I wish I could say I was raised a Dawg like so many others, but my journey to Dawghood took many turns along the way. One of my earliest memories about the Georgia Bulldogs is also one of my earliest memories period. When I was five years old, I remember a whole bunch of people coming over to my house to drink beer, eat hot dogs, and watch the Georgia Bulldogs play Notre Dame in the 1980 Sugar Bowl. I was completely unfamiliar with football at that young age. Back then, you couldn’t even play pee wee football in Columbus until age 7, so football was not on my radar yet.
I remember three things about that day. I remember the name Herschel Walker. I remember everyone going crazy when Georgia won. And I remember getting a steno notebook, going out into our driveway, climbing onto the hood of my dad’s red 1975 Corvette, and pretending to write a newspaper article about the great Georgia Bulldogs.
Both my mom and dad are sports homers, though they were not fans of college football particularly. So I spent a lot of time suffering through the Braves and Falcons of the 80s (though Steve Bartkowski was pretty cool when I was a kid). My dad played semi-pro basketball, so of course we watched the Hawks too. I began my football career in the 7th grade in 1988. That year, I began to watch as much football as I could trying learn about the game. However, this was the beginning of a battle for my very soul.
Since my parents were not particularly avid college sports fans, I did not pull for any particular team. But I was looking. By the 8th grade, I had earned the nickname “Manwich” on the football team, an homage to Oklahoma lineman & future NFL draft bust Tony Mandarich. So, I flirted with becoming an Oklahoma fan. However, my homer upbringing prevented me from pulling for a team that was 900 miles away. That also eliminated FSU, Miami, and Nebraska who were on top then.
What about Auburn? Auburn is only 30 minutes from Columbus. My best friend’s dad is a big Auburn booster. As such, the first 12 or so college football games I went to were at Jordan-Hare Stadium. I even wore Auburn t-shirts for awhile. But something was missing. Why was I pulling for a team in Alabama when don’t live in the state of Alabama? It just didn’t seem right. I should have known something was up when I went to get a picture taken with that stupid eagle and it bit me. Serves me right. I had been living in sin for far too long.
Then my uncle stepped in. He was a Tech grad. It was 1990 now, and the nerds were riding high. He tried so hard to convert me, but by then my focus had changed. I had quit football to focus on baseball (looking back now, I wish my coaches had steered me toward football, but whacha gonna do?). As it turns out, UGA won the national title in baseball that same year. So that got my attention.
In 1992, I was a junior in high school, and it was an up and down year. My parents got divorced after 22 years of marriage. They missed my game-winning RBI in the deciding game of the state baseball finals because they didn’t want to run into each other at the game and have that “awkward” moment. Such is life. But one good thing came out of it. My mom started dating a guy named Tom who was a UGA grad. In an effort to bond with me and my younger brother, he took us to the UGA vs. Ole Miss game at Sanford Stadium. Though I had been to several Auburn and Georgia Tech games, walking into Sanford Stadium for the first time just felt different. It felt right. I fell in love.
After I graduated, I decided to go to a Christian college for a year, but it didn’t work out financially. As it turned out, I qualified for the new HOPE scholarship, so I shot for the stars and applied to UGA. I was placed on a waiting list and had to attend Columbus State University for a year. Then it finally happened. I got accepted to UGA.
I loved my time in Athens, as most do. I liked it so much, I decided to squeeze 4 years of college into 5. Hey, $2 student football tickets is reason enough to drop a couple of classes to stick around awhile longer. We beat Florida my senior year. We won bowl games every year. I sat through Noah’s flood to make sure we beat Texas Tech. I nearly froze to death tailgating for the Auburn game. I learned that “Rocky Top” is the only song the Tennessee band knows. Tubby Smith got us to the Sweet 16. We had our first “Midnight Madness.” We stormed the floor after upsetting South Carolina. I got to pet UGA V during a gymnastics meet. I got to tutor a couple of football players in English 102. I got to read a brash but brilliant young columnist in the Red & Black newspaper named T. Kyle King. I got to coach baseball at Cedar Shoals High, prompting me to change my career path from law school to education.
After graduation in 1998, I bought season football tickets for a few years. Then marriage, kids, and career got in the way. I finally got to take my 7 year old son to his first UGA game last year (too bad it was the Kentucky loss). He did get to see a win and ring the bell after this year’s La-La game. I long for the day when I can once again come back home to Athens 6 (or 7 if McGarity gets his way) times per year to cheer on the Dawgs. But no matter what life brings (including extended losing streaks or years in “decline”), I will always cheer on the Dawgs. Once a Dawg, always a Dawg. How sweet it is!