Growing up just outside of Athens my parents were not the biggest UGA fans. My uncle played for Georgia Tech and my father has been an unapologetic Tech fan since then. When I was growing up you always planned your gameday outings to occur during game time so you did not get caught up in traffic. My fondness for the Dogs and the intensity of my fandom has only increased with age.
The first Bulldog game I attended was the 1976 36-24 victory over the California Golden Bears. My dad also took me to the Tech/ Auburn game the same year. Wonderful time for a five-year old kid. The Richmond game my next year was also a Bulldog victory. One of the worse gameday experiences was watching the victory over BYU in a severe downpour from the upper deck.
But as a young man in Athens, there was no more of a Bulldog centric place in town, save the university, than the Athens YMCA. All the jerseys had a bulldog on them, regardless of sport or color. The team’s names were taken from college teams. For example 2nd grade basketball would be teams from the Big 8, 4th grade football from the PAC 10. When your teams were from the SEC, no one was the Georgia Bulldogs. Coach Squeaky would not have it. As much as the Dogs were loved, the Engineers were despised, so no team was condemned to be Yellowjackets either. Many Bulldog players were around the “Y” and Pine Tops during the summer, Dicky Clark and Scott Woerner to name a few. I heard the 1982 “sugar falling from the sky” call from a YMCA bus on the way back from Thomaston, Ga.
One of the highlights of football at the “Y” was the annual trip to play “between the hedges” before a home game. This meant getting to the stadium at about 11:00 to scrimmage, and take the game in from the east end zone. My first trip was as a third grader in 1979 to the UVA game. A terrible, horrible, homecoming loss. It rained so much the day before we were not allowed to play on the field but had our scrimmage on the practice field. That day was also memorable because the next day the embassy in Tehran was overrun. The remaining trips resulted in true “between the hedges” experiences.
The early 80’s were a heady time in Athens. The summer of 1981 found me at the Bulldogs football camp. Coach Dooley put in an appearance from time to time. But for the most part it was all Coach Erk Russell, all the time. Days spent running drills with among others, Mike Cavan, and nights spent watching endless amounts of NFL films production in the cow barn behind the Coliseum, with Coach Kasay doing bed check. During camp we were taken to the bookstore so the campers could buy some UGA swag. My grandmother worked there and not only gave me the employee discount, but an additional twenty bucks to load up with.
During high school I attended a few games, mainly working around my job. That was before the west end zone was enclosed and you get spots on the hill adjacent to the visitor’s section. Saw a thrilling victory against LSU, made all the better given the proximity to the Bengal faithful. During my junior year of high school I was lightly recruited by a few schools, including both UGA and Tech, which speaks more to the massive efforts by those schools than to any talent I had at playing football. I was offered the opportunity to walk on at Tech, but in a decision that was at the time not appreciated by all, I declined.
My game attendance while enrolled at UGA was not all that spectacular. I kept my high school job while in college and with the future Ms. Parker attending an out of state school my schedule was adjusted to permit travel to spend time with her. My next job involved working only weekends as well so I attended maybe only one or two games a year during my three years at UGA. The future Mrs. Parker’s parents and their friends were big Dawg fans and would drive from Greensboro to Athens on game days in a converted Harvester Scout called the “Bulldog Buggy” so we would go and tailgate with them. Given that this was during the Goff years, perhaps it was for the better that my game attendance was not higher.. It was interesting to share classes with Mack Strong (calculus) and Garrison Hearst (contemporary Georgia).
Moving on to medical school in Augusta the class schedule kept me from many games as well. The future Mrs. Parker was also in Augusta during that time so the motivation to return to for games was not that strong. When residency moved me to Charleston, WV I followed the Dogs from afar. With Donnan leaving Marshall to coach the Dogs, there was interest in the local media as to how he and the Dogs were doing. I bought my house at the end of my intern year and my parents came over during the second week of October, and my Dad graciously bought me a large screen TV for the new house. The first show watched on that screen was the 38-13 loss to Tennessee in 1997.
My return to Georgia was about six months after Mark Richt’s arrival in Athens. Living in Columbus the population of football fans here are roughly 1/3 Auburn, 1/3 Bama, 1/3 UGA. I make it to Athens for about 1 game a year, which is a nice time for the kids to visit their grandparents. Notable games included the lovely 51-7 win over the North Avenue Trade School in 2002 as well as the 2007 wins over Oklahoma State, Auburn at Sanford Stadium, and Tech in Atlanta. Once the outcome of that game was no longer in question, the focus of the Dawg faithful became the outcome of the UT/UK game. In their constant struggle to stay classy, we were serenaded by “Rocky Top” from the fraternity houses on the way back to the car.
It is probably when and where I grew up that has influenced my choice of Tech as UGA’s biggest rival. While Florida and Auburn are the games I most want UGA to win, the Tech game is the one I can’t stand for them to lose.
Oh, and I’ve never been to the WLOCP, maybe someday.