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Musings From The Flats

Oct. 3, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Today, we have Johnsons everywhere, and although it might not be a good idea, I’m thinking of asking the one who coaches Georgia Tech football – that would be Paul — if he ever uses NFL games or players as teaching examples with his Georgia Tech squad.

There have been a few epic fails on the professional level this season where a team absolutely gave away a game that was there for the taking. Maybe this subject matter would almost ring a bell.

The Dallas Cowboys were ripping the Lions Sunday, taking a 27-3 lead in the third quarter, only to lose 34-30 after `Boys QB Tony Romo started throwing the ball around like it was a hot potato. Then, former Yellow Jacket Calvin Johnson blew up in the fourth quarter to become – I think – the first player in NFL history to catch at least two touchdown passes in each of the first four games of the season.

Johnson may be the best player in the NFL right now; Calvin, that is. Paul may be one of the best coaches in college football, but his Jackets had better not start puffing out their chests.

Even Curt Johnson can tell you that.

It wouldn’t be right to suggest that Tech nearly gave Saturday’s game at NC State away, but the Jackets’ 42-14 lead tightened down before it ended as a 45-35 win. It appeared to be a collective relaxation.

This made Johnson – Curt, that is — uptight. He graduated from Tech in 1969, and he’d rather not spend the tail end of a Jackets game so hard wired. Here’s what he wrote Monday:

“I’ve been watching Georgia Tech football since I started school there in 1965. Over the years, Tech has shown a pronounced tendency to relax [with] the lead, which often allows the other team to sneak back into striking range. They also show a strong tendency to play hard when they are behind. I thought Paul Johnson had cured them of this disease, but it reared its ugly head again at NC State. I hope P.J. gave them a serious tongue-lashing for this lapse of concentration. The next time might cost us the win.”

Today’s press gathering with coach Johnson will surely be interesting. The Jackets are ranked No. 13, easily qualifying as one of the most surprising stories of the college season, but nobody’s anointing them. That includes the coach, I imagine.

I know the AJC’s Ken Sugiura is taking your questions, but if you have any more that you’d like me to consider asking Johnson – the coach, that is – today in the presser, fire away at No promises, but I am looking for help. I’ve been told that I’ve been too quiet at the weekly media get-togethers.

You will be hard-pressed to come up with a better story about your Tech home game routine, at least in my view, than Andy Vodopia and his family.

Vodopia did not go to school on The Flats, but his eldest son did and his younger son and daughter do so he’s a serious horse in this race. It takes more than kids at Tech, though, to pass muster here.

When the Jackets are at home, as they will be Saturday against Maryland, the eldest Vodopia child, Andrew, flies in from Raleigh, and Dad – that would be Andy – picks him up, and they are tradition-bound to head to Moe’s & Joe’s, a killa watering hold in Virginia-Highland about eight blocks from my house (bonus points to the Vodopias).

There, they have a pitcher of beer and cheese quesadillas to begin their weekend tailgating unofficially.

Then, “Saturday morning [we] load up the car and leave at 9:30 so we can be there by 10 to watch [ESPN’s] Game Day,” Andy said. “We try and do something different every week, and two weeks ago we abandoned the pre-game grilling for fresh waffles, bagels, bacon and eggs; a real hit. We will do a repeat of the morning routine on Saturday followed by post-game grilling of the basics — dogs and burgers.”

The eldest Vodopia said they’ll supplement with boudin and tuna steak. Again, big points.

This turns into more than a family affair for Andy. Often, a couple dozen will show up after the game, and he said that group is often comprised largely of his son’s friends. Andrew graduated from Tech in 2007, Caitlin Vodopia in ’10, and Samantha is a student on The Flats now.

“[Samantha] will stop by for a few minutes before heading to the Catholic Center for their tailgate,” Andy said. “Then, she’ll come by with a couple friends afterward. Overall, it’s a nice way to spend the day and I enjoy seeing who my kids are hanging out with.”

It turns out that Andy’s wife doesn’t always make it all day. She’s not a marathon tailgater/game-goer like her husband. But she gives it the ol’ college try from time to time, and she’s likely to make an appearance this Saturday as there is a trip planned to see Toby Keith.

If you have a story that rivals this, send it to

P.S.: Andy closed with a p.s. of his own. It said: I’m sore the entire next day. Tailgating is hard work.



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