On the road to Orlando with Hawks 6th Man Section

A group of 48 members of the Hawks 6th Man section hit the road on the FOX Sports Fan Express to Orlando for Atlanta's game against the Magic.

FOX SPORTS FAN EXPRESSEight hours, 500-some miles on a bus, and a destination of Amway Center for the Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic. This is a running diary on the road with the Hawks 6th Man Section.

7:55 A.M. — Before 8 a.m., the Hawkamania sign is already loaded on the bus. Along with with Moose antlers and fat heads.

Orlando awaits on the Atlanta Hawks 6th Man road trip, and if the morning hour on a Saturday seems too early to get hype, one fan agreed, telling me “It’s not 9 yet. I’m good after 9.”

Still, when the camera turned on, the 48 faithful were feeling it, a “LET’S GO HAWKS!” cheer ringing through the bus as we left Philips Arena.

If omens mean anything in these situations, the bus driver opened his safety instructions with this: “My name is Warren G … like the old rapper.”

Hawks fans … mount up.

10 A.M. — A debate on the best Rae Sremmund album has broken out, among other hip-hop topics as the bus makes its way through middle Georgia. But by and large, the activity of choice is sleeping.

Joined by Drew Frank, senior coordinator of fan experience and one of the 6th Man organizers, provided a glimpse of what the Orlando crowd can expect from the group.

“They’re definitely not going to be happy with us being there, taking over their arena and making it our homeport,” Frank said. “… They won’t be happy. They’ll be impressed. They’ll be surprised. It should be a pretty fun experience.”

That includes a parade around the arena, just to let the opposing fans know the 6th Man Section is in attendance.

And make no mistake, these fans have proven their devotion. Each year before the season starts, tryouts are held, both as individuals and then as part of a group.

“They really have to prove that they know their Hawks history, they know their different facts — who’s on the team — and they have to show their passion and spirit and have fun and be willing to be silly when they’re out there in the crowd,” Frank said.

Months of planning went into the trip and those fans who are riding down to Orlando earned it through their attendance and, as Frank pointed to, their passion.

12:15 p.m. — Goodbye, Georgia (for now) and hello, Florida.

The FOX Sports Fan Express has crossed over as we continue our journey to the City Beautiful, and some stunning information has been exchanged on the bus … there’s an actual person on this trip that has never had a cheeseburger. Never.

Frank added the clarification that they aren’t from the United States but have lived her for quite some time. Peer pressure could find its way as we stop for a lunch break. Stay tuned …

1:22 p.m. — The Great Cheeseburger Mystery has been solved … in line at Chick-fil-A in Lake City, Fla.

Georgia State student Adnan, who is from Bosnia — and has lived in the U.S. for 17 years — explains in the video below. But, basically, at this point he’s been told that he can’t just have any cheeseburger, so he’s reluctant to spoil his first. It’s probably worth compiling at list of the Atlanta-based establishments he could get that first cheeseburger at. That is unless we find a way to get his first out of the way on this trip.

As an aside, Adnan is also known as the Which Way? Guy in this group. He sums up his job as follows.

“Whenever the Hawks get a dead-ball turnover, I get up on the chair railing and I just scream out ‘Which way?’ as hard as possible three times and everyone responds ‘That way,'” he said. “I don’t even know how it started. It’s just become a thing now and I’m known as the Which Way? Guy.”

3:00 p.m. — At a Florida rest stop, while the 48 members of the 6th Man Section prepped for the night’s game in Orlando, one of the true ordeals of life in the group has come to light: trying to fit your nickname onto a personalized jersey.

While observing fellow Hawks fans wearing jerseys that read Free Bembry and Sixth Man on the back, Landon Wood disclosed that he hasn’t been able to fit his pseudonym onto a shirt.

Lando Damando.

Nonetheless, the 6th Man is Hawk’d-up and ready for the night’s festivities as the FOX Sports Fan Express continues its descent upon the Amway Center.

4:45 p.m. — We have arrived in Orlando.

If you’ve ever wondered how much it costs to park a charter bus in a lot on a game day the correct answer would be exactly five times the normal price. Just something to chamber should the situation present itself.

After the 6th Man went through the process of handing out the night’s props — among them the omnipresent D and white picket fence, and massive cut outs of Taurean Prince and Mike Muscala (with moose antlers attached) — the group gathered around to watch music, quite literally, unfold before their eyes.

Rapper Cj Green, with The Art Teacher supplying the beat, delivered some bars he wrote just for this occasion. He had already put on a show during the aforementioned rest area stop, taking whatever words you throw his way and working them into his rhymes. But this? This was all about the Hawks and the 6th Man vibe.

6:30 P.M. — Apologies were given in advance those around Section 222. These Hawks fans are going to be loud.

It started the second Paul Millsap hit the floor for warmups. The word was out that the 6th Man was in attendance, including a shout out from Kent Bazemore.

9:46 P.M. — They came. They saw. But they didn’t go home happy.

The 6th Man Section was loud, so much so that a Magic television production staffer told me they heard some excessive cheering and were stunned when they saw the amount of Hawks fans in attendance.

The game didn’t quite go their way, though, as Orlando capitalized on Atlanta miscues with 22 points off turnovers and 25 fast-break points in dealing the Hawks a 105-86 loss.

During the fourth quarter, up 20-plus, a Magic fan struck a nerve as he called out “Hey, Atlanta, a 20-point lead is safe, right?”

The consensus is it’s still too early for Falcons Super Bowl jokes. Way too early.

And, yes, that lead was safe. In the closing seconds, a Magic supporter sitting among the 6th Man got another shot in.

“We thank ya’ll very much,” he said. “Thanks for coming.”

The night belonged to Orlando, by from a big-picture standpoint, these are two franchises at different stages. That’s a point a Hawks fan was quick to remind the Magic crowd of.

“We’ll see you all in the playoffs,” he said. “… You guys are going to the playoffs, right? Oh … have fun watching us on TV.”

As the crew made its way back to the FOX Sports Fan Express, chants of “THIS IS OUR BUS” broke out.

A night in Orlando, and a return trip of 500-plus miles awaits. And, yes, this is our bus.