He was a damned good Dawg.
I was walking behind a friend and his wife as we entered the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on January 1, 1981, to watch Georgia play Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. If Georgia won, the Bulldogs would be the 1980 national collegiate football champions.
My friend, a fellow Georgia alumnus, was fraught with anticipation. He was pale. He was nervous. He was perspiring profusely.
His wife, noticing his condition said, “Calm down sweetheart. It’s just a football game.”
He stopped dead. He turned to his wife -- who had not gone to Georgia, and went to Bulldog games with her husband because she thought of it as her wifely duty -- looked her squarely in the eyes and said: “It is not just a football game. It’s our way of life against theirs.”
He meant that. I knew the man well enough to know he did, in fact, mean that.
It had something to do with Southerners against Northerners. Maybe it even had something to with his Methodist upbringing and the pope.
Whatever, it was clearly Us versus Them. Us won that day, tailback Herschel Walker leading Georgia to the national title….
You can go into all that stuff about the pageantry of college football, the fact the players are unspoiled kids and not a bunch of millionaires, and it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon and evening with friends.
But with me and mine, and with a lot of others, college football offers us an opportunity to circle our wagons and fight and kick and scream for our side against their side.
I suppose that’s also possible in politics and various cultural disagreements, but all that can get a little cloudy at times.
College football and allegiances are clear as an October Saturday afternoon. We haven’t had a war in 50 years that wasn’t tangled up in dissent and questionable motives…. But when Georgia meets Florida, when Auburn plays Alabama, when Ohio State gathers against Michigan, there are no such nagging annoyances.
Our way of life against theirs; clear as a bell.
And there is the opportunity to feel proud of something. Congress can waste your money, the president can lie to you, and your kid can wear an earring and watch MTV, but if your alma mater is 8-0, who’s sweating the small stuff?
And probably more than anything else, it also offers the opportunity to share in what is believed to be a noble cause, and such breeds friendships that can endure all else….
College football season is the best time I live. I once risked my life because of college football.
In late August of 1985 following two weeks in the Soviet Union, I found myself in a hospital in London with a deadly infection of the artificial aortic valve in my heart. The British doctor said it would probably be necessary for me to remain there for six weeks’ treatment.
Georgia was to open its football season on Labor Day night a week later against Alabama in Athens. I slipped out of the hospital, caught a cab to Gatwick Airport and flew back to Atlanta.
When asked later why I would risk my life in such a manner, I said, “I wasn’t about to stay in no foreign country during college football season.”
Us could win them all this year, or Us could lose a few. But, right or wrong, win or lose, always Us.
And Them can go to Hell. Is there any part of that that isn’t absolutely clear?