How the Sons of Saturday came to be: The *Untold* Story of UGA-Notre Dame Extravaganza
The Extended Story of a life-changing fall Saturday in Athens
Growing up with a Mom, Dad, Aunt, and Uncle as Hokies, there was a high likelihood that I would become one too. I followed Virginia Tech athletics religiously, and growing up in northern New Jersey, it’s a complete pro sports area. You’re either Yankees/Mets, Giants/Jets, Knicks/Nets, etc. And there's those Philly fans too...but we won’t go down that road.
What about college football? The Rutgers buzz from 2006 and 2007 had long worn off by when it was time to go to college, and maybe you had a few friends who were Penn State or Notre Dame fans, but in reality, college sports falls second fiddle to pro sports in the greater tri-state area.
I gotta say, I grew up a die hard Yankees fan. I’d tune into YES Network at 7:05 every night for Michael Kay & Ken Singleton’s TV broadcast from Yankee Stadium. I’d watch the first 6-7 innings, shut it off and then turn on my bedside radio to WCBS 880 and listen in as I fell asleep, hoping to hear the echos of ‘THE YANKEES WIN, THEEEEEE….YANKEES...WIN!’ from John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman amidst my slumber. I loved it so much. I was 10 years old and I was enamored with Hokie football and Yankees baseball - everything else fell by the wayside in my mind.
As I grew older I lost interest in the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, because three things happened:
1) The Tyrod Taylor era was just an incredible time to be a Hokie. If you weren’t a VT football fan, you became one. If you were already a fan, you doubled down. Tyrod defined what it meant to be a winner, taking home three ACC championships to Blacksburg in four years. He ignited the existing flame in me that had already been kindling.
2) For me, it was unique to be emotionally invested in Virginia Tech football. It was different. I didn’t know any other kids my age who were Hokie fans. People would scratch their head. “Vah Tech? Why do you like Vah Tech so much?” I wore it as a badge of pride. The football program resembled toughness and the lunch pail mentality. It always felt like we were on the brink of greatness in those 2000s. ‘One more tackle, one play away’ Beamer would always say.
3) I became cognizant of the greater Hokie community. The Virginia Tech football team, and the 2007 team in particular, helped put back together a community that was broken after the tragedy of April 16th. Which brings me back to my original point: College sports are different.
The truth of the matter is, college sports grabbed me in a way that professional sports never could. It became a part of me - always at the forefront of my mind, all spring and summer, dominating dinner conversations, awaiting the start of fall camp and kickoff. Fall Saturdays brought me immediate connection to the Hokie community - from the tailgates, to the pageantry, to the traditions, that pro sports just couldn't parallel for me. So I turned off YES Network and diverted all of that Yankees pro sports energy into the Hokies. I hung up the Pinstripes and picked up the Lunch Pail. Locked in.
Then, I get into Virginia Tech, ready to start my freshman fall 2013 semester, and this happens:
I am now committed to the university of Virginia tech #Hokies— Good Bill Hunting (@Billy_Shmurda) July 2, 2013
At the time I was probably getting ready to hear about my dorm assignment. I saw this, and I was fired up! A Jersey Hokie!
'Oh wait...Paramus Catholic...dang! I saw Billy Ray play against Delbarton last fall! [Side note: Jabrill Peppers in that game was the most dominating performance I’ve ever seen from an athlete at any level]. So I’m thinkin' yeah, maybe I’ll meet this Billy Ray guy on campus one day and talk NJ High School football with him.
Fast forward to Spring of 16. Enter Grayson.
Anyone who listens to Sons of Saturday knows Carsten - yeah THAT Carsten! The guy we always shout-out after a killer #LetterFromTheLunchPail submission! CARRRRRRSTEN! Well Carsten and I were freshman year roommates. Lee Hall room 0116 - where legends are born!
One day before our senior year (Fall ‘16), I met up with Carsten at Lane to check out an open scrimmage and he introduced me to this passionate, loud, southern gentleman from Richmond with a green backwards hat. Turns out, this guy, Grayson Wimbish from Richmond knows just as much about Hokie football as I do! Because of this, we become fast friends. How fitting, that I meet Grayson in the West Stands of Lane Stadium.
Plot twist: we find out that our MOMS were sorority sisters at Virginia Tech and attended each others’ weddings. In fact, my folks got engaged the same day as the Wimbish wedding. MIND BLOWN. Shoutout Delta Zeta #RIPIP.
While at Tech, I worked at the Hokie Passport office for my last 5 semesters. One day during my senior year, a few months after the scrimmage, Billy Ray rolled into the Student Services Building looking all upset because he was about to pay for his 6th Hokie Passport of his career #SonsOfMisplacery!
We chewed the fat about the 2012 contest at Paramus Catholic and let’s just say Billy said some things that made quite the impression on me *crying laughing emoji*. Alright, now I’ve ‘met’ G-Baby and Billy Ray.
Sons of Networking
Thereafter, we graduated and went separate ways - Bill to ATL, G to LA, and myself to Arlington. Fast forward to July of 2019; we could just about TASTE football. Grayson, who knew both of us, decided to link Billy and I together and we started to merge phone calls throughout the summer, discussing all topics under the sun. The Boston College Labor Day weekend game was looming and offseason conversation was flowing, whether it was predictions, retroactive play-calling / personnel decisions of 2018, scheduling, reminiscing on late nights at Big Al’s, you know.
As we got to know each other, Billy began pitching the idea of Grayson and I to join him in a podcast network to talk about a myriad of topics, kind of like Bill Simmons and the Ringer. Billy wanted to have Grayson cover entertainment and for me to cover college football. Our feedback was...lukewarm at best.
Fast forward to the season. Billy decided to link up with me at BC, and shortly after a great weekend there, I said, 'Bill! You live in Atlanta...what do ya say we go on down to that Georgia-Notre Dame game at the end of September?'
I had been JONESIN’ to get to this game. My brother Brian was a senior at ND at the time, all his buddies were making the trip, and I wanted to attend the back end of the UGA-ND series after seeing the Dawgs and 40k red&black clad fans go up to South Bend in 2017. I’d always kinda liked the Dawgs in a weird way, and this would be my fourth time seeing them play. Side note. Georgia is 4-0 in games I have attended (2006 Chick Fil A Bowl (sadface), 2017 @ ND, 2018 Cocktail Party Game, & 2019 ND). All ranked opponents. Wow. #mustbenice
BRM didn’t bat an eye at the idea. “Oh yeah. Let’s do it. Mike Santamaria lives there. We can stay with him or something.:”
So I booked a flight to ATL and Billy decided to 'host’ me for the weekend. Mind you, I had hung out with this guy ONE TIME. But we were locked in. All we needed was tickets to the most expensive college football game ever. Surely it wouldn't be difficult to find reasonably priced ticket.
'...Yeah, I saw SeatGeek has them going for $660...so uhh... You know what. We will go about, tailgate, talk to some people, and see what we can do. Worse comes to worst, we go watch at one of the 300 bars that they have in this town. Let’s figure all that out closer to game time’....was essentially our plan.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL SATURDAY
GAMEDAY! Week 4, 2019. The Hokies have a fat L to BC, and have struggled against Furman and ODU. Thank GOODNESS we have a bye this week. It’s SEC time.
I've got an early one: 6:15am flight from DCA to ATL. Which I find out that the Southwest terminal at Reagan, is in legitimate Narnia. Unbeknownst to me, it's a bit out of the way from the other terminals.
You ever wake up on a beautiful September Saturday morning extremely fired up? You know, that college-football-is-today feeling? It is amplified to the MAX when you land at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on a September Saturday. I tell ya, the capital of the of college football world, with fans traveling to their appropriate gameday destinations. You'll never see so many fans repping so many schools in one place.
I jumped on the MARTA north up to Buckhead having no idea what the plan was, or what kind of experience awaited me. Here's what was guaranteed: I'll be hanging with Bill, whom I really didn't know well. I'll be meeting and staying with Mike Santamaria and his family, whom I didnt know know at all. I’ll tailgate and try to meet some friends. And I might (?) go to a football game tonight?
Bill and I are donning some ND gear. I've got a UA polo purchased prior to the first 20-19 thriller in South Bend in fall of 2017. Bill’s got on the IRISH baseball Jersey. Like dude, where did you even ACQUIRE that?
Mike Santamaria scoops us from Buckhead in the Jeeperino, and we are north-bound to Athens. Within ten minutes, “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” by Elton John is BLARING. Apparently this is a big time Georgia Dawgs Saturday night song. All right, I am VERY much into it!
Enter Santamaria home. We’ve made it to Athens, and we roll in. Beautiful spot! Beers: iced. Sunscreen: applied. Game-faces: on. A huge shout-out to the wonderful Santamaria family and the Kendall crew!
We went to some great tailgates - starting at the Santamaria house. Following that, we dialed up some of my brother’s long time ND friends who were tailgating at a nearby AirBnB that was owned by the guy who invented THE POST IT NOTE (?!). It was there, standing next to the pool I somehow fall rear-end-backwards into a TICKET TO THE GAME…..for FACE VALUE!! A big shoutout Luke Smith ND ‘19. (*****SIDE STORY! Luke + 7 others made their way to Blacksburg for the ND game in 2018 in a CruiseAmerica RV. I met these guys for the first time at SHARKEYS (Where Good Friends Go!) and we showed them around. A handful of that group of guys went to all 14 Notre Dame games in their CFP season of 2018 and will still reminisce on how their Blacksburg trip is at the top of the list. Luke, I owe you all of the pitchers next time at Newfs, CJs or the ‘Backer.)
One ticket down, one to go. Mr. Santamaria guides us to the next tailgate: Kirby Smart’s fraternity house. Amidst a crowd of Georgia students (and a surprising amount of ND fans) at the house, no one’s selling any tickets for BRM. Losing hope? Not yet.
It’s about 2 hours to game time and we decide to head closer to the stadium and take a walk through the campus. 200 yards north of the stadium on Sanford Drive, Billy works his salesman magic and haggles down to $225 for his ticket.
Scalper guy: "The best I can do is $500."
BRM: "You're out of your mind."
Scalper guy: "Ok, $225."
BRM: "Alright WORD!"
We are going to sit on ‘JUPITER’, but guess what, Billy Ray?!
We are GOING TO THE GAME!!!!
Remember the 2015 Ohio State game where it was recommended that the entire stadium fill in with an hour plus prior to kickoff? This was the type of feel and buzz that was going around all afternoon. It was getting close to 7 and we realized it was time to get in there.
Section 606. Row 18. Seat 4.
Hey Bill! Do you have your harness and helmet? Do you have your crampons? This was going to be a CLIMB. We looked down at our tickets and realized were staring McAfee Knob / Dragon’s Tooth-esque summit right in the face.
Alas, its 6:45. The ND section looks like its down there. Let’s try to see what we can finagle here.
We went around to what seemed to be the ‘North End Zone’ of Georgia. It's a student section with a massive video board. Now, mind you, Georgia doesn’t only have their version of the NEZ, they also have an ENTIRE student section packed in to the opposite corner of the stadium. it is REMARKABLE to see how many students they pack into these games.
We saw the Notre Dame section and it appeared that we should go through the ‘NEZ’ section, where the student crowd is overflowing and security is handing out gray wrist bands for the section. Without even showing our tickets, we were handed wrist bands and began our descent down to the field…to the hedges…so we could get over to the ND section.
This is where we were shellshocked about how the stadium was set up. The hedges block any fans from running out onto the field, but you were able to go down to the field level and stand on a dirt track that (perimeter’s/circumference) of the field and stands between where the hedges end and the seating begins. So anyone can go down and be level with the hedges at any point of the game.
It’s 45 minutes till kick, we are walking down at the field level around the hedges, and to be honest, at this point we thinking we are pretty hot stuff!
Then the game happens. A lot of what we experienced cannot be put into words. Thank goodness for video contentery!
- Saturday Night's Alright (Apparently, it's actually the Nickelback cover, not the Elton John version that plays before kickoff). I am very proud of the video that I got on my phone and uploaded below.
- The UGA band plays "Krypton Fanfare" to the illumination of 93,246 strong, followed by 'Power' by Kanye West in a red-toned light show.
The De’Andre Swift hurdle - pure athleticism.
The GAME! - Incredible coverage from CBS's Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson, and the record-breaking crowd for the biggest non-conference game to ever be played at Sanford Stadium (which included a nice sons screen-grab GIF below).
And one of our lasting favorites...
Teenage Wasteland.— Good Bill Hunting (@Billy_Shmurda) September 24, 2019
Absolute pandemonium. One of the best moments of the day (and loudest). pic.twitter.com/ueovDWJ5pe
The day was a 10/10. Tailgates, seats, stadium, crowd, game, light shows, music, effects. It was absolutely incredible. We had fun. The next day, Billy calls up his old man who played ball at Ole Miss to talk about the SEC gameday experience.
'It Just Means More, Son.'
The Sons are Born!
A few days later, Whit Babcock came out with an announcement that Virginia Tech would be playing multiple home-and-home series with SEC schools over the next decade and a half.
Billy and I got on the line immediately that evening to tell Grayson about the Athens experience, and to discuss our SEC wish list. After a few minutes of gushing over the UGA weekend, the three of us mutually decided that the fun conversation needed a platform, and the Sons were born! You can thank Elton John and Russ Mitchell for helping with the name. :) And you can thank Billy Ray for pushing us to do it and get started!
We had so much fun with the first episode (posted below) that we jumped on three days later and talked about joining the Drive for 25 and the Hokie Club.
A whole month later, the Sons joined up together for the first time ever at a tailgate in Blacksburg for a certain Carolina football game...
And the rest is footballery!