Georgia Football, A Southern Way Of Life
There are many ways to tell fall has come here in the south. The most subtle is a light breeze felt in the late afternoon or the slight chill you get in the morning when you walk out the door. Not noticeable enough for you to even grab the lightest of coats, these warnings typically go ignored. Usually by the time you reach your car, the humidity puts any crazy idea of a changing season out of your mind. You can also notice the weaker and warmer weather trees begin to turn into a living art exhibit that would leave Bob Ross speechless. Or you can simply check a calendar for the day the Fall Equinox begins. But for me growing up in a suburb outside of Atlanta Georgia, fall came when I heard the voice of Larry Munson.
It was the early nineties when I first became aware of the Georgia Bulldogs. My father being the diehard fan he was, would have the Dog's radio coverage playing over ESPN's television coverage left on mute. His reasoning was simple, ESPN, CBS, FOX or whoever covered the game that week had it out for Georgia. This is a conspiracy and tradition that lives on to this day. Due to the delay of a live televised program, the result of a play would come over the radio as the team on offence would break huddle on television(a tradition that also lives on despite the invention of the DVR). This was the era of Ray Goff as head coach (the most unsuccessful era of uga football), so my dad would end most plays yelling some word's I had yet to learn at the television. So watching the game went like this, radio announcement followed by a curse to Ray Goff and a video replay.
There is something about growing up a fan of a bad team. Every year begins with a glorious optimism that can not be broken by any doubters. Afterall "this year could be the year" and "did you hear about that running back they signed from Lincoln County?". The only thing that could change the optimism was the first loss. In one day a diehard fan goes from calling his or her travel agent to book a trip to the Sugar Bowl, to declaring the season over and stating this team to be the worst they have ever seen. Though it may seem nauseating to some, this is southern home comfort to me. Besides you know the optimistic Georgia fan does not give up so easily. We still can beat Florida!
The last week of October was always a dark one growing up. The gloominess was not because of cold weather rolling in or shorter days and bare trees that say "fall has fully defeated summer". It was the week of the world's largest cocktail party and in the years that Steve Spurrier was head coach of the Florida Gators, that meant Georgia fans would stock up on extra pepto bismol and alka seltzer. Spurrier was a terror to Georgia as a coach much like Georgia was a terror to him as a player. But no matter how helpless it seemed when your team was unranked and facing the nation's number one team, there is still hope. This is Georgia v Florida, there is still a chance. This chance would only come six times in the last twenty five years and only once against Steve Spurrier.
They were not all blow outs, there were a few times we came close to getting Spurrier. I was six years old in 1993 when I was playing at a friends house down the street and around the corner. Not even realising or caring that the game was on, I heard an explosion of screams and I ran home. Fearing the worst I came upon my father in tears. All he could say was "they robbed us". Eric Zeier drove the field in the game's final minute to score a game tying touchdown pass leaving five ticks on the clock. Only unknown to him or anybody wearing red and black that day, Anthone Lott a Gator cornerback had called a timeout just before the ball was snapped on the almost touchdown play. Drop a seltzer and chug the pepto, its gunna be a long night.
The time we actually beat Florida in the eleven years Steve Spurrier was coach was probably the most celebrated Georgia win in my lifetime. I remember for months after the game, (much like when the Braves won the World Series) t-shirts and other memorabilia commemorating the win were sold on street corners around Atlanta. I bet I could still find the vhs tape "ring the victory bell: 37-17" a highlight reel and coverage of the celebration, purchased for $9.95 at a kroger just weeks after the game.
Come November the hopeful optimism that could rebound any doubts of the rest of the season, takes a few weeks off in Sea Island and recovers from the hangover and beating received in down in Jacksonville. After a Florida loss the Auburn rivalry losses what flair it had left after the sec split to east and west. Tough Uga relishes the opportunity to get a taste of a Auburn wide receivers shin. Your heart used up all the energy it had.
But something happens when you sit at the table with your family for Thanksgiving dinner. It might be how close you are to those you love, or how much turkey you ate. It could be that cousin or neighbor down the street you can't stand. But you realize what you are thankful for. Suddenly the small eternal optimist grows 3 sizes that day. The true meaning of being a Bulldog fan comes through, and the Bulldog fan finds the optimism of ten fans plus two. That thing the Georgia Bulldog fan is so thankful for is the fact that we play Georgia Tech this weekend. That means you get to tell that cousin and that guy down the street how good it feels to beat you again.
This optimism carries over past the bowl season and into the next fall. After all "next year could be the year." and "That quarterback from Forest Park high school committed, I hear he can catch the ball too." This cycle is the real southern tradition. Never giving up, nothing more southern than that.