An article about how I hate Clemson is supposed to appear here today, but I don’t have it in me. If bloodlust is what you’re looking for, then go read the piece I wrote earlier this Summer on hating the Tigers. You can find it here, and I promise you it will scratch all of your itches for that kind of thing.
Today, I’m feeling sentimental about the fact we’re all going to get in a stadium again and yell. This time last year we covered the fact that it’s important to yell. So I must admit that I am thankful for the Clemson fans that will make up the other half of Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night, if only because they are going to contribute to the feeling of normalcy that will come with being surrounded by color and noise. In that spirit, it would be wrong to dedicate more characters to disparaging their university.
We will not be in Sanford Stadium or Death Valley, but we will be back in a big concrete bowl and I feel warm and fuzzy about that. If football is a religion in the South like so many have said, then the stadium is the cathedral where we practice our religion. You see, Labor Day means it’s football season, and football season means we go back to the stadiums. This ritual goes back in my family for generations.
My grandfather went to a small field as a boy. As he grew older that field became a high-school stadium. He was an orphan, and he went there to get out. Being a high-school football player meant status in his small town in the foothills of South Carolina.
Those teams meant so much to the town that the boys traveled to away games on a chartered Greyhound Bus. It boggles the mind today, but there was a time in this country when riding on a Greyhound Bus was reserved for the well-to-do. That was especially true in small Southern towns like Greenwood, SC. Football first gave my grandfather a way out of that town. He got a college scholarship and that allowed him to get a degree he never could have afforded otherwise.
That degree lead to a nice career as a football coach and teacher at high-schools across North Georgia, and that’s where my Dad grew up. In the summertime the family would go and camp out on a lake for weeks on end, but when the Georgia heat began to reach its peak it was time to pack up. Those miserable days meant that fall camp was coming. A life was built, and its rhythms.
41 years ago this week my parents got married in Athens. It was August of 1980, and the two of them had a modest wedding with friends and family in attendance. My Mom was just out of undergrad at UGA and my Dad was entering the last year of his PhD work. They took off down to Jekyll Island together for a honeymoon that was probably beyond their means. And though they arrived on the island together, they did not leave together.
My Dad left his honeymoon early to head to Knoxville with his best friend. Georgia was opening the season on the road agains Tennessee, and a heralded true freshman by the name of Herschel Walker was making his debut that night. In fairness to my Dad, a life whose rhythms were determined by football was normal to him. It was the first week of September, and that meant he was supposed to be at a football game. My Mom still hasn’t let him live it down, but that’s a small price to pay for not missing this.
Herschel had carried the Dawgs to an 8-0 record but the time my parents returned to the Golden Isles for the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville. On that afternoon nothing quite went right for the Dawgs, and the dreams of a national championship appeared they would die on the Gator Bowl turf. Then Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott connected on a miraculous 93-yard touchdown that delivered Georgia the win. Two months later my parents stood on the field of the Louisiana Superdome and kissed following Georgia’s win over Notre Dame. The Bulldogs were National Champions.
The weekend before last I got married. My wife wanted a fall wedding, and I told her the last couple weeks of August were the best I could do. Fortunately we had our wedding in the town where we live in Southwest Colorado. It wasn’t fall, but it felt like it outside.
I am my father’s son, and I knew that I wanted my friends and family members to be there on our special day. Many of my friends and family weren’t going to go to a wedding in the midst of football season. They love me, but there are just certain things you don’t ask people to do.
We didn’t plan a big honeymoon after the wedding for a few reasons, but chief among them is that Georgia and Clemson are playing football in Charlotte on Saturday night. I flew back home to North Carolina earlier this week, and you can’t fly to North Carolina for a football game if you’re at a tropical resort on your honeymoon.
We had football last year, but it came without all of the festive rituals that usually surround the cathedral. It was like a service with no hymns. The last 18 months have been tenuous at best. At the worst, they’ve been terrifying.
Saturday will likely be the most normal I’ve felt in a public setting in that time. There will still be masks and other protective measures, but there will also be fans in the stands. I will stand around a tailgate with friends that I haven’t seen in far too long.
We do not yet know if my future son will look back in four decades and wonder what his father felt and smelled and saw the night that Georgia started a run for the ages. There’s much that needs to unfold before we can know what 2021 holds for this team.
No matter how it goes, I am excited to stand in that stadium with 75,412 friends on Saturday night. Whether they wear red and black or orange and purple, they will have come from far and wide. They will be skipping soccer practices, dance recitals, dinner parties, weddings, funerals, and many other obligations because a switch somewhere deep inside flipped on and told them they had to be there.
These are my people, come together to realize their DNA’s programming. We have been cooped up for a very long time, and it is finally time to get out.