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A Letter of Apology to my Neighbor for Saturday Night’s Noise

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Notre Dame v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Miss Martha-

I’m writing to explain, and apologize for, all of the noise that was coming from our house this past Saturday evening.

Before I get to that, I first want to say thank you for the fresh kale you gave us out of your garden. When you gave it to me you seemed really excited about it, as well as how you grew it without pesticides, but I was a bit confused. I don’t know a ton about kale. I’m more familiar with collards and mustard greens, they’re menu staples where I grew up. However, my girlfriend did some googling and figured out your kale would be good in a stew. I’m happy to report back that it was.

Now about Saturday night... You see, the Georgia Bulldogs were playing the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Like everyone in my family, I love the Georgia Bulldogs. In some parts of the country, the fact a big time College Football game was happening would explain away any loud noises on an autumn evening. This being Durango, Colorado, I understand that you probably don’t understand why a game of football could compel a person to create such a ruckus. Actually, since you’re a vegan, you would probably be repulsed by the thought of even touching a football. A century ago they were made from inflated pig bladders, but today cowhide leather is stretched around the outside. So yeah, the ball being far from vegan friendly, you’re probably repulsed by the sport. Let’s agree to disagree on that one.

You might have noticed me pacing around the backyard, throwing tennis balls for our dog Luna around five o’clock. If the sound of the balls pounding off of the wooden fence in the back annoyed you, I apologize. The game my Bulldogs were about to play was bigger than anything happening in sports that day, and throwing the balls around helped me release some of my anxiety. A few minutes before it started, I took aim at a two inch wide yard light that the last owners had left sticking out of the ground. I told myself if I hit the thing with one of five throws it would mean good luck was in store for the Georgia team. I know that sounds like a childish thing for a man of thirty to do, but the beautiful thing about this game is it can make even the most time wearied individuals feel like children. On the fourth pitch I nailed the light, and a loud clang echoed around the block.

At six o’clock the broadcast promptly began. Sanford Stadium, the beautiful venue where our football team plays, came on the screen basked in the light of a fading sunset. Just like our beautiful San Juan mountains, Sanford Stadium is a cathedral of sorts. On this night, it inspired feelings of awe and pride within me and I let out a loud “LET’S GO” as our new red lights flashed on, bathing nearly 93,000 of my brethren in a magical glow. I was sure our boys, inspired by the atmosphere, would come out charged up and take it to Notre Dame.

I know I mentioned it earlier, but you must understand that this game was quite a big deal. Both teams came in ranked in the top ten of the polls, and with eyes on a berth in the national title in January. I’m trying to figure out how to explain how big a deal playing Notre Dame is to you. Perhaps it will make sense if I tell you that they are to college football what the Grateful Dead is to improvisational rock music. They were the original powerhouse, and even if their current iteration with John Mayer isn’t as good as the version from fifty years ago, they are still synonymous with the cultural subgroup they occupy. The Irish are the same, and their past greatness is best illustrated by telling you that Georgia had an opportunity to go 3-0 all-time against Notre Dame on Saturday. That would give the Bulldogs more wins over Notre Dame without a loss than any other team currently playing collegiate football.

All the nervousness before kickoff had me feeling a bit warm, and I opened our window to let the cool fall evening in. The game started, and my Bulldogs looked confused and unready for their moment on the big stage. On offense they could barely find space, and on defense they left Notre Dame’s men streaking wide open on many pass plays. It felt like an avalanche of bad events could start cascading down on the Bulldogs at any moment. When they fumbled a punt mere yards away from their own goal-line I smacked my hands together, and you may have heard me let out an expletive. A couple minutes later Notre Dame scored on a flukey busted play when they easily couldn’t have, and you might have seen me doing a few laps around the perimeter of our yard.

Martha it’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it, but Georgia Football has a long history of failing horribly on big stages. The 2019 team is maybe the most talented one ever assembled in Athens, but before Saturday our team hadn’t been in a situation like this. In years past they often folded when games started like this. Those losses sometimes lead to renewed vigor, but they also cost the team opportunities for greater prizes when the end of the year came. When things have started wrong, like last year in Baton Rouge, or two years ago in Auburn, or 2015 in Florida and 2012 in Columbia, our boys didn’t find their footing quickly enough to turn the tide of the contest back in their favor. With those past disappointments in mind I walked back inside. Our home crowd wouldn’t let the good guys quit, and their cheers grew increasingly louder before finally erupting when our thoroughbred of a running back found the end zone shortly before the end of the first half. It probably sounded like an eruption to you too as I jumped up and down, hooting and hollering, but my joy was short lived. Notre Dame flew back down the field, being stopped only by the clock, while I’m sure you heard me yelling that we must cover the tight ends.

Entering halftime we were down three points, but it felt like the game would soon slip away if adjustments weren’t made. On top of that, the loss of our top two defensive backs and our prize offensive guard seemed like they might be too much to overcome. While I was wondering if our coaches and players would be up to the task, you may have seen me walk out the front door. You may have also heard me slap my hands against the door frame in exasperation as I walked through it. You might have seen me sitting on the front porch, tapping my foot nervously and looking to the sky in angst, as if some sort of answer resided in the beauty of the many stars we can see at night in our small town. I love the stars. Despite all our differences, I bet you do too. Maybe I was trying to convince myself that our universe is too big for a football game to be of any real consequence, but if I was I didn’t succeed in the short period between halves.

The third quarter began, and our defense came up with an interception. The ball was bobbled and juggled and dropped what felt like thirty times before it tumbled safely over the chalk of the sidelines, assuring our possession. This was the point where my girlfriend Brooke’s emotions became invested in the proceedings, and the sounds we made may have made you think a very short rollercoaster had been installed in our living room. Stupid penalties, mental mistakes and the incompetence of the referees kept us to only three points. I exhaled in both relief and frustration, and you might have heard my hands clapping together.

As the quarter continued, our defense showed that the proper adjustments had been made, and Notre Dame barely moved the ball. Our offense moved the ball well, but Notre Dame’s player faked an injury when he was literally pulled to the turf by his own teammate to try and slow our rhythm. I know you don’t know anything about football, but you don’t seem like the type of person who would endorse cheating. You can understand then why I yelled in disgust and made disparaging remarks about a man named Brian Kelly. Despite the cheating, we finally gained a 13-10 lead with another field-goal, but the margin was too thin for comfort. You probably heard me scream in a moment of temporary joy before realizing we had dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone on a miraculous running pass by our star quarterback. His effort was worthy of six points, but football can be a cruel game.

Fortunately, our defense stiffened again, helped as it had been all night by the 93,000 Bulldogs amassed in the stadium that seemed like they were screaming for all of us who couldn’t be there ourselves. The crowd forced penalty after penalty on Notre Dame, at least six in total, and I beamed with pride for both the fans there that I don’t know, and the many friends and family members in attendance that I do- making every sound they humanly could. I know it’s hard to make sense of Martha, but when the Georgia Bulldogs play football I feel my family. Saturday was the same, even if they were 1,700 miles away in Sanford Stadium. It’s not that often in life that so many people one loves are putting their energy and efforts into the same exact thing you are at the same exact moment.

The last period began, and we flew down the field on the arm of Jake Fromm, our heady and steady signal caller. He was supposed to be the backup man twice now, but he loves Georgia, and plays with a calm maturity far beyond his years. All these intangibles more than made up for any deficiencies in speed or talent he might have had in comparison to those who have tried to take his job, but I digress. It was third down again, and that meant we were one more play from three more points and another missed opportunity in a game with few of them. But Jake stood tall and confident, and put a throw where only his man could get it. A touchdown and a 20-10 lead! Pandemonium ensued in my living room, and at this point you were probably really annoyed because sleeping hours were upon us. I’m sorry if I kept you awake, but I’ve never been further from sleep than I was in that moment. The pounding of my feet on the floor, my screams of joy, the yelling of Brooke and the howling of Luna echoed around W 19th Street in Durango, Colorado and likely far beyond. Forgive Luna, she is a fine hound, and knows not what she does. She loves her parents so much that watching me endure the anxious moments of a football game can be tough for her to bear.

We intercepted a pass a few minutes later, and the hollering began again, as we felt the game might be in the bag. Unfortunately for my anxiety and your prospects of sleep, the ensuing possession resulted in three points instead of seven, keeping the result in doubt. Then Notre Dame flew down the field for a touchdown, and silenced us. When they didn’t line up for an onside kick to get the ball back I felt a wave of relief, and thought they might have just delayed our celebration. When we ran a silly east-west play on an end-around for a big loss you probably heard me scream out “HOW STUPID CAN YOU GET?!” Our prized offensive line had imposed its will for over a quarter now. Why we didn’t line up behind them and let them try to push us to victory I’ll never know. I’m sure you heard the shrieks of horror and cries to the Lord when Jake Fromm fumbled the snap for a moment before somehow gathering the ball up quickly enough to throw a beautiful pass down the sideline. There our receiver was mugged by a defender in a gold helmet. It should have resulted in a fifteen yard penalty and the end of the game, but refs from the Atlantic Coast Conference are trash. You probably heard me yell that too, and I’m sure you wondered what an Atlantic Coast Conference is.

A shanked punt followed, and my screams of “OH GOD NO” likely made you wonder if a murder was taking place across the street. Actually, Notre Dame was getting the ball back on the forty-eight yard line down six points. That meant an impending death of a different kind could be coming for us. I won’t recount all the horrible endings, but usually when Georgia loses a big game they do it in the most painful way possible. The way this scenario was unfolding was in line with that, and I wondered if our hearts would be broken again. On the other hand, in recent seasons where Georgia has prevailed in moments of doubt, they have gone onto great things. Spurned by newfound belief and the knowledge that they can come through in the clutch, they dispatch their next opponents with incredible efficiency. I nervously wondered what story would be written for the 2019 season.

Notre Dame quickly gained a first down inside our territory, and it felt like the dam holding all of our dreams for 2019 in a fragile emotional reservoir would soon break. I got down on all fours and slapped the floor. Somewhere in heaven a man named Larry was telling, no begging, our Dawgs to hunker it down one more time. I was too. And Martha, hunker down they did. The secondary stiffened and got tight on their men and our line found its first consistent pass rush of the night. Still, there was one play left and it was fourth and nine. Now I was on my feet, pacing in front of the couch with my hands in my hair. See we’ve lost games on fourth down at the end before, and try as I may, I couldn’t be confident the win was ours yet. The ball was snapped and our rushers came free off of the right side, sending their men backwards. Somehow their quarterback managed to find enough room to lob a desperate pass high into the air. They call it a ‘Hail Mary,’ and we were having to defend one against a school that collectively says the prayer it’s named after countless times a day. His pass went so high the ball left the picture, but when it re-entered there was a big man in white waiting for it who we had struggled to stop all game. He was forcing himself backwards and our boys looked like they simply weren’t big enough to get between him and the ball. My mind flashed back to the horrors of the Tennessee game in 2016 and our contest agains Auburn in 2013, and I thought for a moment my heart might leap through my chest. Fortunately there were two of them there, and they swung around him at the last second and batted it down.

That was the first thing I yelled. “HE BATTED IT DOWN!!!” See Martha, we had forgotten to do that at times in the past. I screamed in victory as did Brooke at my side. Fueled by adrenaline, I picked all 110 pounds of Luna off the ground and she wagged her tail in joy and confusion. Far away in Georgia a long lost cousin of hers named Queue was barking so she let out a victory howl too. Dogs have a sixth sense about these things, you know. I don’t know what you could’ve been thinking at that moment. Perhaps the sounds coming form our living room made you imagine we were two people who had just escaped great peril, as if we had been rescued after being lost in the wilderness for days on end without food or water. You wouldn’t have been wrong. We, and our Bulldogs, had escaped a moment of formidable danger.

So again, I’m sorry for the noise. I don’t know what the rest of 2019 holds, and how many night games lie ahead, so I won’t make any false promise that this type of thing won’t happen again. Remember how I told you that the team often plays well the rest of the season after wining big games like this? I bring it up because we might be at the start of a special ride. If we are, it’s probably going to be pretty noisy over here on Saturday’s this fall. At the very least, soon it will be cold enough to build fires, and our windows will be closed. That should help with the noise.

Where I’m from we usually bring our neighbors some food as a gesture of apology after something like this. Unfortunately, everything we cook without meat has a good bit of butter, and Brooke informs me that’s off-limits for vegans too. That being said, if there’s ever anything we can do to be helpful, please just ask. Lastly, thanks for not calling the police.

Your grateful neighbor,

Graham Coffey