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Why I Am a Georgia Fan

Not long ago, inspired by a posting at Bruins Nation, I asked the question, "How did you become a fan of your team?"  

What's not to love?

Over at Ronald Bellamy's Underachieving All-Stars, Johnny described his own early fan experiences by referring to "[t]he pass patterns I've been running since my father scripted them on his palm in the backyard years ago."  Over in the diaries here at Dawg Sports, Paragon SC stated simply that "the real reason I root for SC is my dad."  

Paragon SC went on to explain:  

Kyle had mentioned that this year he hopes [to] share the UGA football experience with his son.  I have no doubt about how much he will enjoy it!  With a new baby in our home my wife and I hope [to] share those same experiences with our daughter.  Those experiences with my dad are the building blocks of how I live my life today.

Paragon SC has hit the nail on the head . . . and he is not alone.  Surely everyone who reads Dawg Sports has also read Warren St. John's Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, but, for the benefit of the three or four of you who haven't, Warren's book is illuminating on several levels.  

Of his own personal experience as a fan, Warren writes:  

I became an Alabama fan and Bryant fan the way most people come to their teams and their heroes---because my father liked Alabama.  He went to school at Alabama---his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, occupies a monstrous antebellum knockoff just around the corner from the Bryant Museum.  

It could have easily been otherwise.  My father considered going to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to study engineering, but went to Alabama to be closer to his parents, who lived nearby and were divorcing, largely because my grandfather, a country lawyer and politician, was an alcoholic.  So it's fair to say that the ultimate reason I like Alabama is because my grandfather drank too much.  (It's not so grim---he stopped drinking and remarried my grandmother twenty-five years after their divorce, but that's another story.)  My granddad might have known that he was screwing up his marriage by drinking, but he couldn't possibly have imagined the effect it would have on his yet unborn grandson's autumn Saturdays fifty years later.  I doubt the thought would have deterred him, but I like to think it might have caused him to pause contemplatively mid-Bourbon.

In a footnote appended to the first of the foregoing paragraphs, Warren adds that "a Canadian sociologist named Barry D. McPherson found that over half of fans cited family members as the source of their team allegiance, with 35 percent attributing their team selection to their father, more than any other single source."  

It comes as no surprise, then, that I became a Bulldog fan because of my father.  

Virtually without exception, the members of the King family either are devoted 'Dawg fans or they don't follow sports.  I have a first cousin who roots for Georgia Tech, but he's a much bigger fan of major league baseball and the Atlanta Braves than he is of college athletics.  Otherwise, we're all Georgia people.  

One of the reasons that I feel so strongly that the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party should remain in Jacksonville is that the trek to the St. John's River has for many years been a major family event.  Dad and I have attended any number of Georgia-Florida games along with a variety of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as several longtime family friends.  

We don't hold our family reunions there, but we could.

For years, the tradition was steeped in ritual.  My Aunt Sammie and Uncle Donald would head down to Jacksonville in their R.V. a few days early to get a good parking spot.  Dad and I would drive down on Thursday or Friday and contact Sammie and Donald on the C.B. radio (later a cellular telephone) as we approached the Gator Bowl (later Alltel Stadium).  We would park next to their camper and stay with them for the weekend.  Sammie and Donald supplied the sleeping accommodations and a steak dinner; Dad and I supplied the tickets to the game.  It was a win-win situation, regardless of the outcome of the contest.  

Mom, Dad, and Susan were at the Clayton County courthouse on the last Thursday of October 1997 to see me sworn in as a member of the State Bar of Georgia by the chief judge of the Superior Court.  Afterwards, Dad and I left for Jacksonville to see the Bulldogs beat the Gators by a 37-17 final margin.  To this day, when I file leaves of absence with courts before which I have cases pending, I list the weekend of the Cocktail Party and explain that I "will be away from the practice of law for the purpose of watching the Georgia Bulldogs win a football game."  

As Warren illustrates throughout Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, there are many reasons why we assign such an inflated degree of importance to sporting events . . . which, after all, are nothing more than entertainment.  These explanations will be familiar to many, but they bear repeating:  

  • Sports are tied to our history as a country.  We play the national anthem at sporting events.  George Will described in Men at Work the fact that soldiers' diaries from the winter George Washington's army spent at Valley Forge describe men engaging in athletic contests while waiting for the weather to clear so they could resume fighting for American independence.  Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, N.Y., is commonly credited with creating baseball, but, although he actually had nothing to do with starting the national pastime, Doubleday had a hand in getting the War Between the States underway, as he was stationed at Fort Sumter in the spring of 1861.  Sports are interwoven with our history as a people.  
  • One layer beneath their historical significance to the United States, sports also occupy an important place in the heritage of Western civilization.  The ancient Greeks invented the Olympics because they believed it was good for the soul to witness excellence in action.  To see athletes competing at the peak of their physical abilities was ennobling for the spectators.  Those who view coaches as hypocrites when they speak of sports building character while their players misbehave badly are missing the point; the character being built by sporting events is not necessarily that of the athletes, but that of the audience.  
  • At the collegiate level, sports bind us to an important part of our personal background in a way that professional sports (with their notion of "franchise free agency," which can move your "home" team from Oakland to Los Angeles and back again, or from Washington, D.C., to Minnesota, or from Washington, D.C., to Texas, or from Montreal to Washington, D.C., or from Baltimore to Indianapolis, or from Cleveland to Baltimore, or from Boston to Milwaukee, or from Milwaukee to Atlanta, or from Minnesota to Los Angeles, or from . . .) simply cannot.  Education has a tremendous impact on what happens after graduation, so it is only right that we continue to feel a connection to the respective universities each of us attended.  The Beach Boys said it best:  "Be true to your school, just like you would to your girl."  (It's no accident that we refer to our educational institutions as feminine, using terms like alma mater.)  Support for your university's football team is among the most obvious avenues for doing so.  
Mostly, though, sports loyalties are passed down to us from our families, and particularly from our fathers.  Lewis Grizzard once wrote that, when a father takes his son to a sporting event, it forges a connection between them that cannot easily be severed by later events.  At the end of the day, that's the point being made by the movie "Field of Dreams."  

Lewis understood.

First and foremost, I think of the University of Georgia as an academic institution, not an athletic one.  The first time I was in Sanford Stadium, I was there for a graduation, not a game.  I am a graduate of two of the 15 schools and colleges of the University of Georgia, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Joseph Henry Lumpkin School of Law.  My wife also has two degrees from that institution.  In fact, Susan and I met on the campus in Athens, in Phi Kappa Hall, and we were married on the campus, in the Chapel.  

Nevertheless, it is impossible to segregate my later decision to attend the University of Georgia from my much earlier (and considerably less conscious) decision to root for the Red and Black.  I'm probably the only guy in the stadium under 50 who can sing the lyrics to the alma mater before kickoff without having to look at the scoreboard to follow along, but my imprinting as a fan preceded, and influenced, my matriculation as a student.  

Because Dad took me to football games when I was younger, I became a Bulldog fan.  Because I became a Bulldog fan, I attended the University of Georgia.  Every good thing to have happened in my life since I was 19 years old has, directly or indirectly, resulted from my decision to attend the University of Georgia.  

Dad took me to football games in Sanford Stadium and I grew up to be me.  Ted Kaczinski's father never took him to a football game in Sanford Stadium and he grew up to be the Unabomber.  Coincidence?  I think not.

It isn't too much of a stretch, therefore, for me to claim that the privilege of growing up a Georgia fan ultimately gave me the family I have, the profession I practice, and the life I lead.  I literally cannot conceive of myself in a world in which the General Assembly had not decided on January 27, 1785, to charter what was to become the University of Georgia.  

So, yes, they are just football games, but they are more than just football games.  Dad and I go to the stadium together and cheer for the same team, but there's more to it than that, which is why I am so determined to take Thomas to his first actual college football game next fall . . . and why, when I read that Georgia would be playing at Clemson at 2013, my first thought was that Thomas would be old enough then for the two of us to make the trip together.  

Athletic contests and team allegiances can be about the pettiness of treating opposing fans boorishly or about the nobility of a hard-fought contest between evenly matched and mutually respectful combatants; they can be about the exhilaration of watching the team that owns your loyalty defeat a despised rival or about the nostalgia of bygone days.  

Mostly, though, they're about family.  They're about meeting up with your three closest college buddies to get barbecue before the homecoming game.  They're about having your uncle grill you a steak on a Friday night in Jacksonville with the stadium lights visible on the horizon.  They're about taking your girlfriend and future wife to her first college football game and having to explain to her that, just because Phillip Daniels intercepted Cory Ledbetter's first pass and returned it for a touchdown with 14 minutes and 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter, she shouldn't expect every game to start out that well.  They're about meeting Doug Gillett by the Arch in the rain and tailgating in the North Campus Parking Deck.  

They're about being a father and being a son.  

That, ultimately, is why I am a Georgia fan.  

Go 'Dawgs.