Finding a football reprieve

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Looking to cleanse myself after all of the football I consumed over New Year’s Weekend, I checked the schedules of the local college and pro teams earlier and came up with a plan: a mix of college and the NBA to give me 88 minutes of action to forget the parade of bowl games and Week 16 NFL matches I watched during a holiday with friends in Washington, D.C.

Atlanta is rich in college and pro teams, so finding my fix of not-football was pretty easy. After a five-minute drive and $12 admission, I made it to the Georgia State University Sports Arena in Downtown just after the 3 p.m. tip to watch the Panthers take on George Mason University.

Underdogs to be sure – the Panthers were 3-8 before the game while George Mason, 9-3, was the preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association – I didn’t expect much. But it is Division I basketball, so I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And it’s an easy game to experience, so the cost of attending was pretty low.

The Panthers were down 13 at half, but an aggressive burst to start the second half cut the lead to six. From there, it was game on until the final buzzer when Leonard Mendez hit a 14-foot jumper to break a tie and win it 66-64 for Georgia State.

Sitting through the game convinced me that the Panthers are an unknown treat. Parking is aplenty, tickets are easy (and cheap) to score and they are all general admission, which means you can sit a few rows above courtside for $12. A pep band keeps the mood festive. Concessions are inexpensive, too.

act_al_horford.jpgNot quite satiated, I stopped at Woofs later in the day to catch the Hawks, who were away against LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The game was the first after the holiday break for the Hawks, who ended December with a 15-13 record and momentum not seen by Atlanta’s NBA team since, well, probably before rookie sensation Al Horford (pictured) was born.

During my trip to D.C., I spent some time at the gay sports bar Nellie’s to see how it stacks up against Woofs, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Of course, the place was packed over the weekend thanks to the plethora of college bowl games and pro games on Sunday. But its biggest advantage over Woofs is the lack of smoke. Yes, like all bars in D.C., Nellie’s is smoke-free.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, LeBron was in a zone, scoring 32 of his 36 points in the second half and leading the Cavs to a 98-94 win. Horford, the Hawks rookie center who’s also easy on the eyes, scored eight, a bit below his usual points per game.

Despite the Hawks loss, the day was the perfect antidote for a weekend of football.

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