So this is my dad’s shirt. We had a thing together over Georgia Football. I don’t remember exactly when it started, I was briefly a naive FSU fan for a short time in my childhood, but I fell in love with a UGA team in my folk’s bedroom one Saturday when watching the game with Pops was WAY more appealing that being around whatever my mom was doing. It was the Garrison Hearst years that first stuck with me as ACTUALLY following the team. Of course I knew the legend of Herschel Walker, and I quickly educated myself on tales of ‘sugar falling from the sky”. Rarely would a Saturday pass that my dad and I wouldn’t at least watch a quarter of each game together, especially the big ones. The 4OT battle versus Auburn in 1996 (with Kirby Smart in the defensive backfield), four days after I turned 16 I chose to spend my first Saturday night of ‘freedom’ with Pops watching football. New Year’s Eve, 1998 — a two point Peach Bowl win over Virginia was a helluva way to ring in the New Year of my Senior year in High School with Pops in the basement. It’s a trend that continued over the years, we may not have watched every game together, but I struggle to think of a Dawg memory without him involved. I grew up, got accepted to UGA, Pops was so proud he could’ve burst. He was equally disappointed when I decided not to go and that a school a little closer to home was more along the lines of the life I wanted to live. He never let me forget, in the nicest way possible, every time we saw Bruce Thornton on the field that I met that badass at orientation. He just knew that I could’ve made it, he didn’t want me to think that he didn’t believe in me, he always did.
He’d call me every time he saw Steve Spurrier stomp on his visor and he’d cackle.. I think seeing the Ol’ Ball Coach PISSED because the Dawgs got the best of him was one of his favorite things on the planet, hearing his reaction when it happened was definitely one of mine. Through college, and marriage, and work, Pops and the Dawgs were always there, wins, losses, good seasons, bad seasons, life direction changes, and coaching changes, there wasn’t a Saturday that passed that we didn’t at least talk about the Dawgs. Pops died in March of 2011, in a unique twist I lived in Tallahassee, home of the Noles, when it happened, and when the Dawgs wore some weird ass Pro Combat Jersey’s with silver helmets it was the first time ever in my life we didn’t talk about the game. It was the hardest game I ever watched, not because we got our ass whipped, but because I must have looked at my phone seventy five times in those three hours. Really, I just wanted it to end.
The 2011 season was a good one, but it wasn’t the same. Sure, there were highlights, like I remember crying my eyes out in 2013 when the Dawgs beat South Carolina and Spurrier threw down his visor—Pops would’ve lost it- but the Dawgs always had a way of letting you down. I had an Auburn friend tell me that once. I didn’t believe it because accepting loss is always hard. We had some damn good teams, some damn good players, we lost some Damn Good Dawgs along the way. You’d always feel like this would be the year, I mean… That Murray kid was a TRUE Champ! And holy cow, no one had seen someone like Gurley run since Herschel himself! Alas, something would always happen, being a few yards short agains ‘Bama in the SEC Championship in 2012. The Godforsaken ‘Prayer at Jordan-Hare’… ugh… It was weird, you’d always hope for a miracle, like something was going to happen on a Saturday afternoon that would effect the rest of your life and make everything OK. Like it would heal the wound of loss, it never did.
No matter how many times I wore the shirt, there wasn’t any luck in it. Sure, I found comfort in wearing it, birthdays, opening day, days when I was sad, some Father’s Days, days when I missed him, or days I just missed anything. That shirt has been washed and worn more times than I can count. It’s held a million tears, probably 20 or so beers, and a whole lot of hope. This was the first season that I didn’t put anymore ‘hope’ into the shirt, if I thought about it, i wore it or at least folded it in my closet four times.. I just let the season be what it was. I thought about Pops every game this year, I thought about different game memories we shared, different life lessons he taught me.
This is also the first season I couldn’t hear his voice in my heads saying “How Bout Them Dawgs’. Maybe that means it actually worked. Maybe because I didn’t give up when Auburn beat us on my birthday this year, maybe it was because I didn’t think about it, I didn’t try to put all of the ‘magic’ into a piece of clothing. Maybe it’s because the little Uga figurine that sat on Pop’s grave for six years went missing and I didn’t feel like I was going to die… I’m the kind of guy who puts all of that magical-meant-to-be kind of faith in the world in hopes that it ACTUALLY means something.
Monday night, the pinnacle. The Dream. The National Championship. The ULTIMATE possible ‘thing’ to believe in, is within arms reach. For the first time in my life, the one thing we’d always hoped for, but never saw together could happen. Maybe there is hope. Maybe I’ll wear it tomorrow, maybe I’ll have the best reason ever in the world to frame it tomorrow. Maybe, after tomorrow, everything will change. Maybe, after tomorrow night, I’ll finally find a way to move on. I”m sure there are a million of stories just like mine, hell, I know there are, but just this once…. for all of us….Hunker Down Dawgs, just one more time….Hunker Down.