. If you want to stay local on campus, you can always go to the trusty chain Raising Canes for some chicken fingers and sandwiches. This happens to be former LSU All-American safety LaRon Landry’s favorite restaurant on campus.

Finish off your long day with a drink and some LSU highlights at Hound Dog’s or Roux House in downtown, or if you are still feeling energetic there is the gameday party at Varsity that seemingly goes on all night.

SUNDAY

From perhaps the best home game atmosphere in college to arguably the best in the NFL, the nearby Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints are hosting the division-rival Carolina Panthers. Before making the one hour and 20 minute drive southeast to New Orleans for the 12 PM CT kickoff, make a pit stop at Frank’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge for some breakfast biscuits.

After the game, familiarize yourself with New Orleans a bit. The Allstate Sugar Bowl is held annually at the Louisiana Superdome and will feature the champions of the SEC. Unless of course the SEC champs are playing in the BCS National Championship Game. Again.

Jared Cooper worked for the National Football League’s PR department for four years before creating SportsPowerWeekends.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@SportsPowerWknd) or contact him at Jared.Cooper@SPWtravel.com.

Interview with former LSU safety LaRon Landry

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper caught up with former LSU standout and current Washington Redskins starting safety LaRon Landry to discuss his experiences at LSU and his memories of Tiger Stadium. Landry was a first-team All-America selection as a senior and was a four-time All-SEC selection.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Cooper: How would you compare your experience of playing at Tiger Stadium to some of the SEC road stadiums you have played in?
Landry: “Tiger Stadium – there is nothing like it. I mean, the only true stadium that reminds me of LSU stadium is our own, FedExField, because the crowd noise is real loud and it is like the 12th man on the field. It is really family-oriented. There is nothing like it at all.”

Cooper: How would you describe the overall experience of the crowd in Tiger Stadium?
Landry: “At LSU, there are like 98 thousand people. It feels like the field is rising. Back in the day they registered an earthquake in Tiger Stadium because it gets that loud. There is always the tradition of the crowd being like that.”

Cooper: What are some of your favorite traditions at LSU home games?
Landry: “The Tiger. It is kind of intimidating to the outside opponents. To just hear the Tiger roar coming out of the locker room, I just love it. I love running out of the tunnel because the student section is right behind you and you have your family and friends right there. That is pretty cool.”

Cooper: How does the LSU Tiger compare versus the Auburn’s Tigers and their mascot Aubie?
Landry: “No, they do not compare at all. Are you talking about that little mascot? Boo, don’t even mention that.”

Cooper: What was your most memorable experience at Tiger Stadium?
Landry: “I had so many memories, it is so hard to pinpoint. One of my favorite memories was my first opportunity to start my freshman year. I started as a true freshman and we played Mississippi State in my fourth game. I led the team in tackles and I was SEC Player of the Week. It was phenomenal. There are just so many memories at LSU stadium.”

Cooper: What was the most hostile road SEC game you ever played?
Landry: “There are really three. Auburn – that is pretty crucial. Their fans are hostile and they don’t really like us. They get kind of crazy over there. Florida is pretty crucial too. Arkansas is number one because we are playing for the boot.”

Cooper: You have any favorite restaurants on the LSU campus?
Landry: “When I got there, Canes was popping. Raising Canes was popping. I got introduced to that my freshman year and I never stopped eating it. So, that is pretty cool.”

Cooper: What are some of your favorite things to do in Baton Rouge when you aren’t playing football or in class?
Landry: “I liked going to the Rec and working out. It is real nice. It is like the French, you know, the French Riviera. It is big like that. You get to go in there and play basketball against your fans and just ball out really. All the football guys would be there and it was always real competitive all the time.”

Cooper: What was your favorite place to hang out at on the LSU campus?
Landry: “WCA – West Campus Apartments. It is where all the athletes stayed. Everybody would come over there and we really had our own campus apartments. It wasn’t really a dorm, so it was just like having your own apartment. I moved off campus my junior year, but we all find our way back to the WCA because that was the hangout spot.”

Cooper: Are you planning on going back to LSU for a home game this year and if so, what is the first thing you will do in Baton Rouge?
Landry: “On our bye week, if they play at home, I will go back. There is nothing major I would really do when I go back, I would just talk to the fellas right back at the WCA.”

Cooper: Explain your experience going back to LSU games since you have graduated?
Landry: “I went back, I think it was my second year in the NFL and they played Alabama. I won with my national championship with Coach [Nick] Saban my freshman year. I started all my years and Coach Saban really helped me a lot since he was a pro-style coach. Going back it is kind of hard to say, I really root for both teams. I root for Coach Saban because he is one of my favorite coaches and LSU because I went there. But, my crazy ass during that game went on the LSU sideline with a Crimson shirt on. So, it was awful and they lost.”

Cooper: Talk about the LSU fans.
Landry: “The fans are the best I had been around until I went to Washington. They are on the same level as the Redskins fans and they are family-oriented. I love LSU. Go Tigers.”

Cooper: What it is like being on the Redskins with fellow LSU Tigers, and national champions, running back Keiland Williams and linebacker Riley Perry?
Landry: “I played with both of them at LSU. They were sophomores when I was a senior. Ever since I came to the Redskins, I had never had an LSU guy on the team. Most guys have a teammate from college on the Redskins that kind of looks out for them. I am a big brother to those guys. After spending time with them at LSU, especially Keiland, as soon as he came in I had to give him a hard time. With him being a running back and me being a safety, I would always hit him and give him a hard time. We do the same thing out here just like at school because we are all the same old people. I am definitely a mentor to them. They come by my house and chill now and we keep it a family. You know, always a Tiger.”

Sports Power Weekend Destination: Chicago

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

September 24-26

(RIVALRY WEEKEND)

Friday Cardinals at Cubs
Saturday Stanford at Notre Dame OR
Ohio State at Illinois OR
Central Michigan at Northwestern OR Cardinals at Cubs OR
Sounders at Fire
Sunday Cardinals at Cubs
Monday Packers at Bears


RIVALRY WEEKEND IN THE WINDY CITY

The Sports Gods are certainly shining down on the Chicago fans during this late September weekend. The local marquee baseball, college football and NFL teams are all home and facing rivals over the course of this pivotal weekend. With apologies to the White Sox and Northwestern the Cubbies and the Fighting Irish (only a short one hour and 45 minute ride away) are the toast of Chi-town in their respective sports. There is also, of course, no challenge to the Bears’ throne in the city’s sports landscape.

A couple of nights in Chicago is only enough to wet your beak, but in this Midwest mecca, a little bit goes a long way. You’ll have time to understand why the great Frank Gehry calls Chicago, “architecturally, the best American city traditionally and visually.” You can partake in the argument about the merits of deep dish pizza as compared to New York style, and then have a laugh at the theatre where legends like John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley got their start.

And oh yeah, Wrigley Field, Notre Dame Stadium and Soldier Field are pretty cool places to catch a game, too.

SATURDAY

  • Fiddler’s Hearth
  • College Football Hall of Fame
  • Golden Dome
  • Touchdown Jesus
  • Notre Dame Stadium

South Bend Airport services a select few cities – mostly in the Midwest – but can be reached via a connection, or a less than two-hour drive from Chicago. National and Budget rental cars can be picked up from the airport for the short drive to campus.

Photo courtesy of UND.com

Since the game Notre Dame game versus Stanford is at 3:30 PM ET you will have ample time to grab a bite and a pint of Guinness at Fiddler’s Hearth to get yourself feeling Irish.  Just a couple of blocks east of the restaurant is the College Football Hall of Fame (see Clausen, Jimmy, and white Hummer limo), where you can get your blood flowing before heading towards campus.

Find a place to park and walk through the heart of the campus and its beautiful foliage and historic feel. Make sure to catch a glimpse of the Golden Dome atop the school’s administration building and take a picture of Touchdown Jesus overlooking Notre Dame Stadium. The fans will be buzzing outside of the stadium as Notre Dame looks to avenge a late-game loss to Stanford and the overpowering Toby Gerhart. Even without Gerhart in 2010, the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal pose a big threat to the Irish in Brian Kelly’s first season. Take in all of the pregame pageantry and enjoy the show! Just make sure you are sitting, or else the crabby regulars will be sure to kick and scream in order to watch the game in unobstructed peace.

SATURDAY NIGHT

  • Gino’s East
  • Second City
  • Wiener Circle

After the game, hop in the car and take the 90-mile drive west to Chicago to kick the weekend into high gear. If you are able to get out of the stadium and hit the road quickly, you can make it to you hotel around 8:00 PM (you gain an hour by crossing into Central Time Zone). After checking in and getting ready for the night, make your way to Gino’s East for some legendary deep-dish pizza. Make sure you scribble your name on the wood for posterity. Just one mile up North Wells street from Gino’s East is the famous Second City theatre. In addition to the aforementioned superstar alums, current comedy giants Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert honed their craft on this famed stage. Make sure you’ve made a reservation for the 11 PM show—it is the latest one the Second City theatre cast performs on a Saturday night.

Drink a few beers nearby and make your way up Clark Street towards Wiener Circle. The raucous restaurant will serve you one of Chicago’s best hot dogs with a side of stern verbal abuse (check out the videos on the site). Try not to get too worked up though. It has been a long day and you still have much ahead of you in the next couple of days.

SUNDAY

  • Sarkis’ Café
  • Northwestern University
  • Navy Pier
  • Billy Goat Tavern
  • Wrigleyville
  • Wrigley Field
  • Gibson’s Steakhouse
  • (Sports Bar for Sunday night football Jets at Dolphins)

After a long day and night you will be in desperate need for a good breakfast. A twenty-five minute drive up the Lake Michigan coast to Evanston, home of Northwestern University and Sarkis’ Cafe, will cure what ails you. An omelet or Bacon Loretta will hit the spot. Take a walk around the Northwestern campus and catch a glimpse of one of the finest academic institutions in the country. This will provide a nice, peaceful retreat from the big city before heading back to see what the metropolis has to offer.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

See what the fuss is about at Navy Pier, the number one tourist destination in the Midwest with over eight million visitors each year. Take a ride on the 15-story Ferris Wheel or just take a stroll along the Harbor.

As the baseball game approaches, stop by at the nearby Billy Goat Tavern to immerse yourself in the history of what has become one of the longest-tenured curses in all of sports. This should get you in the mood for some of the pregame festivities, which take place in the bars in and around Wrigleyville prior to a Cubs home game.

A 3:00 PM CT start time on FOX will bring out the best in the historic rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and the hometown Cubbies. Catch reigning MVP Albert Pujols and the Red Birds mash in historic Wrigley Field, one of Major League Baseball’s most hallowed stadiums. The Cubs play their 95th season in the Friendly Confines, the second-oldest stadium in baseball (opened in 1914).

After the game ends at around 6 PM you can head back to your hotel and rest up before a nice steak dinner at Gibson’s Steakhouse. Despite the pricey menu, they serve the best steak in the city, and the atmosphere and people make you feel like you are part of the “in” crowd. Rush Street and the surrounding area will be nice to walk around on an early fall night. You can also opt to go low key and get a quick nosh while you watch the Jets at Dolphins on Sunday Night Football.

MONDAY

  • Al’s Beef
  • Millennium Park
  • Sears Tower
  • Soldier Field

There are two ways to approach this morning in Chicago. You can try to be conscious of how much you have eaten so far and want to try to do something active. In this case, running along Lake Shore Drive on Lake Michigan can be very enjoyable. On other hand, if it is possible that you still haven’t eaten enough meat yet, an Italian sandwich at Al’s Beef ought to give you your fill.

Go to the West Ontario Street location because of its proximity to Millennium Park and the Sears Tower. Make your way to Millennium Park to check out the Cloud Gate to see your reflection among the city skyline. You can also check out the Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge. You may also want to walk down towards Grant Park if you like being surrounded by trees in this urban oasis.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Next is on to the Skydeck of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, the highest observatory in Chicago (1,353 feet), where on a clear day you will be able to see for 40-50 miles. The Willis Tower is the tallest building in the United States. Take a look down at where you were standing in Millennium Park to get an idea of just how far you’ve come.

You can continue to walk the city or make your way back to your hotel for a short nap before heading to Soldier Field for the 7:30 PM CT start on Monday Night Football. You’ll want to check out the pregame scene with Da Bears fans grilling up brats and taking down some brews. This Week 4 matchup against the rival Green Bay Packers should prove to be meaningful and entertaining. Hard-throwing young QBs Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers could make this game a barn-burner, but in any case the disdain these two fan bases have for each other should make up for whatever the game may lack on the field. Try to behave yourself.

TUESDAY

  • Midway or O’Hare Airport

If you haven’t returned your car at one of the city drop-off locations yet, you can return it back at the airport, but make sure you have worked that out ahead of time. If you don’t have transportation, the easiest and cheapest way to get to either airport is via the El Train or Bus. The El and bus system trips can be planned at http://tripsweb.rtachicago.com.

It’ll only cost you $2 to get to the local airports using the train. To get to O’Hare International, take the El’s Blue Line, about a 40-minute ride. Heading to Midway, use the Orange Line, about a 30-minute journey.

Sports Power Weekend: Athens, Georgia

Monday, November 15th, 2010


SEC Sports Power Weekend: Athens, Georgia, September 17-19

Courtesy of University of Georgia

SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper takes a closer look at Athens, Georgia, home of the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia will host the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at Sanford Stadium at 12 PM ET.

The first stop on our tour of the SEC takes us to Athens, Georgia, home of the Georgia Bulldogs, which was named after the former world center for culture and higher education in Greece. Athens has come a long way since its inception in 1806, becoming a beacon of expression and the arts that would make its namesake proud.

Musical acts such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s got their start in the 40 Watt Club, and jam band Widespread Panic was formed when their two founding members met in the dorms at the University of Georgia in 1981. More recently, modern acts Bubba Sparxxx and Danger Mouse kick-started their careers in Athens before rising to national fame. Music is still inherently tied into the fabric of the town and University, as evidenced by “Fabulous Football Fridays,” a concert series held the night before Georgia home games.

While music and art may keep visitors entertained, it is the Georgia football program that brings the masses to Athens. As Georgia gets set to take on Arkansas and its high-powered aerial attack, we’ll break down the events surrounding the game for weekend visitors; the local food joints that you don’t want to miss, the cultural attractions in this southern beauty and of course the traditions surrounding the main event, Saturday’s game.

FRIDAY NIGHT

When you are on an SEC Sports Power Weekend, you don’t want to miss a meal. Make sure you arrive early on Friday night so you can fit in a nice hearty dinner.  After checking into your hotel (there are 20+ hotels in the local Athens area of varying price and status), Weaver D’s (an R.E.M. favorite) should be the first restaurant you hit in Athens; the hot fried chicken plate and sweet potatoes will get your weekend started off right.

If live music is your scene, you can then head over to The Rialto Room in the Hotel Indigo for the Swinging Medallions, playing as part of the aforementioned “Fabulous Football Fridays” series. If you prefer the college town beer bar scene, you can head over to Copper Creek Brewing Co for their on-site brewed beer sampler.

SATURDAY

A noon game means that you need to get up early if you want to get some grub before the game and its festivities. The Last Resort Grill, which opened as a music club in 1966, opens at 10 AM and is a great way to start your gameday. Not much can go wrong after taking down the drifter or the duck hash.

After getting your fill, head south on Hull St. through the heart of campus towards Sanford Stadium. Georgia will have Arkansas “between the hedges” – a phrase coined by famed Atlanta sportswriter Grantland Rice in reference to the famous Chinese privet hedges along the perimeter of the playing field – in this cross-divisional SEC matchup.  Sanford Stadium’s home crowd, amid their screams of “how bout them dogs,” brings one of the best home-field advantages in all of college football. At a capacity of 92,746, Sanford is the third-largest stadium in the SEC behind Neyland Stadium in Knoxville and the newly-renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and the seventh-largest on-campus stadium in the country.

After hearing the sweet sounds of the Georgia fight song “Glory, Glory,” throughout the game, the home fans hope to hear the equally beautiful ringing of the chapel bell after the game concludes; a tradition that signifies a Georgia win. And home wins are a common occurrence in Athens these days. Mark Richt has a 47-11 (.810) home record as Georgia head coach (through 9/11/10), the best mark in program history.

Georgia’s greatest football tradition is not its mascot, Uga, or the silver britches; it is their historical success. Names such as Harry Mehre, Wally Butts and Vince Dooley have to be mentioned when discussing the greatest coaches in SEC history. Butts coached Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich, Maxwell winner Charley Trippi and Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, among many other greats, and Dooley won over 200 games with the Bulldogs as well as a National Championship in 1980 led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Georgia is the only school to have three different Super Bowl MVPs: Jake Scott of the Miami Dolphins, Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos and Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and recently groomed Matthew Stafford, the number one pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

After the game there is still plenty of time left in the day to see the town.  Tours range from the Terrapin Brewery Tour for beer lovers, the Classic City Tour for culture-seekers, and the Music City Walking Tour for music fans. You can also check out some of the historical or cultural landmarks around Athens such as the Double-Barreled Cannon, a Civil War relic, and the Tree That Owns Itself, a great oak that was granted its own ownership deed in the late 1800s by Professor William H. Jackson. The Georgia Museum of Natural History and Georgia Museum of Art on the University campus are worth a visit as well, although the art museum is currently under construction and slated to reopen in 2011.

All of these activities packed in such a productive day are sure to build up your appetite. Dinner at Five and Ten, where Chef Hugh Acheson has been nominated for James Beard “Best Chef Southeast” Award for four consecutive years, is sure to hit the spot.

You can finish up your great day at The Globe, Georgia’s second-best bar according to Esquire. You can also mix it up a bit by walking into any of the multitude of bars within a two-block radius of N. Lumpkin (no, not named after former UGA running back Kregg Lumpkin) and Clayton.

SUNDAY

Sunday is generally the day of the weekend trip where you tie up some loose ends, eat some good food and relax before heading back home. On a Sports Power Weekend however, there is no time to waste. Get some brunch at Farm 255 for some local and sustainable food. Even if you aren’t interested in food politics per se, you will still enjoy the taste and freshness of your rustic eggs or farm breakfast.

There is no time to waste after brunch. There is an Atlanta Falcons home game at the Georgia Dome (site of the SEC Championship Game on December 4), only a one hour and 20 minute drive from Athens. The Falcons host the Arizona Cardinals in an important early-season NFC matchup that could go a long way towards playoff positioning.

When the clock hits double zero at the Georgia Dome, your SEC Sports Power Weekend has concluded and you’ve just experienced the best Athens has to offer. Now rest up. You have big plans in Gainesville next weekend.