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The True Colors Of A Southern Fall Face Off This Saturday


Autumn is the most glorious time of year. The season, like a beautiful woman who ages gracefully and unapologetically, unlocks an even greater loveliness within. It’s the hint of melancholy that makes fall so precious, not because, as Robert Frost said, nothing gold can stay. It may go down swinging but autumn ultimately submits to change, confident the beauty that once was will again be its birthright. If winter is dormancy, spring is hope, and summer is frolic, then fall is gratitude.

On that thankfulness, there is no single autumn day this year for which I am more grateful than Saturday, Nov. 5. That is the calendar day when outdoor aesthetes, particularly but by no means only southern ones, know peak colors will be on display in all their splendor. The autumnal enchantment will begin early Saturday morning and wind down by nightfall. During those magical daylight hours, the strongest colors of fall — red and orange — will contend in a game of inches for bragging rights within the beauty of God’s created order. 

Fiery red, sure of its primacy, power, and plumage, will leave no doubt in this dogfight, blushing in crimson acknowledgment that time and tide wait for no man. With Athenian wisdom, it somehow knows great opportunities must be seized when presented. At the same time vibrant orange, resplendent as ever but uncommonly resurgent this fall — as if itself surprised to be gazed upon by so many so intently this late in the season — will not volunteer to stand down. It, too, will strive to reach the top, no matter how rocky.  

There are many other shades of autumn, of course, but red and orange, the consensus first and second-ranked hues through 10 weeks of fall, are headed for a spectral showdown. By Saturday’s end, the late-blooming clash of colors will be over: One will reign and the other will run. But where to take in this fall feast for the eyes? What is the best vantage point to view this final, spectacular battle of red and orange?  

Normally I’d have nothing against an afternoon amble across a covered bridge in Vermont, a jovial jaunt to a Massachusetts apple orchard, or an almost heavenly hike through the Blue Ridge Mountains. But on Saturday, there is one and only one place to be in America. It’s between the hedges at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, where the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers will take on the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs — Big Orange versus Bulldog Red — in what many are calling the college football game of the century.

Georgia, the reigning national champions of college football, didn’t vanquish juggernaut Alabama Crimson Tide last season and snap a 41-year title drought just to drop the crown like third-period French. Meanwhile, Tennessee, a storied football program that’s spent recent years in the college football wilderness is, as Steve Winwood put it, back in the high life again and will surely leave everything on the field to stay there.

If this showdown in Athens were a song, it would be “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. If it were dinner and dessert, it would be chicken and dumplings followed by peach cobbler a la mode. If it were a movie, it would be “Cool Hand Luke.” This football game wasn’t just made for fall in America. This football game of fearless red versus plucky orange is an American fall personified.  

If attending the game in person, consider yourself blessed. If watching it from home, put some homemade soup on, and then consider yourself blessed. Either way, it’s a great day to be alive, even if there are clouds in the gameday forecast. That just means the sky will be neither Georgia red at kickoff nor Tennessee orange at the end of regulation. It seems God himself isn’t showing his hand and wants to see this epic SEC matchup in the southland play out.

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