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To Cuba with Love
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To Cuba with Love

To Cuba with Love

To Cuba with Love

Fidel Castro is dead. One down, one to go.

That is, one Castro down, one more to go.

That is the clear message I got from visiting Cuba four years ago.

I consider myself a lucky man. I went to Cuba before the United States offered an olive branch to that little island. So, I got to see ‘old’ Cuba. The Cuba in ruins. The Cuba in need.

But it was a Cuba with hope. Hope that one day America would show them some love, and hope that one day, they could participate in their governance. That would mean life without the Castros.

For clarity on my visit, it was part of a larger tour that was visiting for the purpose of seeing agriculture in that county.

It was weird from the get-go. First of all, flying to Cuba from Miami, we didn’t do normal customs. Best I recall, we went to a terminal where things were handled differently. Bags weren’t inspected, and aside from previously filled-out paperwork, questions weren’t asked.

What I didn’t know is that Cubans with relatives in the States can fly back and forth pretty easily, if they can afford to. And leaving the U.S., Cubans could take things, like TVs or toasters, back to Cuba on those flights.

In fact, knowing Cuba was the land of rum – and I am not a rum man – I packed two ‘handles’ of bourbon in my bag. That’s two 1.5 liter bottles.

Arriving in Cuba, there are occasional random inspections. Had I been picked out, it would be interesting to see if they cared that I carried basically a gallon of bourbon.

In the Havana airport, I immediately encountered what would become a bit of a Cuban signature: begging. At the entrance to the restroom in the airport were two lovely, young ladies, clearly waiting for a ‘tip.’

Not knowing how to handle the situation, I gave one of them a dollar. The other smiled, and said, “Nothing for me?”

I obliged.

And on that note, I want to introduce you to the people of Cuba that I encountered.

There is so much to say about how, 50 years ago, Cuba’s leadership ‘sided’ with Russia and adopted communism, and how Russia later left them hanging when Russia itself was undergoing massive changes.

But that’s a whole lot of history lessons I didn’t learn.

So, this is about the Cuban people I saw and met, filtered, of course, through my own lenses.

Cubans so badly want to be friends with you. You, Americans. They want a relationship with us. They want the life we have. They want to be happy. They’ve smuggled their families to our shores for the last 50 years to get away from the nothingness they’ve had under the Castros.

Most of them only know communism as a failed ideology. They hate it.

They want the dream.

Under communism, they are paid wages set by ‘the state,’ and they know there’s something better. They know that in America, there’s the possibility of being paid for what you know and how you perform.

They know that in America, food is not rationed. It is in Cuba. I didn’t know that.

Begging is rampant in Cuba. But I quickly learned that begging pays better. If an average Cuban can get one dollar from a visitor, that’s a better day’s wages than they would be paid by the state.

So why would you not beg?

Our guide was an attorney that hadn’t practiced law in six years, because tips from being a tour guide paid better. Doctors act as taxi drivers on their days off because of the money they could make on tips.

Why would you not beg?

Some Cubans try to be creative in their panhandling. They dress up in old plantation-style costumes and hope you’ll want a picture with them. A tip is expected.

In need of a restroom on day, I approached a group of young men and asked where I might find one. They eagerly showed me the way, then asked for money for helping me. One even when down on his knees, begging.

I recall a gentleman following our group for a few moments, singing songs and playing a guitar. He cursed us when we didn’t tip him. It’s not that we didn’t like him or his singing, but when there are so many palms out, you learn that you can’t grease them all.

Beggars were like flies around tour buses. Some looked very pitiful and were hard to ignore, but once you saw them there every day, you understood the routine.

Havana was romantic. You’re in Havana, Cuba, for heaven’s sake! The land of mobsters and Frank Sinatra. Redundant, I know.

Much of the city was in tatters. Scaffolding everywhere and not a lot of work was being done.

“They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.” It’s an old, familiar joke Cubans like to tell. Except it’s not really a joke. They get paid the same wage for working on a job or standing around doing nothing. Best I could tell, they generally chose to do the latter.

What struck me was how easily they spoke of communism, of their government, of their distaste for the Castros, Fidel and Raul. But mostly, of how they looked forward to a Cuba without them.

The Cuba I saw was the old Cuba. The one that got stuck in time when Fidel Castro thumbed his nose at the U.S. He had climbed into bed the Russians, and it turns out they didn’t pay for sex.

The Cuba I saw was pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago. In our ‘nice’ hotel, bare wires dangled from sockets, and the bed linens were straight out of your great-grandmothers closet.

You see pictures of the old ‘50s and ‘60s cars in Cuba. That because there’s not much else. And they keep those cars in such pristine condition because you will pay cash to have them shuttle you around in them.

There’s a whole lot of bondo and rubber bands holding those things together. They have precious little access to parts.

Arriving back in the States, we actually did go through security.

“Do you have any tobacco?”

“No,” I answered.

“Any alcohol?”

“No.”

Of course, I had both. Almost everyone had Cuban cigars and rum.

Turns out, this particular ‘American’ border agent was a native Cuban. Rather than concern himself about cigars and rum, he used our time together to lecture me on how relations between our countries “must” normalize. “Cubans,” he said, “want to be included.”

I knew what he meant.

When President Obama opened the freezer door and started thawing out relations with Cuba, I watched with interest the reactions here at home. Many old-timers, including Cuban ex-patriots and others with direct ties to Cuba wanted us to have nothing to do with Cuba until the Castros are gone.

They are other voices, of course, that want normalized relations. I am among them.

I am among them, because I met a lot of Cuban people that had nothing to do with the politics of their country. They are our neighbors. They want to be our friends. I hope that happens one day.

Maybe with Fidel Castro’s passing, we got a little closer to that.

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Local News

  • Hall County fire services responded to a crash between a school bus and a car Thursday afternoon.  The crash happened on McEver Road at Vineyard Way. One person had to be removed from the car and was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. One child on the bus complained of injuries but was not taken to a hospital. The school bus was from Gainesville Exploration Academy, which has students K-5. A second bus arrived to transport students home. The car's driver, identified as Soleil Nyasamaza, 23, of Gainesville, has been charged with failure to yield after stopping at a stop sign. TRENDING STORIES: Mary Norwood may challenge votes following Atlanta mayoral recount Omarosa teases tell-all in post-White House resignation interview/a> 93-year-old woman evicted, jailed when she refused to leave, police say
  • An Uber driver was arrested Thursday after a 16-year-old girl said she was raped in Gwinnett County, police said. Abdoulie Jagne, 58, of College Park, was identified as the man police say raped a girl somewhere along South Norcross Tucker Road between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Old Norcross Tucker Road in unincorporated Norcross, Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Michele Pihera said.  Uber officials said Jagne had been with the company for a couple of months and released a statement: “What’s reported here is horrifying beyond words. Our thoughts are with the rider and her family during this time. This driver has been permanently removed from the app.'  After the girl was dropped off at an apartment complex in that area Monday, she seemed intoxicated and banged on several doors, Pihera said. RELATED: Pregnant woman: ‘I kept bleeding’ after being attacked by Uber driver Jailed ex-Uber driver faces additional burglary, peeping Tom charges Uber driver carjacked at Cascade Road gas station Someone called 911 and when police spoke with the girl she said her Uber driver raped her, Pihera said. The girl, whose pants were still around her ankles, was immediately taken to a nearby hospital for an evaluation, Pihera said.  “The officers made contact with the friend who scheduled the Uber ride and obtained identifying information on the driver along with the vehicle information,” Pihera said.  Uber officials have been working with police in the ongoing investigation. Jagne was booked into the Gwinnett County jail Thursday. Know what’s really going on with crime and public safety in your metro Atlanta community, including breaking news, trial coverage, trends and the latest on unsolved cases. Sign up for the AJC’s crime and safety newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox. In other news:
  • Authorities have arrested a man they say was responsible for bank robberies in metro Atlanta, Athens and South Carolina. Athens-Clarke County police and FBI agents arrested Frank Douglas, 58, on Tuesday in South Carolina, police spokesman Epifanio Rodriguez said in an emailed statement. Douglas was arrested on an unrelated charge, Rodriguez said. However, authorities “were able to confirm” Douglas was responsible for robberies in Conyers, Athens and North Augusta, S.C. Earlier, Athens police were seeking Douglas for questioning about a Dec. 5 robbery at a Bank of America branch, according to the statement. A man went into the bank and passed a note to a teller that demanded money, Rodriguez said. Douglas is also thought to be responsible for a robbery at the BB&T branch on Ga. 20 in Conyers on Nov. 30, police spokesman Buck Vaughn said. Police also are seeking a woman in her 60s who was driving a car that the man got into after the robbery, Rodriguez said. She is believed to be from the Monroe area and may have just met Douglas on U.S. 78 while giving him a ride to Athens. They do not believe the woman was knowingly involved in the robbery. “Detectives would like to speak with the female to obtain any information she can provide about Frank Douglas and the activities on that day,” Rodriguez said. Know what’s really going on with crime and public safety in your metro Atlanta community, including breaking news, trial coverage, trends and the latest on unsolved cases. Sign up for the AJC’s crime and safety newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox. In other news:
  • Aggravated stalking and obstruction charges for a Hall County woman who entered the property of her victim uninvited. Rhonda Leigh Haney, 46, from Flowery Branch then resisted being handcuffed by police. She remains in the Hall County jail. The Hall County Sheriff’s Department is investigating.    Battery and false imprisonment charges for Cindee Sheree Perdue, 33, of Talmo, Ga. The Hall County Sheriff’s Department arrested her after she struck her victim several times on the hand resulting in a laceration. Perdue then held her victim down to the floor preventing them from leaving the location. Perdue was then arrested and booked into the Hall County Jail.    Heroin and marijuana charges for Robert Allen West, 32, of Tucker, Ga, arrested by the Hall County Sheriff’s Department during a traffic stop on I-985. Deputies stopped West for several traffic violations. He was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and less than one ounce of marijuana and booked into the Hall County jail. 
  • Georgia junior inside linebacker Natrez Patrick got some good news on Thursday. According to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, Patrick had his marijuana possession charge dropped after his arrest the same night as the SEC Championship game. Patrick now likely will not face the consequences of his third suspsension for marijuana Jayson Stanley also had one of his charges dropped, according to Schlabach.   The post Report: Natrez Patrick has charges dropped after recent arrest appeared first on DawgNation.

Bulldog News

  • NORMAN, Okla. — Back in the team meeting room they call the Red Room, underneath Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, quarterback Baker Mayfield on Thursday met with the local press for the first time since accepting the Heisman Trophy in New York on Saturday. Asked who was the most intriguing person he met during his whirlwind postseason award tour, Mayfield did not hesitate. “Herschel Walker,” the Sooners’ superstar said. Then he gushed. “He looks like he could still play right now,” Mayfield said of Georgia’s greatest tailback of all time. “That’s just impressive. You meet so many special guys, but a guy like that is like a once-in-a-century type of athlete. It was pretty neat.” Reminded that Walker played for the team his Sooners are about to meet in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs, Mayfield laughed. “That’s OK,” he said. “It’s Herschel Walker. I don’t have to play him, so it’s all right.” That exchange offered a nice glimpse into the persona of Oklahoma’s record-setting quarterback. The dude knows how to work a room and is quite comfortable at a lectern. And he knows how to butter-up an opponent. Mayfield nsists he wasn’t just trying to endear himself to the Bulldog Nation by offering effusive praise about their greatest player of all time. But one started to wonder when he began to gush about the Georgia defense he’ll face when No. 2 Oklahoma faces No. 3 Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Mayfield was asked if the Sooners’ had faced a comparable defense to Georgia’s this season “They’re the best defense; you can’t compare them to anybody,” he said. “They’re in a league of their own and that’s the reason they’re in the playoffs. They follow behind that defense. You can’t compare them to other people because they’re so talented and they play so well together. To say they’re like anybody else would be downplaying how good they are.” And so it went. If there is going to be any trash-talking in the first-ever meeting between these two powerhouse programs, it wasn’t coming out of the Red Room on Thursday. Led by Mayfield, the Sooners come into the Rose Bowl No. 1 in the nation in total offense at 583.3 yards per game and No. 3 in passing at 367.4. Georgia will counter with the No. 2-rated passing defense (158.3 ypg), tied for third against the score (13.2 ppg) and fourth in total defense (270.9 ypg). Something’s got to give. But that’s what makes it one of the most exciting matchups of the postseason. It’s especially exciting for Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown. The Sooners’ starting left tackle happens to hail from Duluth, where he attended Peachtree Ridge High School. “A lot of those guys in high school tore me up,” said Brown, a consensus All-American as a redshirt junior. “I’m not the same player I was then, so I’m just ready. … I always play with a chip on my shoulder but I’m excited about that. These are guys I’ve known for a long time.” Asked what Georgia players specifically “tore him up” in high school, Brown mentioned Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. The two seniors start at outside linebacker for the Bulldogs and definitely will get matched up against Brown on occasion if not constantly. “Obviously I played against 7 in high school, Carter,” Brown said. “I think I saw Bellamy at one point at a camp. It’s going to be competitive. They’re great. They play a lot of good ball. Very instinctual, very well-coached. You can tell they make a lot of scheme-related plays and a lot that are not scheme-related. They’re in the playoffs for a reason.” Brown and running back Trey Sermon are the only Sooners who hail from Georgia. Sermon, a freshman from Marietta’s Sprayberry High, rushed for 710 yards and two touchdowns while playing in all 13 games as Rodney Anderson’s backup. Sermon as named to the Big 12’s all-freshman team. Like Georgia, Oklahoma does not allow freshmen to be interviewed. The Sooners certainly don’t need many other voices with Mayfield front and center. The fifth-year senior from Austin, Texas, is as comfortable before cameras and microphones as he is behind that big offensive line that allowed him to throw for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions this past season. It’s understandable considering he and Herschel Walker are the only players to have been invited to three consecutive Heisman Trophy Award ceremonies. The third time was the charm for both. Asked what was the best advice he got from his fellow award winners, Mayfield said it was that the national championship remains the better prize. “It was kind of common theme for the guys who were able to win it and play for a national championship,” Mayfield said. “I got the same advice from all of them: This is a special deal but if you can do anything you need to win the big one at the end. I talked to Chris Weinke about that and he’s a guy who lost to OU. So he was speaking from the heart.” So was Mayfield, he’d have you believe. The post Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield gushes about Herschel Walker, Georgia’s defense appeared first on DawgNation.
  • NORMAN, Okla. – The marijuana charges against Natrez Patrick were dropped, we learned Thursday. That’s certainly good for him. It may be good for Georgia football, too, in terms of its pursuit of wins and championships. Ultimately, we don’t know yet exactly what it means. On the surface, one’s left to believe that the Bulldogs’ starting inside linebacker will be reinstated and play against No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl in three weeks. But we don’t know that because coach Kirby Smart has yet to weigh in on it. And it’s a bit of a tricky situation when closely evaluated. In the meantime, some charges were dropped out here in Boomer Sooner territory on Thursday, too, and they were much more serious than what Patrick faced. A rape allegation levied against OU running back and leading rusher Rodney Anderson did not result in charges by the local district attorney. The news was shared with local media in a rare news conference by a prosecutor to explain why he wasn’t going to prosecute a case. In a nutshell Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters that, “after a thorough investigation” that include polygraph tests, interviews of friends of both the accused and the alleged victim and examinations of phone records and texts, “charges are not warranted.” “There are certainly cases where we just simply can’t prove something, so we decline due to insufficient evidence,” Mashburn said. “In this case, I think it’s important for us to tell the whole story so people understand that facts were presented to us through the Norman P.D.’s investigation.” Earlier in the day Thursday, before the D.A.’s announcement, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley had said that Anderson was “still fully on the team” while authorities continued to investigate the allegations. Riley didn’t issue any other statements after the charges were dropped, and Anderson was not made available after the Sooners’ practice he participated in Thursday. But those in the OU camp expect Anderson to be play against Georgia in the Rose Bowl. “Good for him; he’s a great person,” said Sooners left tackle Orlando Brown, a junior from Duluth. “Hopefully he’ll be able to play in the game.” Likewise, the assumption in Georgia’s camp is that Patrick will be able to play in the Rose Bowl. Smart probably won’t weigh in on this latest development until the Bulldogs’ Rose Bowl media day Monday. Georgia has yet to begin its Rose Bowl preparations, and there won’t be any interview access until then. But it might not be as cut-and-dried as it seems. While we know that Patrick doesn’t face any legal ramifications, we don’t know for certain that there won’t be any team repercussions. Patrick already had violated UGA’s marijuana-use policy twice due to previous marijuana arrests, hence his four-game suspension in the middle third of the regular season. A third calls for dismissal from the team. We do know from the body-cam footage provided by police that Patrick was in a car with a teammate who was was either actively smoking or had just smoked marijuana. Jayson Stanley, also a starter as a wide receiver, had DUI charges against him dropped  Thursday but is still charged with misdemeanor possession. So we assume he’ll be subjected to UGA’s first-strike pot policy, which is a one-game suspension in football. That the one game is the College Football Playoff and the Rose Bowl makes it particularly painful. What we don’t know is whether Patrick had to undergo any kind of testing as a result of the encounter. Usually a student-athlete who has had more than one violation is subject to counseling and intensified drug-testing. Perhaps Patrick already has successfully cleared that, or he could be awaiting results. We can’t be sure. We’ll know for sure in 18 days when Georgia and Oklahoma kick off in the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, these off-field issues have been the one downside to an otherwise magical season. While they’ve been piling up wins and points this year, they also have been piling up arrests and disciplinary issues. Duly noting that this latest charge against Patrick was dismissed, there are still 14 known arrests of Georgia football players going back to last season. The latest came earlier this week when freshman defensive back Latavious Brini was jailed on a first-degree forgery charge. It was for an incident that allegedly occurred back in July, or shortly after he arrived from Miami. He hasn’t played this season and is therefore set to be redshirted, but neither Georgia nor Smart has commented on his status just yet either. Generally, UGA student-athletes charged with a felony are immediately suspended on a temporary basis until their legal matter is worked out. The arrest ledger also counts the case of D’Antne Demery, a signee who had his scholarship revoked after he was charged with battery/domestic violence against his girlfriend in April. I don’t know why Demery wouldn’t be included in such an accounting since he already had signed his national letter-of-intent two months before he was jailed in Athens. Most of the other arrests seem relatively trivial, depending on your personal sensibilities. Most of them involve pot. Tailback Elijah Holyfield and wide receiver Riley Ridley also were arrested earlier this year and subsequently suspended for single games for misdemeanor marijuana possession. But 14 is a high number of legal run-ins no matter how one slices it. That begs the question: Does Georgia have a discipline problem on this team? I know that last sentence makes you cringe. It does me, too. There is so much good going on for UGA, nobody wants to throw water on it. But that question bears asking. It’s only fair. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt came under sharp criticism for a perceived lack of discipline during his UGA tenure. It reached a peak when the Bulldogs incurred 11 arrests from March to October of 2010. Then he cracked down. Georgia had only one arrest in 2011 when Cornelius Washington was charged with DUI. There were some isolated incidences and some serious offenses that followed, but they were dealt with harshly. Bulldogs fans don’t need to be reminded that several dismissals occurred from 2012 to 2015. Smart is a coach who preaches discipline on the first line of his mission statement. He expends a lot of time and energy talking about poise and composure. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were flagged for nine personal fouls in their two games against Auburn (they seem to have a thing for face masks in particular, don’t they?). Georgia enters the postseason as the fourth-most penalized team in the SEC. Is there a connection there? Who knows. Certainly most good football players are aggressive by nature. Arrests numbers and penalty numbers are facts, but the assertion that Georgia is an undisciplined team is not. That’s subjective and speculative at this point. And what has been going on here at Oklahoma proves that UGA is not alone in fighting that perception. It’s not just what proved to be false accusations against the Sooners’ current running back. Lest we forget, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who accepted the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, was arrested in February in Fayetteville, Ark., for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing police. But the Bulldogs need to do better. Obviously, Georgia is a very, very good football team under Smart. Based on recruiting, it appears that will continue if not get even better. But the disciplinary issues need to trend in the other direction, even if you care about nothing other than what happens on the football field. The post Natrez Patrick gets good news, but Georgia needs to tighten up on discipline front appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia junior inside linebacker Natrez Patrick got some good news on Thursday. According to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, Patrick had his marijuana possession charge dropped after his arrest the same night as the SEC Championship game. Patrick now likely will not face the consequences of his third suspsension for marijuana Jayson Stanley also had one of his charges dropped, according to Schlabach.   The post Report: Natrez Patrick has charges dropped after recent arrest appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Rose Bowl fever is sweeping across the UGA campus and Wednesday one quick-witted student scored free tickets to the game. A time-honored tradition at the University of Georgia is to ring the Chapel Bell after a Bulldogs victory. On this day, it got junior Carter Glenn two seats. 'Unbelievable! I am so excited. Now I have to make my travel plans to get out there,” Glenn said. Rose Bowl officials were on campus giving away tickets to the big game. It was a contest of sorts.They tweeted clues all morning long, like “Where does a UGA fan go after the Bulldogs win?” RELATED STORIES: Kirby Smart vs. Lincoln Riley: Breaking down the Rose Bowl coaches JAKE FROMM: From AJC Super 11 to the College Football Playoff Breakdown of how Georgia has fared against Heisman Trophy winners 'So for the final tweet today, we had a tweet saying where we were and to ring the Chapel Bell and yell 'Rose Bowl.' That's how the winner got it,” Rose Bowl spokesperson Karen Linhart said. Carter is taking fellow student Jack Glenn with him to Pasadena. Jack happens to be his brother. 'Two months ago I told my dad if the team goes to the Rose Bowl, we gotta go, so it's pretty cool,” junior Jack Glenn said. The Glenn brothers had a strategy to win the tickets: They split up. 'You know, North Campus is more scenic, so we'll stay around here. He took the South part.I took the North part and it just worked out,” Carter Glenn said. Rose Bowl officials gave away another pair of tickets a few hours later. On Thursday, they’ll do the same thing at the University of Oklahoma.
  • By Georgia Sports Communications ATHENS, Ga. --- Georgia junior linebacker Roquan Smith has now been included on the All-America First Team by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) FBS Coaches’, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Sporting News, Walter Camp and the Associated Press. Smith, a native of Montezuma, Ga., becomes the fourth Bulldog over the last 20 years to earn unanimous NCAA First Team All-America honors joining Champ Bailey (1998), Drew Butler (2009) and Jarvis Jones (2011-12). In addition, senior offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and senior tailback Nick Chubb were named to the AFCA All-America Second Team and Wynn was also an AP and College Football Madness Second Team All-American. Also of note, quarterback Jake Fromm and right tackle Andrew Thomas garnered ESPN Freshman All-America honors this week. Smith has also been named a First Team All-American by ESPN, SI.com, Bleacher Report, College Football Madness and The All-American while Wynn was also on the Bleacher Report’s First Team. Smith became the first Bulldog to win the Butkus Award this season, which is given to the nation’s most outstanding linebacker. He was also a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award, which are given to the country’s most dominant defensive player. Wynn, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., Chubb, a native of Cedartown, Ga., Fromm, a native of Warner Robins, Ga., and Thomas, a native of Lithonia, Ga., directed an offense that has averaged the Southeastern Conference’s third-best scoring offense (34.9 ppg) this season while posting the nation’s seventh-best rate for third down conversions (47 percent).  The Bulldogs captured their first SEC title since 2005 and went an undefeated 6-0 versus teams from the league’s Eastern Division for the first time since the SEC split into divisions in 1992. The third-seeded Bulldogs (12-1) travel to Pasadena, Calif., to face second-seeded Oklahoma (12-1) in the College Football Playoff’s semifinal round in the Rose Bowl Game on Monday, January 1. Kickoff is at 5:10 p.m. ET.