When the call went out before the season for fan stories, I started writing this, but it just didn’t feel right. Then I was going to post this during GT Hate week, but it has been oddly difficult to write. So now, I share this, on the eve of Georgia’s first title appearance since the inception of the BCS era.
Fandom is a funny thing. We invest time, energy, and money into the sports teams we follow. Teams that we often follow for very arbitrary reasons. For instance, I have a friend who is a Georgia Southern fan, formerly a Georgia fan, now an Alabama fan (this just at the collegiate level). He has no connections with Alabama, other than that he likes the way Nick Saban Coaches and he apparently finds Georgia fans obnoxious (particularly the ones who attended Southern but continued to root for the State’s flagship Canines).
Get the picture.
It’s Sanford Stadium on a bright fall Saturday. I don’t recall the year, the opponent, or the final score. I was only 8 or 9 . It is memorable more in relation to Father’s Day than it is to Georgia football if I’m honest, but this is my earliest Bulldogs memory, so we’ll start the trip here. The minister of music at our local church, his son, and another father son team were going to the game and they invited my father.
He took me. Unfortunately, Dad could not get tickets with the other four. He got tickets up in the cheap seats. What’s memorable about this is that the Mr. Don spent the first half sitting with my dad, up in the cheap seats, so I could sit with my friends. At half time I went up and sat with Dad. He had binoculars and we took turns passing them back and forth so we could better see the action, I’ll never understand how people watch live events through binos; I could never master the art of tracking the ball with them. It really was a perfect day, and one of the most crystalline perfect memories I have of time spent with my father, and of course, it was at Sanford Stadium.
They come to the line.
Fast forward. It’s the saturday after thanksgiving, somewhere in the Mid ‘90s. I don’t remember the exact year. What I do remember is that I was living in Lincoln County, working my first part time job as a vet’s assistant/janitor, pet holder. There I was, living in a single A bastion of Georgia high school football, and I didn’t care much for the game. I personally wasn’t very good at it, having devoted myself to baseball since I was old enough to walk. But that Thanksgiving Saturday, my employer, we’ll call him Ed, had invited myself and my dad over to watch the Georgia game.
While not a big football fan perse, I was already a professed Georgia fan, because as many of you know, having a college team is something one does in the south. I had played peewee and middle school football, despite not loving the game. So I knew enough of the basics to enjoy watching it, and Ed had a big screen tv. Dad and I were sold on the invite.
Power I formation...
I remember a few things about this game: Ed gesticulating wildly at his TV over a "uniform infraction." He was very excited because a Tech player was going to get a personal foul for having one sock at his ankles and one sock pulled all the way up to his knee. I remember my dad and Ed talking. And I remember, the end of the game, Dad having written it off and saying as much, and me pointing out that there was still time on the clock. with just a kick off to go and Georgia trailing. Then Georgia returned the kick extremely well. It may have been into field goal range, but my mind tells me it was a touchdown.* I do remember that Georgia won, and my faith was vindicated.
Ed, as a graduate of the University, was ecstatic. I really had a hard time understanding how a grown man was reacting to this, but his excitement was infectious. Two things really came out of my employment with Ed: a firm knowledged that I kept through the worst of my teenage years, that I was not nearly as smart as I thought I was, and a desire to be a vet and attend UGa.
Faster forward a few more years to sometime in 2002. We’ve moved, back to my hometown and I am beginning my college application process. I’m planning to apply to two schools: Georgia, and Georgia Southern, where people from my hometown go if Athens isn’t welcoming. The plan remains Go to Athens, become a vet. I come home from school to an odd scene. My father is sitting quietly at the table waiting on me. I sit down, and, well, here’s the recollection from my mind:
Father: Son, where are you planning to go to college?
Me: I want to go to UGa, I want to be a vet.**
Father: Well, We can’t afford to send you to Athens for four years. So if that is your plan, you’ll have to go to East Georgia for two years, stay at home, and then transfer. On the other hand…
(I felt vaguely like I was in a mafia movie receiving an offer I could not refuse as my father slid a college packet across the table under one finger, just the one) You could apply West Point and be get out of the house at the end of the year.
Me: Well that’s a no brainer. I’ve got to get out of Dodge.***
Play Clock is winding down…
So, UGa was suddenly off the table (for the moment) but my tenure as a fan of the Bulldogs was in no danger. I cheered raucously in 2002 has Georgia won the SEC, much to the annoyance of my date for the Senior formal, where it was projected onto a large screen while the dancing was going on.
I applied to both the Air Force Academy and West Point, received a congressional nomination to each, and chose to attend the best, West point.****
I apologize for this next little bit. It tends to be light on Georgia, but it’s all part of my experience and the Georgia related moments are the highlights. My four years at West Point are some of the best and worst of my life. The United States Military Academy at West Point is a great place to be from. It is not a particularly great place to be if you’re a cadet.
The worst of it for me, was the mandatory attendance at all home football games. I have since grown to appreciate that requirement, but as a cadet, where time was the single most precious commodity I had, and with a fairly nearsighted and 18 year old view of the world, I hated it. Not least because Army football games took four to five hours to complete. That may be hard to believe if you watched the Armed Forces Bowl this past year, but in 2003, Army had just signed a contract to have all their games televised on ESPN, and Todd Berry was the head coach. I missed nearly all of Georgia’s games in 03. Army went 0-13 and my love hate relationship with Army football was born.
Life after Plebe year in 03 improved. I attended both of the home iterations of Clean Old Fashioned Hate during Thanksgiving holidays. I was there for Reggie not being able to count past three in ‘04 . In ‘06 I drove home from New York the wednesday before thanksgiving. I got home at 6 in the morning on thanksgiving and took a nap. It was a great day with family. I played a quick game of golf with a friend early on Friday, then hit the road to Athens. Between noon on Friday and Sunday evening I spent a grand total of four hours sleeping and about 20 hours driving. We partied Friday night, tailgated Saturday, and attended the game. Then I grabbed a couple of hours shuteye and headed back to New York, elated.
While at the Academy I spent at least one weekend of each spring break in Athens with friends fortunate enough to attend UGa. I argued constantly with my band member roommate (who is also from Maine and thus did not fully understand my position) concerning my disinterest to dislike for all things Army Football or my anger at repeatedly missing Georgia games. Sometimes I think he was right and I should have been more in the moment.
I watched the Sugar bowl following the ‘05 season with a WVU student a buddy at school introduced me too. She gloated, I tried not to be too embarassed. It was awful. But she was and is still a good friend. I’ll never understand Morgantown, but it can be a lot of fun.
Here’s the snap...
I graduated with my commission in 2007 and finally could watch Georgia games in peace again. At least as much as someone in the Service can. I missed games in ‘07 because of training, but I got to watch the WLOCP. Man that was fun. The same in ‘08, when I couldn’t attend the Arizona State game despite being in West Texas, but organized a watch party for the Florida game, only see Urban’s revenge, and the time out.
In ‘09 I followed Georgia from Iraq. I stayed up until 2-3 in the a.m. watching streamed games, or the AFN games when I could. I was in a unit with a cousin of AJ Green. It was kinda odd. And we all remember how that season ended. And 2010. And 2011. I won’t go into that, but there were highs and lows throughout that period.
Then 2012 happened and well...It was pretty awesome. And heart breaking. I Discovered DS sometime around then, or a little before. I don’t remember exactly. Georgia came within five yards of pay dirt and a chance to do bad things to Notre Dame en route to winning the national title. It was deeply disappointing. I was in California at the time. That place turned me into a borderline alcoholic. But as always, in the fall, for a few hours on a Saturday (when I wasn’t training in the desert) I could escape the world for a bit and just be a Georgia fan.
We make plans, and life changes them. I left California in 2015 expecting to spend two years in IL and then move on to better things. Then the 2015 season happened. I was heartbroken and furious when Mark Richt was fired. I was pleased with the Kirby Smart hire, though cautious. 2016 was a fun year, if a bit disappointing in some ways.
I didn't expect much out of 2017. The year itself got off to a rotten start, and didn’t get much better with bad news career wise, and being extended a year in a place I have zero desire to be. There was family drama I won’t go into. The hits just kept coming. There were good times too (got engaged in July!), but the lows just dragged me down; being in limbo does that to you. I couldn’t wait for the football season and a chance to spend 3-4 hours on Saturdays forgetting the problems I deal with on a day to day basis.
Then Eason went down in the season opener, and I groaned. It was going to be another long year and and what should have been a 9 win season with a good new year's’ eve bowl just went to 7-5. But that didn’t happen. Georgia’s true freshman quarterback stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. He surprised me with his poise at Notre Dame. I didn’t get all aboard the Khakis train for a while, believing that Georgia would need Eason’s passing ability at some point. But somewhere along the line, Fromm grew up.
And Georgia kept winning. The games the Dawgs were supposed to win, they won handily. Georgia rolled. I began to really think this team might be something special. They beat MSU handily. Then beat the orange off Tennessee and the Blue off Florida. It was fun. Winning always is but this team was fun to watch. The OLine that was such a worry in 2016 turned into a strength.
Then Auburn 1 happened. The OLine folded, the defense pressed too hard, and shades of every other year I’ve watched Georgia football crept into my mind. I watched and disintegrated into the anger I’ve felt most of the year. I’m not happy with myself about that night, but ultimately it was a good thing for me. A lot of that venting was an outward expression of inward frustration with life, applied to an awful Georgia game.
I recovered. So did the team. They finished the season 11-1. I fretted all week leading up to the SECCG. Then Georgia went into Atlanta and took revenge in the SECCG, relegating Auburn back to a footnotes reference in 2017. Let’s face it, that’s kinda where Auburn should be most years. Within a day, life struck again. I was online Sunday morning december, pricing trips to Pasadena and Rose Bowl tickets when the phone rang: My grandfather had passed away from a blood clot. Thanks for nothing 2017, that was a great parting shot. Of course, I changed my plans. The money earmarked to get me out to Cali and into the game went to a short notice flight home to be with my dad and the family.
Now here we are. A week removed from one of the most epic college football games out there, possibly the most epic Rose Bowl game ever played. A game Georgia won in dramatic fashion. A game that put me through an emotional ringer. Just read my comments in the live thread. It was in some ways the fulfillment of the promise of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the other Seniors who decided to stick around for one more go at the collegiate level. It was magic.
One of the reasons college football is so special, besides the raw ties to small communities where we spent our formative years, is that these young athletes haven’t yet become the mercenaries they will be at the Professional level. We get them for four years, watching them be part of an organisation that most of us grow up watching. That many of us spent formative moments as a part of. That statement shouldn’t be taken as being against athletes getting paid and getting the most for their services, they absolutely should and there’s a conversation to be had (not here) about needed changes to the NCAA model.
The short term duration of college sports (career wise) makes things that much more special in some ways. They give us a piece of themselves through being "one of us" in ways that players at the professional level just can’t. They give us magic moments that are just so very special.
So here we are. On the eve of Georgia’s first national title appearance since the BCS, and in my lifetime. I’m excited, and a little nervous. I can’t wait for kick off, even though I know that the game will be over far too soon, and then, win or lose, it will be a long 8 months until Georgia tees it up once again.
Win or lose though, I will forever be grateful to the university of Georgia (even though I didn’t attend it) both for the memories I have visiting friends there, and the amazing young men who compose this football team. I’m grateful that I found this community of Georgia fans when I did, and grateful that the awesome folks here accepted me, and still put up with me even when I’m not behaving as well as I could. We have an awesome community here, I know that I can’t afford to take it for granted.
I was asked for a score prediction today by my father. I said "21-17 and I have no idea who wins." That’s exactly how I feel. I have my quiet anxiety that goes along with all Georgia games, and hope. Hope for a win. Hope that Coach Kirby can unseat Coach Nick. Hope that Chubb, Michel, and all the seniors who came back can complete the magic. Hope that Georgia will hoist the trophy. I sometimes reference my Georgia Red glasses that i don at the beginning of each season. Most years I take them off somewhere around October/November and realize that, once again, it just isn’t Georgia’s year. This year, I haven’t had to do that yet. Here’s hoping I don’t have to.
* I cannot find a record of a game that matches my memory, nor a Georgia kick return that matches my memory in the right year span, but I remember it clear as day.
** Point of reference: My father was desperate for one of his four children to attend one of the academies. I was his last, best hope.
***It was 3 years later that I realized how deftly my father had manipulated me here.
****If you’re gonna do it, do it with the best. This is opinion and of course, ymmv.