I was born in 19 and 72 in the backseat of a greyhound bus, rolling down highway 41. Actually I wasn’t, but I was born and raised in downtown Atlanta in Home Park and Hwy 41 got us to both sets of grandparents who lived in North and Middle Georgia. After graduation, I did become a ramblin' man all over the world. I am often called "not southern" being from Atlanta, but if you knew my family, you would think way differently. A way long time ago, a man I never met who was my great grandfather on my Mother’s side played on the line for UGA, center I think it was. He took my grandfather to meet all kinds of people as a UGA player, alum and booster. Governors, coaches, you name it, and the stories were always the best, studying both State of Georgia and University of Georgia History and knowing my family had known or met so many of those people.
He also really, really hated Georgia Tech and they went to that game annually for a really long time before my birth. My mother moved from N Georgia to Atlanta for nursing school but the red and black still bled strong. Being close to Tennessee, my grandfather hated UT vehemently, more than Auburn, Tech, anyone. Florida was nonexistent back then. I can still remember talking on the phone to "Pop Pop" about games even as a young adult and watching games with him was great fun. Like many, I didn’t know pro football even existed, heck, I didn’t know as a child much any other sport existed. Georgia football was the constant – it seemed like everyone everywhere was asking "How ‘bout them Dawgs?" before that phrase became a bill board icon. I can remember something "UGA" stamped on anything from a pickup truck to a fruit stand to a hardware store, pretty much all over the state of Georgia. The Bulldogs just were.
My father was the son of a Methodist minister, but spent a good bit of life in Winder, Georgia, just down the road from Athens. Pretty good lead in to be a Bulldog, right? But wait, there ‘s more. My paternal grandmother was born and raised in Athens in a house on Prince Avenue, and met my grandfather while they both attended and graduated from UGA. Being a minister with many connections, my childhood stemmed primarily from fishing every farm pond in middle Georgia and eating peaches on a continual basis. And as always, there was that continual, persistent "How ‘bout them Dawgs?" ramble always just beneath the surface of whatever else was going on. In the days before cable and when many games weren’t televised, I caught the last pieces of a by gone era when people really did listen to Larry Munson in their pickup trucks while fishing or shucking corn or eating watermelon. There is definitely Norman Rockwell trueness in that life experience. This will almost sound odd, but again, I didn’t know there was much anything but the Bulldogs and who they beat or who we hated, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My first specific memory of the Bulldogs was (totally surprised) in January of 19 and 81. My father let me stay up to watch the Sugar Bowl. I didn’t really understand what I was watching in the sense that this wasn’t just an amazing year and game, but something really special. Heck, I was just short of 10 years old, that was how it was supposed to be all the time! I do vaguely remember not breathing for 3 hours. I wore my white shirt with the classic bulldog face on it, now called "throw backs" and sat about 3 feet from our big 19" tv. The nation loves that game because it really was a Cinderella story, and gave our home state a large amount of pride being southerners still recovering from a rough time for everyone – black and white. It was unifying and brought world, well, state, peace for a while. I then remember the next year as we lost that Sugar Bowl, it was heart wrenching. Little did I understand then that I had a might have some talent for college football analysis, something never recognized or fostered until I started following T Kyle’s blogs and writing myself. I still remember at that young age during the 1982 Sugar Bowl explaining to my Dad that Coach Dooley was screwing up how he used Herschel and needed to pass to him in the flat more. Funny, 30 years later I still think that isn’t a bad take. Not too long after that, I got to go to a game in Sanford Stadium on my Grandfather’s season tickets. My memory is vague, but I got to see this guy, wearing #34, score a touchdown. His last season. I don’t even remember who we played. I remember being in some state of awe, almost like being in heaven, looking at this ginormous stadium colored almost all red, the roar of the crowd, standing on the bench to look down from the upper deck of the southeast corner trying to follow that brown pumpkin around the field to see a titan of football run a toss sweep left and hear the crowd erupt in a glorious noise. I had no idea until just recently I could have possibly done sports broadcasting or writing of some sort. And probably been a whole lot happier (and miserable at the same time, in true Georgia fandom style).
But I wasn’t a bulldog myself yet in terms of colleges. I never thought about college. It was just a family assumption I guess. I do remember this guy Lewis Grizzard, and being from Atlanta and him talking about UGA all the time, it was the glue of the 80s that kept us happy as the Dooley years ran down. The high school years became highly unpleasant going to Atlanta public schools and struggling as a teenager like so many of us do. College wasn’t an afterthought, it just wasn’t a thought. At times I was just surviving. I remember asking my Dad where he thought I would go to school somewhere in those years, and he just said, "Georgia". There wasn’t much explanation. I guess it made some sense though. I sure as hell wasn’t smart enough for places like Emory or Tech, and smaller schools were mostly unknown and not understood by me. My high school GPA was atrocious, and I realized almost too late I had to have a miracle on the SAT to get into any college. The miracle happened, and I still don’t know how, I guessed the whole damnable test. By that time, I was heavily into JROTC and knew I wanted to serve and fly. My college choices were UGA (totally surprised) and Georgia Southern, as they both were state schools with Air Force ROTC. I didn’t expect to get into Georgia. But I did. Opening that admission letter (why the hell didn’t I save that!) made my whole body tremble. Honestly, I know now that Southern is a good school, but I didn’t even think about it after being admitted to UGA. I proved everyone wrong as a high school academic disaster, made my family proud to not just bleed red and black, but to wear it with a "student" stamp.
It’s can be painful for me to write about my college years in Athens from 19 and 90 to 95 (UGA –the best 5 or 6 years of your life) when I think about football and my underclassman years. As a student, here was a chance to go to all kinds of games for low cost (although figuring out how to buy tickets was complicated at times), but there was this guy Ray Goff around and times were tough on the gridiron. I still cringe at the 6 and 5s we posted. It still doesn’t seem to be believable. Due to the fact I lived in Reed Hall for 3 years, and was a Resident Assistant in Myers my 4th year, and there was always next week or next year, and a mental blockage that wouldn’t accept how bad we were, I didn’t attend as many games as I could have. I was also heavily, heavily involved in ROTC. ROTC started working games for money, another thing to suck the fun out of a Saturday. It was a tough transition time for the University as well, student enrollment was sky rocketing, but we didn’t have computer technology rolling yet. Registration was a nightmare. Everything admin there was painful. I used to say college isn’t about classes or learning, it’s about managing your money and schedule – because there was so much of that to deal with. I paid for UGA completely out of pocket, no scholarships or grants (including ROTC). I can say, just like my grandfather before me, I lived on milk and PBJs for quite a while.
But my primary focus at UGA was on getting a pilot slot to go to Air Force pilot training after being commissioned from ROTC. This was also a time of massive DOD cutbacks. My freshman year at Georgia the cadet corps had almost 200 people. I graduated in ’95 with about 10 cadets and a corps of 40ish. Pilot slots went down from over 300 to 125 in the nation in an instant. There were more ROTC programs than pilot slots. Again, there but for the grace of God go I, testing saved my rear end. I rocked the pilot section of the Air Force Officer Qualification Test. Competition was insane; I honestly thought this other guy would get the slot if we even got one. He did very well and was definitely more favored than me politically. I was right, he did get the slot. I got one as well. The only two pilots out of UGA for our year group, and a whole lot of heartbreak for 100s and 100s of people I never met. Those first 3 years at Georgia were gut-wrenching, but getting through summer camp, getting on contract and getting that pilot slot eased a lot of stress. In my upper classman years I finally branched out more, started attending more football games if only to watch fans and smile at the moment of just being in Sanford Stadium. I started attending basketball games and getting involved more on campus as a resident assistant. Those last two years I was happy and content, enjoyed life at long last, decided on and became a political scientist. In Reed Hall, I met some people as a sophomore that told me about a group called Phi Kappa. I had no idea what it was and didn’t much care at the time. Arguing about gun control and Clinton was already enough for me. I didn’t know those folks would become my real brothers and sisters for life after I gained entrance into Phi Kappa Literary Society my senior year. Although short lived, that time and the next years of return visits are some of the best memories related to UGA I have. Phi Kappa, graduation from UGA, and becoming a 2nd Lieutenant, all the same year of 19 and 95. That’s pretty cool. Looking back, I regret not enjoying UGA more than I did while attending. Perhaps many feel that way. Being young, working towards a future career, being very, very broke, it’s pretty stressful for anyone. Yet, I still have nothing but good memories of being a free adult and enjoying life on my own terms where I could, and I always loved the food and nightlife of Athens.
I have now served in the Air Force for 15 years with combat time in the air over Iraq and on the ground with Special Ops in Iraq. I have traveled the world seeing more than most, and more than I needed too frankly. Yet Dixie always calls to me and the red and black still tingle beneath my skin. That same childhood wonderment is still rooted in my DNA today. No matter what happens, where I go, what I do, someone, somewhere says "How ‘Bout them Dawgs?!" Sometimes with a question mark, sometimes with an explanation point, always with a sweet spot in the heart of even the most hardened people. The blessing of the internet allowed me to explore my unknown desire to track and write about college football, and when my old pal, T Kyle King, started emailing out 10 years or so ago about his tv show, I started trying to follow where I could. I emailed out my takes before this blog thing took off, and then followed Kyle on his earlier and then this, blog. I can’t remember the different names I used as I bounced around the net, and I didn’t always post much. I would at times, however, just read what Kyle said and then email him where he was obviously wrong! Through deployments, a divorce, a disease, writing here has kept me grounded and kept the red and black still alive in my soul, providing an outlet of normalcy in "an otherwise crazy world." My family and even my significant other haven’t ever called me obsessed or crazed, but seem to find a little smile that I can maintain that childlike happiness when I get wrapped up in anything Georgia. I was even recently called "cute" after I managed not to break a 60" plasma during the UGA – Arkansas game this year. That’s pretty cool too.
I have shared some of my memories, but in closing I will share with you what had to be the best. In 2003 I was part of a 4 Ship T-37 flyby for the Georgia - Auburn game in Athens. We were on the field before the game hanging out on the sidelines, blasted to Ben Epps to get airborne and do our run in for the start of the game. I can still see 90,000 flashbulbs going off from the air. When we ran back in the stadium (and let me tell you, we had the best parking of all time), the place erupted. In the words of Bill Engvall, "for the first time in my life, I was cool!" My image was recorded with all things Georgia and Auburn, I got to hang with Uga VI (I met Uga V while a student doing honor guard as a cadet), and got to watch UGA beat the tar out of Auburn on a glorious Saturday night. The jets were just trainers, but I was so proud to be an American vet that day having just returned from my first deployment not too many months before hand.
For your viewing pleasure, here is the flyby:
I want to thank the entire bulldog nation for everything it has given me. God Bless you all, and GO DAWGS!