For Lisa and Robert Lee, there are two really good things about Georgia and Alabama playing in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on Saturday — and that goes beyond their two sons who will be playing in it.
First, they will have to drive only about 38 miles to get there. That’s spit in a bucket compared with the 500-mile, round-trip jaunts they’ve made on average every weekend for the past 13 weeks.
Second, while everybody else is sweating Sunday’s bowl selections, the Lees already have made their reservations for Miami. No matter who wins Saturday’s game — the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide or the No. 3 Bulldogs — the Lees know they will attend the BCS championship game Jan. 7.
“We just don’t know who we’re going with yet,” Lisa Lee said with a laugh.
Dallas Lee is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior and a starting offensive guard for the Bulldogs. Dillon Lee is a 6-4, 240-pound freshman and backup linebacker for the Crimson Tide. Born three years apart, the Lee brothers starred for Buford High before landing college scholarships.
That’s all pretty cool and exciting, and some might think the Lees can’t lose. But with a loved one on either sideline, it will get complicated with Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff (CBS).
“We have to stay objective, although our Georgia friends and family do not understand that,” said Lisa Lee, who works as an administrator for Gwinnett County Public Schools. “They say Dallas has less time left, and Dillon will have more opportunities. But I’m going to have to look at both of them that night, and somebody is going to be completely ecstatic that they’re going to Miami and the other is going upset because they’re not getting what they hoped for. So I’ve got to think about that.”
The Lees are lifelong Bulldogs fans. Lisa’s parents have held season tickets for more than 35 years and Robert played football for Erk Russell at Georgia Southern. But they had to split their allegiances — along with their time and money — after Dillon decided in February to go his own way and cast his lot with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
That has meant a lot of wear-and-tear on the family car this fall. Other than two trips by plane — to Arlington, Texas, for the Alabama-Michigan game on Sept. 1 and to Columbia, Mo., for Georgia’s Sept. 8 game against Missouri — Robert and Lisa have driven to at least one Southern city and often two every weekend. If they drove to Tuscaloosa to see one of Dillon’s games, for instance, they’d typically drive to Athens to visit Dallas on Sunday, and vice versa.
“They did pretty good job of breaking it down,” said Dallas Lee, who started all 12 games for the Bulldogs. “I don’t see them much when they’re there anyway, but it’s cool to get to see them a little before the games.”
A request to interview Dillon Lee was denied by Alabama, citing Saban’s no-media policy for freshmen.
Various quirks in the schedule kept the Lees from being completely equitable in their spectatorship. At the end of it, they attended Georgia games eight times and Alabama four. The teams were 10-2 when they were on location. They even visited both boys’ campuses the weekend of Oct. 13, when both teams were off.
Incredibly, the Lees said they never had a flat tire or botched reservation. Their weekends clicked like clockwork, and they got to see a lot of good football.
They attended 12 games over 13 weeks, including Alabama’s wins against Michigan and LSU and Georgia’s against Missouri and Florida. They saw Tennessee, and oddly enough, Florida Atlantic, twice. They also were in Columbia, S.C., for Georgia’s shocking 35-7 loss to South Carolina and had a group of 12 in the stands for Texas A&M’s stunning upset of the Tide.
The rest were all victories. Their favorite was Georgia’s 17-9 win over Florida Oct. 27 in Jacksonville.
“Omar Hunter, who plays (defensive lie) for Florida, he played right beside Dallas on both sides of the ball for three years (at Buford),” Lisa said. “So we’re super close to him. And Dallas had to go head-to-head with him the whole game. So we had Buford people texting us non-stop the whole game. And then just beating Florida both years that Dallas played them, that was just incredible.”
Lisa Lee said they almost gave up hope of both boys making it to the Dome after Georgia’s loss to the Gamecocks.
“Everybody was so deflated,” she said of the Oct. 6 loss. “You didn’t really believe it at that point. But then we were like, ‘you know what, we could still control our own destiny.’ And after Florida, I was like, ‘oh my goodness, this is going to happen!’”
The Lees have been praying for Saturday’s matchup for a long time (we first wrote about it before the season started). Originally, the Bulldogs were slated to play Alabama in the regular season in Tuscaloosa. But SEC expansion that brought Missouri and Texas A&M into the league forced a reshuffling of schedules and sent Georgia to Missouri instead.
But they always knew meeting in the Dome was a possibility.
“(Alabama assistant coach) Kirby Smart had said before the season Georgia was going to be there,” Lisa Lee said. “He said ‘they’re strong,’ but also that the schedule worked in their favor. Robert and all the (Georgia) dads were saying the same thing: ‘This is going to be our year.’”
While Dallas has played a prominent role in Georgia’s drive to the Dome, Dillon’s has been more of a bit part. Working some at all four linebacker positions, he showed some early-season promise for the Tide with an interception and a tackle in the opener. But since then he has had to settle for being on the kickoff team and playing defense at the end of blowouts.
“They’ve got some guys ahead of him,” Lisa Lee said. “We have complete faith in what they’re doing. We know the talent that’s there, so we’re not worried about it. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do.”
The up side is there is not much chance that Dallas and Dillon running into each other on the field Saturday. “Oh my God, I hope not,” Mom said. “But that could definitely happen next year.”
The Lees got 12 tickets for Saturday’s game — six from each son, per SEC rules — so the family will be split again. Lisa and her clan will be sitting among the UGA parents in Section 129. Robert’s family will be congregated among the Crimson Tide on the other side of the Dome.
A Buford embroidery shop has pitched in to help with the parents’ wardrobes. They’ve designed shirts that feature the brothers’ numbers — 64 for Dallas, 25 for Dillon — with the words “Heart Divided” emblazoned across the front.
Never has a statement been more true.
“I’m sure my parents are freaking out about it,” Dallas said with a hardy laugh. “I know my Mom is. But it’ll be a great picture opportunity. And it’ll be cool to see my brother.”
And not to have to block him.
THE LEE LOG
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