I have a friend, Zack, who is a stalwart Clemson fan in much the obsessive manner with which I support the Dawgs. We have more than a few things in common beyond die-hard fanaticism and a taste for brown likker; we are both academics, currently making a living on the lowest rung of the college teaching ladder after earning our graduate degrees at our respective schools. The women in our lives are both alumna of the other school, but tolerate our obsessions with good grace. Also, being nerds, we both notice things like names. Zack, after Lonnie Outlaw committed to the Dawgs during last year’s recruiting season, noted with a certain tinge of awe that we might be simultaneously fielding a pair of receivers named Lonnie Outlaw and Rantavious Wooten. I indicated that we ought to have a couple of spots on the All-American All-Name team sewn up, and Zack agreed.
Names are potent things. The Renaissance magicians tried to conjure devils by their names. The Hebrews held that God gave everything a name when He created the world, and that its name was one and the same with its nature; when Jacob wrestled with God, He rewarded him with a new name for his perseverance.
I was born with a name that didn’t fit me. I got it from my father, who stuck around exactly long enough to pass it down, then promptly left my mother and got a place in Columbia where he finished drinking himself to death in the most expeditious manner possible. Naturally, when I got a bit older I grew curious about the man, and did some research into his family history. It turns out that the name I bore was not only his, who ended so poorly, but the family name of one of the more infamous crime families of the Midwest. They were evidently involved in a truly amazing mess of rackets involving alcohol, numbers games, and bribed politicians.
As is common with a family where a father isn’t so much in the picture, my maternal grandparents took a hand in raising me. My grandfather died when I was nine, so my memories of him are foggy, but I am fortunate in having at least one excellent video record of the man. He was a Marine pilot in World War II, flying dozens of combat missions in the Pacific when it was hotly contested by the Japanese. The video I have seen shows him, astonishingly young, grinning at the camera from the cockpit of his Corsair. Then the camera pans back to the tail of the aircraft, which has been shot to hell in a truly amazing fashion. That flight must have been a nightmare, a storm of metal and a controlled crash-landing that you are just glad to walk out of. But there Grandpa is, grinning at the camera with a smile that lets you know he doesn’t think he will ever die.
I know what he did after the war. He came home to middle Florida, founded a business, bought a beautiful patch of land by a lake, and raised his five kids to hunt, fish, and to always get each other out of trouble no matter what happened. He was famous for showing up at the Leesburg or Orlando jails in the small hours of the morning to post bail for a truck driver that had not used his paycheck wisely - that story I had from my grandmother, who must have been her own kind of saint to put up with his extended "family." He had a friend, Danny Moore, whose son Kirby played QB for the Georgia Bulldogs, and somehow through that link Grandpa became a fan as well. The trucks driven by those rural Florida roughnecks were all Macks, because a company sporting a bulldog logo would get no business down there in Gator country, but the silver bulldog hood ornament of the Mack line slid under people’s radar. Mr. Moore drew him a bulldog poster for his office wall, too, which made its way down to me.
The next part shouldn’t surprise anyone. When I turned 18, I took an ad out in the local paper as the law requires, and when the proper time had elapsed, took a bus down to the Cobb County Superior Court and took that man’s last name for my own. I had a pair of names in my family; I chose the one that represented what I wanted to be.
I don’t believe that the act of Bacarri Rambo, our starting strong safety, had quite that level of history behind it. I believe that the young man simply wasn’t a fan of the name he had inherited from a father who was no longer in the picture, and decided to change it to something more befitting the badass he intended to become. Nonetheless, I understand his motivation a little, and am of the opinion that he has the right to it.
Before the famous Auburn game, I remember an interview with Rambo. He said that he dreamed of making a game-saving play and having Sanford Stadium chant his name. He wanted to hear them. "Rambo! Rambo! Rambo!" You all know the rest of this story. Mario Fannin of Auburn was hauling in the go-ahead score from Chris Todd as the 4th quarter expired between the hedges, when Rambo flew in and violently separated him from the ball. He badly concussed himself in the process, and left the stadium on a stretcher. He could not hear the Dawg fans chanting his name. Rambo. Rambo. Rambo. The Tigers had another play left and they had been rolling us up on that drive, but that stadium believed in the stop that was to come and their belief was more powerful than the fact of Auburn’s dynamic offense. A truly appalling false start and incomplete pass later, and Rambo’s dream was complete.
After that game, he had the right to his new appellation. He rebaptized himself that night to Bulldog Nation, and that name has some power to it even if he never makes another start. Try saying it to yourself, even very quietly, and remember that game: Rambo. Rambo. Rambo. Those are chills going down your spine, aren’t they? Don’t worry about it. I know it’s not rational, but it’s right; if we were rational, we would be gymnastics fans.
Rambo didn’t get to hear his name being called that night. If he reads what the message boards have to say about him, though, he will at least hear me saying it. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s respect the man who laid himself out for glory, and call him by his right name.