Located in the heart of the Bible Belt, Athens, Georgia, is a bustling college town that prides itself on its longstanding traditions and good times. But every once in a while Athens gets an out-of-town visitor looking for "good times" of an entirely different kind.
"GeorgiaGirl" is the screen name of an employee of the University of Georgia Athletic Department, which for years has been luring and exposing overrated teams that prey on weak competition. Earlier in this series you've seen them take down teams from Idaho and Hawaii, but this time we've stumbled upon a predator from the Midwest.
"Chip," who asked us not to use his real name, is a mid-major from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. He's successful -- a two-time defending MAC champion who came within three points of knocking off Purdue in last December's Motor City Bowl -- which makes it all the more puzzling that he'd be responding to messages from "GeorgiaGirl" in an Internet chat room. GeorgiaGirl, posing as a cocky Division I-AA upstart, asks Chip if he wants to "play," and sweetens the deal with a $750,000 paycheck. It isn't long before Chip says he's willing to travel all the way down to Georgia to meet her.
But he knows he's getting more than he bargained for on this trip when he sees our "Dateline" crew waiting for him at Sanford Stadium.
Hansen: Hi. Have a seat, right over there. So, Chip, what are you doing here today?
Chip: Just, uh, passing through the neighborhood.
Hansen: But this is kind of far away from your hometown, isn't it?
Chip: No, I was just kind of, uh, driving around.
When asked if he came down to Athens to play football with "GeorgiaGirl," Chip continues to insist he didn't -- until confronted with the transcript of his Internet chat. Using the handle "SexyChippewa4U," he engages in explicit sex talk with his prey.
"GeorgiaGirl": Hey ne1 looking 2 play ball
"SexyChippewa4U": yea im a baller. u ever played d-1a before?
"GeorgiaGirl": no its my 1st time, how r u @ scoring
"SexyChippewa4U": baby i had the top scoring offense in the MAC last yr. my QB can strech it out lo-o-o-o-ng hehe
When confronted with his own words, Chip changes his story, saying he was just "kidding around" -- even though his "kidding around" goes on for seven pages. But then he changes his excuse once again, saying he only wanted to teach the upstart Georgia program a "lesson."
Chip: I just wanted to teach them a lesson, you know, that what they're doing is dangerous.
Hansen: You wanted to "teach" them?
Chip: Yeah, you know, that they shouldn't go around just talking to or messing with teams from a long way away that they've never even played before.
Hansen: And that bag there? You needed all that stuff in the bag to teach them that "lesson"?
Chip: Oh no, no, that, that stuff's just for me.
We take a look inside the bag: returning starters. A lot of them -- sixteen, to be exact, including eight on defense. Yet there's something unusual about these players: It turns out that last year they gave up 461 yards per game and a season total of 517 points. I ask Chip about them, and even we find ourselves startled by his answer.
Chip: I was hoping that, you know, the Georgia team might use them on me.
Hansen: "Use them on you"?
Chip: Yeah, I like it when people move the ball a lot on me. I've given up an average of 400 yards a game or more four of the last six seasons. I just . . . I don't know, I kind of like it.
Hansen: Don't you think a lot of people would find that disgusting?
Chip: Yeah, probably.
I decide it's time to tell Chip what's really going on here: "GeorgiaGirl," the "cocky I-AA upstart" he thought he was talking to, is actually the Georgia Bulldogs, who went 11-2 last year and finished number two in the AP poll. They bring 17 returning starters of their own, and are already being talked about as a national-title contender.
By the end of our conversation, Chip seems resigned to his fate.
Chip: I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have come here and I'm sorry. What are they gonna do now?
Hansen: Well, there are 22 or so Georgia football players outside who are going to take you into custody, and I'd say there's a good chance they're going to beat you by 20 or 30 points. It's up to them, though.
Chip: I knew this was a mistake. I knew even as I was crossing the Georgia state line, I was like, 'This is a mistake.'
Hansen: But you did it anyway.
Chip: I couldn't stop, you know? I'd come this far, so I figured . . .
As Chip is questioned by the local media, it turns out this isn't the first time he's made such a journey: Last year, he traveled to Clemson, South Carolina, about 90 miles northeast of here, to indulge in his bizarre fetish. The year before that, it was Lexington, Kentucky -- again, he says, just to "put a scare into" an unsuspecting team.
Both times he was let go with a warning and -- incredibly -- allowed to roam the streets again. This time, it'll be up to his athletic director and the NCAA to determine what happens next.
We're going to pause now for a short break. When we return: Our investigation heads south to Gainesville, Florida -- where, incredibly, a familiar face from the south Pacific just can't seem to stay away . . . when "To Catch a Mid-Major" continues.
Chris Hansen is a 27-year veteran of NBC's news operation most famous for his "Dateline" series "To Catch a Predator," which has resulted in the arrests of more than 300 alleged Internet predators nationwide. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.
You won't want to miss our next guest column, in which a candidate for the United States presidency shares a new strategy for beating South Carolina. Stay tuned.