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The Day Sound Failed: Remembering the Blackout, Ten Years Later

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Sometime on the morning of November 10th, 2007 they arrived.

They came in the back of a truck. They came hidden in a laundry bin covered over top with plywood and bolted shut. The truck’s tailgate broke that morning, fatefully, and so John Meshad, UGA’s "uniform guru," needed help getting them out of the back. He had planned to roll them out of the bed and onto the concrete and sneak them quietly into the locker room before anyone had the chance to ask him why the hell he was carting such a suspiciously heavy laundry bin nailed shut with plywood. But now this laundry bin, the contents of which only he and a select handful of people in the country knew anything about, had to be touched by someone else. In perhaps the surest sign of how the night to come was about to go, Auburn’s equipment manager, Jim Vanzandt, happened to be walking by. Meshad asked him for help, and he obliged.

After it was all over, Vanzandt would find Meshad in the bowels of Sanford Stadium—after the laws of tragic fate that seemed to govern Georgia Football for a millenia had, for a blissful four and a half hours on a cool November night, been violently torn asunder. As ESPN’s David Ching reported it, Vanzandt would ask him:

"Did I help you unload the dadgum black jerseys?"

Meshad could only say one thing:

"Yeah. You did."

**

What I remember most were the rumors.

When UGA announced that the seniors were calling for a "blackout," the rumors seemed to come from everywhere, and they all said the same thing: the Dawgs were going to wear black jerseys against Auburn. Some people knew it for a fact. Others thought it was complete crap. Most, however, just whispered it, as if it were something too good to say too loudly. As if the gods were waiting to stomp out any hope expressed above an inside voice.

I was a Junior at UGA at the time and lived in a house with five other guys. None of us believed the rumors. Not because alternative uniforms were entirely out of the question. Not even because we thought it was wrong to change the grand "tradition" of the uniform. Mostly, we couldn’t believe that in the age of Facebook and this new fangled thing called the Twitter, anyone could have kept such a thing a secret.

But somehow, from as early as Summer of that year, a handful of people at Nike, the UGA Athletic Department, and Seniors on the football team had all known that these things were coming. And it never leaked.

If there is anything miraculous about the night I’m about to describe it is not that Meshad’s tailgate broke and the Auburn equipment manager happened to walk by, or that Kelin Johnson picked off the first play from scrimmage by running the width of the entire field, or that Uncle Verne did the soulja boy in the booth without dying of a heart attack. The real miracle of that day was that the higher-ups in UGA Athletics, Mark Richt, John Meshad, the Senior captains, and a select few Nike employees knew what was about to happen and didn’t tell anyone.

I wonder if the sports world will ever know a good secret of that magnitude again.

The second thing that none of us believed was that the Alums would actually get up for anything other than to yell for the recently graduated kid trying to stand like they were still in the student section to sit down.

Its hard to communicate to a fan of UGA who didn’t live through the years of 2007-2008, but before that, no fan action on the scale of the Blackout had ever really happened. We had torn the goalposts down in 2000, the first and probably only time that will ever happen. We had rushed the field after winning the National Title in 1980.

[As an aside, I wasn’t alive for this, but my mother was. She is the most gentle and sweet soul I know but dang if she didn’t follow her sisters of Alpha Delta Pi out onto that SuperDome turf. In doing so, she left my extremely drunk Father who had been standing by a beer cart the entire game drinking with a priest from Notre Dame. It's a family legend.]

But nothing on the scale of the Blackout had ever happened inside Sanford Stadium. So when I tell you that my friends and I left our apartment, drove onto campus, and walked up to Myers Quad from East Campus Village and didn’t see anyone wearing red for miles, you must understand how big a deal that was. Even if UGA had come out wearing red that collective accomplishment still would’ve been a massive moment for UGA fans.

We were, and still are, a fan base stomped out by unending decades of, as Larry Munson would put it, the Clock saying "no, no, no." It was a moment in which an exhausted fan base chose to pretend they weren’t tired together. It was a beautiful reminder that sport, despite its being a venue for people to hate each other for no reason, is most fundamentally a means to love each other for no reason. That was going to mean something no matter what transpired afterwards.

But then UGA warmed up in red and ran out in black and the whole world came apart.

**

There is a story in the Bible where the prophet Elijah runs for his life.

Jezebel wants him dead so he runs, for forty days and forty nights, to Horeb or what most church-goers and watchers of the Prince of Egypt will know as Mount Sinai. And there, on top of the same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments, he finds a cave and hides.

In that cave God speaks to him, and, after asking him what the hell he’s doing there, God tells him to be ready to stand before the Lord. So Elijah waits in the cave for God to appear outside. First, there comes a mighty wind that rent stones from the mountain, but God isn’t in the wind. Then an earthquake shakes the mountain, but God isn’t in the earthquake. Then there is a fire, but God isn’t even in that. Then something else comes. Traditionally, scholars translate it as a "still small voice." Elijah hears it and goes out to meet God.

Almost a year after the Blackout I would take a course on the Old Testament that would radically alter my life. It was taught by a remarkable professor named Dr. Richard Friedman, who is still there teaching the course. I would learn Hebrew from him and go on to pursue a Ph.D. in theology. Anyway, at the time, he told us that this phrase, "still small voice," is one of those phrases for which there is very little parallel. That makes it very difficult to translate. The tradition, he thought, had gotten it wrong. It wasn’t a "still, small voice" that Elijah heard.

It was the sound of "sheer silence."

There are some sounds that are loud to the point that because you hear them you can’t hear anything else. All you really hear is that noise. A jackhammer, a car alarm, a really terrible EDM concert. These sounds silence other sounds, but they aren’t anything you remember.

What happened during the Blackout was like that, but different. When UGA ran out of that tunnel on Saturday, November the 10th, in the year of our Lord 2007 wearing black jerseys, a sound happened that was so loud it was almost as if sound failed. When Georgia came through that banner it was like hearing so intensely that you could hear the silence, not just the noise. It was like all the pain and joy and stupidity of lives young, middle-aged, and old—lives that were all linked to this team who had so remarkably and gloriously failed over and over again—were thrown into one singular sound that ripped the laws of fate apart. It was a sound so loud that sound couldn’t hold it. It was a sound that altered the trajectory of a football program. It was a sound that called into question every Georgia fan’s basic understanding of how the world worked up to that point. It was a one of those moments where you understand that despite the stupidity of this—despite the fact that you know you are losing your shit over UGA changing jersey colors against Auburn and oh my god there is so much pain in the world and you’re happy about this?—despite that, you also sense that the dumbness of that moment is what makes it most profoundly human.

The Clock always says, "no." Always. Its efficiency in this regard is truly remarkable.

We shouldn’t be surprised that it takes moments of unfettered inefficiency, meaninglessness, or absurdity to hold back its march.

The Clock always says, "no." Always.

At least, we thought so. But, then again, UGA wore black jerseys and Verne Lundquist did the soulja boy on national television.

What the hell do we know?

**

Tomorrow morning the baby monitor will wake me up and I’ll go staggering into my daughter’s room to get her out of her crib. She’s 18 months old. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She’ll be standing, resting her entire weight on the crib rail so she can suck her right thumb and use her left hand to play with her ear. I’ll lift her out of there, careful to grab her panda stuffie and her baby blanket, and change her into her Georgia gear, like we do every Saturday. I’ll say to her, "can you say ‘goooo dawgs’?" and she’ll say "juuuuuh duh." We’re getting there.

On the day of the Blackout her mother was two rows down from me, and a few seats across. We would be dating a month later. Married, four years after that. My only regret from that game was that I wasn’t standing next to her.

I was, however, standing next to my daughter's Aunt, who had followed me to UGA two years after the fact. Moreover, I was surrounded on all sides by a motley crew of my daughter's future "uncles" and "aunts." Her godparents were a few seats down. A guy I met during my first week as a Freshman bumped into me when the team ran out and I fell over into the mass of those uncles and aunts. And, again as Larry would put it, the stadium rocked and swayed, and the earth shook in the way our mothers and fathers told us it had when Lindsay Scott ran that TD in long ago.

I think often of how they arrived.

How those uncles and aunts came in cars and trucks and SUV’s with their crying parents and their dorm fridges to Russell and Brumby and Creswell. I think of how they came from places like Eastman and Macon, Valdosta and Fort Valley, Milledgeville and Waycross, Thomasville and Marietta. I think of how there was a time in which we had no idea the others existed, and then I wonder at how my life is unthinkable, unimaginable even, without all of them.

I think of the incalculable series of coincidences that led us all to Section 109 on that November day in 2007. I think of all the days that such coincidences would lead us into once the game was over, the bell was rung, and those jerseys went back into their laundry bin. I think of the children a great many of us have had since then, who will be told by their Uncles and Aunts incessantly about that day for years to come.

I think of all that, and I remember the sound that we all shared together that day. The sound that said our lives would heretofore be inextricably linked by a moment as absurd as that. It was a sound that called to mind broken steel chairs with five-inch cushions and sugar falling out of the sky and stadiums that were worse than bonkers.

It was a sound that taught a new generation of Georgia fans to believe.

It was a sound I will always remember because I shared it with my friends.

It was a sound that forced us to confront a possibility that none of us had ever allowed our hearts to entertain—that one day the Clock might say something different.

That one day the Clock might say,

"Yes."

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