I'm an avid reader of Dawg Sports and throughout this season I debated whether or not to post my own dawgography. My life as a Bulldog hasn't taken the most direct or even logical route. But, this week of all weeks, when the Dawgs will try to salvage a season full of heartbreak by beating their in-state rival, perhaps it is time to face my demons in front of a blog-full of Bulldogs as witnesses.
You see, I was born and raised in Winder, Georgia just down the road from Athens. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but being a Bulldog was just part of growing up. One of my earliest memories is watching the 1981 Sugar Bowl with my Daddy. My shelves are littered with memorabilia from that glorious season like an original commemorative Coke bottle and a little ceramic bulldog that my grandmother gave me. I've got a picture of me as a child standing in front of the White House wearing a UGA hat. I went to Georgia games with friends and tailgated (my first game was, in fact, a loss to Auburn...yet another reason to hate that school). In high school, we were the Winder-Barrow Bulldoggs (yes, that's a double g) and our colors were Red and Black. Our fight song was "Glory Glory." Even some of our band uniforms were Redcoat hand-me-downs. I got to play my trumpet in Sanford Stadium on Band Day.
Some teenagers rebel with drugs, alcohol, hanging out with the wrong crowd, being a real pain in the butt to their parents. Not me - I was tame on all those counts - the perfect kid. Except for one thing. Somewhere around the tenth grade, I took a drafting class, loved it and wound up taking several courses despite a paralyzing inability to understand math. It happened - Satan took hold. Thinking I would ultimately wind up as a professional architect, I committed my allegiance to the North Avenue Trade School.
There, I said it. That's my confession. That's my sin. I look back on those years and I know exactly what Marlow felt like going up the Congo in Heart of Darkness.
Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Mine have antennae. I recall games when I cheered for that other school, including their so-called national championship. I had yellow and blue hats, a sweatshirt or two, and a decal for the car. It wasn't a hard sell in those days, with UGA mired in hopelessness under Ray Goff. It's easy to kick a team when they are down and the young are especially vulnerable.
By the time I finished high school, however, I realized that while I had an interest in architecture, my greatest passion was history. My new goals led me to one of the great collegiate gems in the nation, North Georgia College in Dahlonega where my parents and other family members had attended. It was a wonderful college experience, and I wouldn't trade those four years for anything. Not wanting to admit my misguided allegiance with football, though, I remained passively neutral on Thanksgiving weekends. I even had an intrastate rivalry going on in my golf bag, with UGA and Buzz headcovers bouncing along together in unnatural civility over 18 holes.
Not yet wanting to get a real job after graduation, I applied to a single graduate school, one with an excellent history studies program. I was accepted at the University of Georgia. As a historian, I was proud to attend the state's charter university and walk across North Campus every day in the shadow of the aged structures there. I started in the fall of 1998 when the football program was just a few steps removed from Goff-era purgatory. I didn't attend any games, but vividly remember my parking lot off Hull Street being littered with half eaten chicken wings on Monday mornings. A few years into my studies I recall walking to the library during Spring break (yeah, I was one of those people). A familiar face passed by, and after a few seconds I realized it was Mark Richt, the new football coach. To be honest, I didn't think much about it at the time - my rebirth as a Bulldog was still in its fetal stage.
When I (finally) got my Master's Degree in 2002, I took the Athletic Association up on an offer to buy season tickets. I didn't know how many games I would attend, but it sounded like fun - and I figured I could always sell them. My best friend and I went to a few games in 2003 (she grew up a Bulldog, too, but unlike me stayed the course), and I attended games now and again, but it took a few years to get "it."
All great conversions typically include a moment of clarity. My great-great granddaddy found religion at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 and became a Primitive Baptist preacher in South Georgia after the war. My moment was at the LSU game in October 2004 when we beat the snot out of Nick Saban's Bengal Tigers. And I was devastated the following week when we lost to Tennessee. With those two back-to-back games, of great victory and crushing defeat, I was a Bulldog, born again.
I started attending games with religious ferocity - I found myself drawn to the stadium. The following year, during one of the last home games I ever missed, I worked as Maid of Honor to a college roommate who decided to get married on homecoming Saturday. I got fluffed and buffed while watching Georgia eek out a victory over Arkansas. I saw Matthew Stafford throw his first touchdown pass the next fall against Western Kentucky, and then high-fived strangers when he pumped, faked, and chunked one to Massaquoi in a last minute victory over Tech that November, salvaging a season that nearly spiraled out of control.
When the season tickets arrive in the mail, I know it's time to special order that bottle of Bulldog Gin in preparation for the first tailgate. My best friend and I have a deal - I bring the tickets and she brings the food. She leaves the hubby and kids at home while the girls go tailgate and watch football. Last September, Mr. Best Friend had a date with the doctor for a little "procedure" (we'll leave it at that, boys). We left him with a bag of frozen peas and a six-pack before heading out for the home opener against South Carolina. A couple of weeks later, we suited up in layers of rain-repellent gear and slopped across campus for the Arizona State game. On the way to the stadium, two guys saw us and said, "That's a couple of good women, right there."
And, this year, in complete and ultimate devotion to my Dawgs, I participated in Football 101 for Women. I played fullback, got to huddle up and holler "G-A-T-A" in the locker room, then run out into Sanford Stadium for an afternoon scrimmage Between the Hedges. I'm proud to say that, after getting yanked back into formation by Coach Bobo, I tackled someone's grandma. And, dammit, I shed all sins of the past standing there on the fifty yard line in my red jersey.
We all have a unique dawgography. This time of year, though, I reflect back on my return path to the red and black. I don't often talk about those years that I spent in misguided allegiance and I can't change the past.
I'm a Born Again Bulldog, but I'm a Bulldog nonetheless. And I'm damn proud of it.