Of course, there were reminders that Friday was more than just another day of practice. There were some charity events planned, and there was a dinner set so the players could celebrate the holiday together Friday night. And there was Cox’s favorite holiday movie – “A Christmas Story” – that he watched before heading to practice.
“You can’t help but see that because it’s on for 24 hours straight,” Cox said.
For the most part though, it was anything but a typical Christmas for the Bulldogs and their counterparts at Texas A&M. Friday was about working on the fundamentals and implementing the game plan – a far cry from the relaxing time at home most players were used to each Dec. 25.
“It’s kind of odd,” said Texas A&M cornerback Jordan Pugh, whose Aggies practiced in the early afternoon before embarking on a few holiday diversions. “You want to be at home with your family, but at the same time, you know what you have to do and you have to handle your business.”
It wasn’t all work for the Bulldogs and Aggies, however, and a trip to visit several local hospitals did help to add a bit of holiday cheer to what might have otherwise been a drab Christmas day.
Georgia’s players visited the intensive care unit and children’s wing of Shreveport’s XXX Hospital in the morning Friday, and Cox said the trip served as an important reminder for players who might have been a bit homesick on the holiday.
“You really see how bad it can be on Christmas when you go to a place like that and see little kids laying in hospital beds,” Cox said. “Luckily we were able to get a couple smiles out of them.”
The hospital provided some gifts for the team to distribute to patients, and head coach Mark Richt said the Bulldogs took it upon themselves to offer a few Christmas carols as well – even using their cell phones to look up lyrics for a few tunes.
“Those guys were reading off their cell phones the words to ‘Jingle Bells,’” Richt said. “I didn’t know ‘Jingle Bells’ had a second verse.”
Georgia had a team dinner and what Richt deemed a “talent show” Friday night, too, but the cornerstone of the day was still practice – the first of two full practice sessions on location for the Bulldogs this year.
With the wind whipping through Independence Stadium, Georgia’s players did their best to stay warm and set their focus squarely on A&M in advance of Monday’s Independence Bowl showdown.
For the Aggies, it was their third day of practice in Shreveport, giving them a bit of a leg up in terms of adjusting to the dipping temperatures, but A&M head coach Mike Sherman, who coached the NFL’s Green Bay Packers for six seasons, it was business as usual with a keen focus on the opposition.
“In the NFL, you always worked on Christmas, so we get kind of used to it,” Sherman said. “There’s no breaks on the practice field. Not when you’re playing the University of Georgia there isn’t.”
But while work was the focus of the day, there was still a sense of family surrounding the efforts, Cox said.
Sure, it was a departure from the typical Christmas schedule for Georgia, which is playing its earliest bowl game since 2001, but it was also a relatively pleasant way to spend a final Christmas with their football families.
“If I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family, I’d definitely want to do it with these guys,” said Cox, who will play his final college game Monday. “It’s definitely fun being around these guys one more time.”