For all of my 21 years I've lived in the quiet, dusty town of Monroe, about thirty miles from Sanford Stadium. My life and my love of the Georgia Bulldogs are continuous and parallel; they are constant, from my beginning to whenever my end may be.
Amongst the fondest memories of my childhood are chilly fall days in my puffy UGA sweatshirt, pulling my miniature rocking chair squarely in front of the television as a wave of red and silver washed over a vivid green field. My mother would be at work, so it was just my grandfather and myself in the stifling heat of our country home. He, smelling of Red Man chewing tobacco and Barbasol shaving cream, would stand over the stove stirring a pot of chicken stew to go with biscuits in the oven. I would rock back and forth in my little chair, dazzled by the feats occurring in the living mural of color and pageantry before me.
Once, I was very ill and hot with fever. My sickness had come on at the tail end of the school semester and was surging on through the holidays. For almost a month, my days consisted of tossing and turning in bed, a few trips to the restroom, the consumption of easily digested foods. And then there was a day when I felt less miserable, a day when the room wasn't so hot; it was a day I could pull my rocking chair in front of the television again, if only for a few hours. On that day, the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in a classic rout. I returned to bed as soon as the final whistle blew.
A couple years passed in which my understanding of sports blossomed and the intricacies of each game were consolidated to me. In playing baseball, my taste for competition was refined and I began to understand rivalries, desperation, and the euphoria that can only accompany victory. In these intermediate years, Mark Richt took hold of the UGA football program and would guide the program to success I could now fully comprehend, and to which I was indelibly invested in.
The last time I turned off a UGA football game before the coaches shook hands was in 2001. Phillip Fulmer's Tennessee Volunteers had the game in hand; I knew we were done. There was no way this freshman quarterback was going to march us down the field and take back the game from (what was then) a perennial powerhouse team. But he did. And the next year he, accompanied by a fellow "David", took us to heights the team had never before nor has since seen during my lifetime. It was a magical time, with "sugar falling from the sky" and all of the Bulldog Nation feeling like saccharine flowed in our veins.
But, as with all peaks, there were troughs. The memories of a Damn Good Dawg, Terrence Edwards, are all superseded by The Drop in 2002. To this day, I believe we would have won that game against Florida and been on our way to a National Championship (I also wouldn't have cracked my knuckle with a frustrated punch of the wall). I remember West Virginia running up and down the field on us, and losing every damn time Auburn came to Athens and I was in attendance. Yet still, I retain clearer pictures of 70-X Takeoff, the sorrow on the faces of Volunteers as Sean Jones streaked down the sidelines in Knoxville, or that same great Dawg sneaking up to the line on special teams against Arkansas in the Dome. And who could forget #47's interception/forced fumble/sack/touchdown? 2001-2004 were great years as a Dawg fan, years that took my crystallized fandom and gilded it.
Along the way, David Greene became the most victorious college quarterback of all time, David Pollack became the most electric defender in the nation, a chain gang in the secondary made Ronnie Lott proud, and Coach Richt became the belle of the ball (the ball, in this case, being the most important conference in college football). The Williams brothers even made the old Stegosaurus rock like it hadn't in some time. Yet, we -- as I began referring to UGA athletics quite possessively -- never reached the mountaintop, king of the entire nation. It was a sundae without the cherry: exceptional, but not quite complete.
I had no qualms, however. Mr. Greene and Mr. Pollack left school, a cavalcade of exceptional athletes following in their wake. Into the spotlight stepped a patient son of Georgia who'd quietly waited his turn: DJ Shockley. He, too, found remarkable success, although his time at the helm was but one year.
This time of tremendous success was a vital companion to me, as I was going through the Great American Tumult we all know high school to be. It was a comfort to have each Saturday as shelter from the tempest that is the Walton County Public School System. Be it horribly inept teachers or a social structure akin to the Indians' caste system, high school was ghastly. Dreams, optimism, ambition all go to Monroe Area High School and die a slow death.
I made the preparations for my post-secondary education: the studying, the testing, the applications, and the praying. Meanwhile, the Bulldog Nation had its own questions about what was to come. Our hotshot freshman quarterback, stolen out of Dallas from under the noses of every great program in the country, was having an uneven season. Was he truly "the next John Elway"? Our basketball program was in shambles. The Diamond Dogs had potential with Will Startup and Gordon Beckham, but potential must blossom into something great. Should I have had a more astute eye, I would have followed our legendary gymnastics program and the tennis team that had just been given a shot of adrenaline named John Isner.
But my life in late 2006 revolved around where I was going to college and what the UGA football team was doing. It all came together as the year waned. In the bleachers of Sanford Stadium, I watched young Matthew Stafford engineer a game-winning touchdown drive against Georgia Tech. My SAT scores came in, and they were awesome. We -- myself and my football team -- were on our way.
Everything felt marvelous in 2007. High school was behind me. I was en route to Princeton University. After a shaky start, the Dawgs were to be feared by all, once more. As I've spent the past three years at college, some 800 miles from the home I'd always previously been, the most distinguishing things I've carried to New Jersey are my accent and my colors-red and black. All over my dorm room are these colors, in the form of posters, handcrafted signs, and bed sheets. Every Saturday, if CBS or ESPN doesn't put the game on our television, I watch my Dawgs online (I'm sure as hell not watching Rutgers).
Since I've gotten to this old school filled with billionaires and geniuses (neither of which I may count myself among), the ups-and-downs of the Georgia program have mirrored my own. Be it academics, money, or -- as usual -- women, I've frequently wondered what is next and not always known how to respond. The Bulldogs have failed to meet expectations, questioned dedication, fired staff members, and parted with their great orator in the past couple of years. But, just like myself, the Dawgs go forward with a fresh start and I hope we have parallels in the form of success. Though I will graduate with the orange and black colors of Nassau on my gown, there will always be red and black in my heart. I'll always stand by the teams celebrated in Butts-Mehre Hall, even though I make fun of that building's name. And for every Saturday in the fall, for every time the lights of Stegman blink to life, for every pitch thrown on Foley field, the Dawgs can count me as one of the millions of voices cheering them on.
My favorite rivalry is the Deep South's Oldest, considering that over the past decade we've been so even with Auburn and we've won every time the game bore great significance. But I must say, the LSU series has been the most exciting. I don't think it's a stretch to claim that UGA/LSU is -- more so than any other matchup in the SEC -- guaranteed fireworks, with both teams fighting until the very end of each match. I respect LSU and really wish they were considered one of our more "traditional" rivals. Also, I detest Florida, hate everything their program stands for, have cursed Tebow more than any other living person, and would punch Urban Meyer in the face if I saw him today... But, alas, they've owned us during my lifetime. As for Georgia Tech; well, they don't really matter, do they?
My favorite memory, and I can't really explain why, is JT Wall pounding the rock for a couple of touchdowns against Tech on Senior Day in 2002.
My favorite Bulldog is David Greene, because he might be the least athletic-looking great quarterback in the history of college football. En route to becoming the most victorious quarterback in history, he reminded me of my 7th grade history teacher. But, from 2001-2004 you couldn't find a greater finesse passer in the nation than the one in Athens. His play-fakes were the stuff of legend, almost unfair in their deceit.
I live in a Red-and-Black town, but I spend nine months out of the year in New Jersey and carry the insanity up there with me. People think I'm crazy about the passion I have for Georgia football, at least until they come down here to visit and see that I'm just one of many. The football fans up there are primarily NFL fans, choosing from the Eagles, Giants, or Jets. Even though I'm a huge Falcons fan, I feel sorry for the people up there because I know nothing compares to game day in the fall when your team is high in the rankings and a rival is in town. I mean, all they have is Rutgers....