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My first memory of University of Georgia athletics is incredibly clear, if the details surrounding it are a bit fuzzy. I distinctly remember my father jumping up and down in front of the old RCA television at my grandparents’ house screaming "Go Herschel! Go Herschel! GOOOOO!" And woofing. Lots of woofing.
I was three years old when Herschel Walker played his last game for the University of Georgia. I am certain that my father did not have such a visceral reaction to an old highlight, that his shouts were in response to live action. It is therefore likely that I was exposed to University of Georgia athletics before I could write my own name, before I knew what a “university” was, and before being exposed to any other thing about which I have become or remained passionate in the ensuing three decades of existence.
I have no idea who the University of Georgia was playing that afternoon. I have no idea what was at stake. But I think I have a good idea where Herschel was headed.
One of my next vivid memories was of my first college football game. I grew up attending high school football games. I had older cousins and uncles who played and led cheers, and I’m reasonably certain that one reason for my lifelong habit of staying up late on fall nights watching football is that I started doing it before I started kindergarten.
But in October 1987 my father struck upon an idea. My grandfather, who had attended the University and worked in UGA Extension for many years, was to be among a group of distinguished alumni and friends honored at halftime of the Georgia/LSU game. And dad decided that on this auspicious occasion it was time for the kid to get the call up to the big show.
We rode to Athens from South Georgia that Friday afternoon rolling through the peculiar dappled sunlight that one finds on fall afternoons in the South. There were no bypasses. We drove through Dublin and Milledgeville, Eatonton, and Madison. The recently released R.E.M. single “The One I Love” played on the radio at least 5 times that I remember during the four hour trip. At the time I didn’t know that the people playing the song would influence me for the rest of my life and become quite possibly my greatest musical and literary influence. I liked the guitar solo. I still do.
We stayed the night in the apartment my aunt shared with two of her Tri Delta sisters then set out the next morning for Sanford Stadium. I remember the crowd. I had never seen so many people moving in so many different directions all at the same time.
I remember only a few things about the game. Mainly, I remember that the Bulldog fans around me were having a great time until right there at the end (Georgia lost 26-23 and it wasn’t the last time I’d see the ‘Dawgs lose in the closing moments to the Bayou Bengals in the Classic City). I remember eating a hot dog with relish and having the biggest cup of Coca Cola I’d ever seen.
I also remember the noise. All the noise. There were more people in that stadium than in my home town by a factor of twenty. Every one of them screaming in either English or Cajun. It was somehow disconcerting and exhilarating at the same time.
And the cheers. How did everyone know all the cheers?
That game actually plays near the beginning of the movie “Cocktail” on a screen at Pat’s bar. So I got a very tiny movie cameo. And a love for college football.
I’ve always enjoyed the stories of people who became fans of their chosen college athletic program through a studied affinity, or at the end of a winding journey of exploration. That’s not my story.
I have been a University of Georgia football fan for about as long as I have been any other thing. I really never had a choice. In a way I envy those of you who came to this by volition. Not me. Being a Bulldog is in a very real sense the only thing I’ve ever known. I don’t anticipate that ever changing. Even though the crowning moment of Georgia football history occurred right around the time of my first birthday. It’s sort of been downhill from there.
I’ve survived the waning Dooley years. I’ve endured Ray Goff. I’ve suffered Jim Donnan, suffered with Mark Richt, and watched Kirby Smart play in Sanford Stadium, then coach both for and then against the Red and Black, then return and coach his alma mater.
I’m in this thing to the bitter end now. For all the last minute field goals by Tech kickers. The inexplicable celebration penalties. The fumbles that weren’t because dammit Jasper was down you sonsofbitches. I was in it when we just needed five more yards. And for more debacles in Jacksonville than I can count. I’ll be in red and black for the rest of my life. I don’t know any other way. Go ‘Dawgs!
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