FanPost

NCT: A Dawgography

It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.

- Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham

Caveat 1: If you just want to know what time it is, I’m here to tell you how to make a watch. It’s what I do.

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Caveat 2: I wish I were funny. I admire the way some folks around here seem to shake chuckle-inducing lines out of their sleeves. I have a sorta strange sense of humor, and I think I do all right in a quick comment or a Tweet, but I recognize I’m probably batting around .220 with an occasional clutch hit. When it comes to things like this, a longer narrative, my natural tendency is to be heavily factual and/or argumentative (because that’s my job), or to be overly sentimental.

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This is an amazing 15th century poplar wood sculpture of Mary Magdalene that has haunted me since a 1989 trip to Florence -- the one in Italy, not South Carolina. I’m awfully fond of word origins and references that are at least a step too far away. Are you with me? If not, it’s my fault. I’ll try to do better.

Please bear these warnings in mind if you elect to proceed.

Like VineyardDawg, RedCrake, SG Standard, and others, my story as a Georgia fan started with my parents.  But my parents didn't meet during the Herschel years.  My parents met during The Drought.

(Just in case you don't know (and you really should), the longest winning streak by either side in the UGA-Tech rivalry is eight consecutive wins by Georgia Tech, 1949-1956.  Because one of the lowest lows in Bulldog history is in my blood, I tend to enjoy even modest success immensely.)

I've lost track of how many times I've watched this game in the past nine months. 

I’ve mentioned my adoration of my mother. I could write volumes more about her, and some day, some place, I likely will. In no way do I intend to diminish her role in my development, including my development as a Georgia fan, but there is no doubt that I owe being a Bulldog to my father.

When I was a wee thing, Dad worked long hours and provided a comfortable life. Love for Dad was based on a lot of respect, a little bit of fear and mystery, and Mom’s efforts to instill gratitude in her bright but often oblivious children. It’s not 100% accurate to say that the house had to get quiet when Dad got home from work, whereupon he would pat us fondly, if dutifully, on the head and dismiss us to entertain ourselves, unseen and unheard, until bedtime.  But go ahead and take it as a representation of my recollection. If I weren't scared to death of The Mouse, I'd embed a clip of "The Life I Lead" from Mary Poppins. (Here. I'll let someone else worry about copyright infringement.) Dad made everything I did possible, but we didn't toss the ball around in the back yard.

However, in addition to the general sense that Dad was the one who held it all together, there were moments when I felt particularly close to my father. I want to tell you about the game of hide-and-seek Dad and I would play when Dad came home for lunch every day. I want to write about the annual ritual of watching him roll the quarters he’d collected in an orange juice jar (anyone remember orange juice in tall glass jars?) in preparation for vacations. (Did you know that a family of five can take two beach vacations every summer on a jar’s worth of quarters?).

But I suppose I should get back to the subject at hand.  Another such moment was when the Georgia football season tickets arrived and Dad sorted and organized them carefully, bound in little rubber bands, and stored them safely in his desk drawer.

You see, Dad is in the 95th percentile of sports fans.  All my childhood to date, the chances have been very high that, at any given time, the television would be tuned to a football game, basketball game, baseball game, golf tournament, or tennis match. Dad grew up a sports fan. He may not have been a star athlete, but he played sports in his youth. He lettered in tennis for Dan Magill. He contributed sports coverage to the Athens Banner-Herald. Here’s Dad at 18 from a Banner-Herald story on the 1954 state championship won by the Athens Little League all-star team:

Home runs -- the certain, quick, and effective weapon that means so much in modern baseball -- were the deciding factors in all three Athens victories.

That sentence is the only one of his I could find on the Internets. But it does a decent job of demonstrating Dad's direct, almost staccatoesque, style that I got to read later in quick notes accompanying checks when I'd overspent as a college student. My writing, on the other hand, is overly complicated and weighed down with excessive dependent clauses and, quite often, unnecessary parentheticals (which is, I think, how my mind works), because I have a compulsive need to subject the reader to as much of my thought processes as possible, even to the point of overwhelming my point.

Anyway, the birth of my folks' oldest son in June 1960, a few months after said brother attended the Orange Bowl in utero, was announced on the ABH sports page. Perhaps you get the picture, as they say. 

And yet, I was not a sports fan.  I was (at least) a little nerdy and bookish.  I took piano and dance(!) lessons. In an effort to give her kids some exposure to art and culture, my mother played original cast recordings from Broadway musicals, and, by the age of ten, I could sing the entire score of, inter alia, Cabaret (which is entirely inappropriate, on so many levels, for a boy of that age).

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I've heard this is a good book. I just needed the title. My thanks to Simon & Schuster.

But we had those season tickets, and shortly after my 1966 arrival, I began going to one or two games a year.  These family trips were among my favorite childhood experiences.  I knew the area of campus where we parked and Sanford Stadium about as well as I knew my grandparents' houses.  And Athens provided a similar comfort.

For years I cared nothing about the game itself. I loved the tailgating, the crowds, the campus, the stadium, the Redcoats, and the over-all feeling of truly belonging to something so massive as this. I wasn’t just visiting a spectacle. This spectacle belonged to us and we to it. I’d been here before, and I would come back again. This was how it always had been and how it always would be.

Over time, I began to understand and appreciate the game better. (To be fair to myself, I probably had a pretty good grasp of scoring, first downs, and turnovers at about the same time I could sing along with Joel Grey to "Two Ladies".) Then a handful of things happened over a few short years that changed everything.

In 1978, an uncle (a Tech grad) and his family had moved to Baton Rouge. We packed up and drove to Louisiana in October for the Georgia-LSU game. (We'd gone to Louisiana a couple of years earlier for the Sugar Bowl, but I didn't get to go to that game.) Dad must have been able to get only four visitor’s tickets, because I sat in the LSU student section with my uncle, who was enrolled in grad school at the time. This happened:

 

It was my first away game. It was at night. I was in the student section. That'll leave a mark.

Over the next few seasons, the frequency with which I was taken to Athens for games increased dramatically. Maybe after my brothers headed off to Tech in 1978 and 1980, my parents suddenly realized they needed to save me from the Trade School, point me toward the Classic City, and repair the show tunes damage. Through high school, I went to almost every home game and even got to take two trips to Jordan-Hare (all-time, the Dawgs are 3-1-1 when I‘m in attendance in the so-called loveliest village, thankyouverymuch). I appreciated the game more, which was easy to do when, at any moment, Herschel might break a long touchdown run.  Certainly, the fact that my attendance increased during the three consecutive SEC championship seasons helped my interest increase.

During this time I also did stints as Pappy Yokum and Hugo Peabody in high school productions of Li’l Abner and Bye Bye, Birdie, respectively; I was drum major for the marching band; I won a couple of piano competitions. I was a good kid: I wasn't rebellious at all -- at least, not in any way I could control.  And there was never any question that I was My Parents' Son. But to my father, it must have seemed at times that I'd been raised on Mars. Or somewhere.

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It sure seemed that way to me sometimes.

By late in my junior year of high school, I’d pretty much decided I would be headed to UGA. I was at least as interested in my literature and history classes as I was in math and science, so Tech didn't seem like a good choice. And then something strange and wonderful happened. I was recruited by the University of Georgia, not because I could run fast or jump high, of course, but because I was good at standardized tests and had good grades. I got calls and letters from the admissions office and Fred Davison. I was invited to dinner by the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees, one of whom gave me a gift subscription to the Georgia Review. Strangers affiliated with the school knew me by name. Dad was thrilled. Hey, if you tell me I’m special, I’ll believe you, and you’ll be my best friend for life. 

And here’s what this best friend did for me. I got to follow in my parents’ footsteps, quite literally, which you would understand is pretty special if you knew me well. From 18-25, I learned how my kidneys regulate blood pressure (both in the classroom and in labs around town that operated under names like Papa Joe's, T.K. Hardy's, and Gus Garcia's); how to speak French; how to tap a keg; how to break down Luther’s and Erasmus’s debate on free will; how to kick a peer out of school for cheating and explain it to his parents; how to foxtrot; how to recite "This is the famous Budweiser beer …"; how to interpret the groan, ineffably and mournfully sad, of Davies’ dying donkey; and how to do a number of other things every bit as important to my development but not suitable for publication because they are morally questionable or because I owe solemn oaths of secrecy.

We interrupt this ramble to present a few noises that never fail to make me feel 18, 19, 20, or 21.

My freshman year:

 

My sophomore year:

   

My junior year:

   

My senior year:

 

We now return you to our regularly scheduled gushing.

And my UGA experience did another very important thing for me.  A few days into my freshman year, I came home from class to find my roommate freaking out a little bit over a telephone message for me: Coach Magill had called to see if I was settling in all right. It's nice to have people looking out for you. I was a Redcoat (and in the Derbies) my first two years at UGA, so I got to go to almost every away football game (and a couple of bowls).  I was in the basketball pep band my sophomore year, so I got paid to go to every home basketball game. My fraternity had block seating for NCAA tennis tournaments, so I got to see a couple of national championships.

UGA made me a sports fan.

After graduation, I returned to my roots in Section 130.  A few years later, in the early 1990s, Dad transferred two of his four season tickets to me, and I started to relive in a new, grown-up way the traditional game days of my childhood. Then my life took some unexpected (or, perhaps, dreaded) turns (as lives sometimes do), and the strange, disturbing, obedient, accomplished child that I had been became even harder to understand. Some kids grow up and become so foreign to their parents that the relationships disappear. UGA isn't responsible for saving my parents and me from such a fate, but it didn't hurt.

We're all individual persons in our own worlds, even vis à vis our closest companions, and any relationship needs common ground on which to tread. I don't think Dad and I should talk about politics.  I can't talk to him about how my kids are doing, because I don't have any.  We talk some about my work, and he's interested, but he can participate only so much because he's not there day to day. For my father and me, one of our common patches of ground is our love for the University.  We both are Bulldogs. We care very deeply (some might say too much) about the institution and what happens with its athletic programs. It's something about each other we truly can understand when a lot of things don't always make sense.  It's not the only thing we have, but it's a big one.

I can't separate my identity as a Georgia fan from my identity as my father's son, and for that, I owe more gratitude than I can express to him and to the University. All fathers and sons should be so lucky.

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