Love, Loss, and College Football

Sep 9, 2016 by

Glenn is back, just in time for College football season. His Bulldogs are on at noon tomorrow, we’re hoping he’ll come visit us at Bookmarks afterwards. If you’ve got time and you’re in Winston Salem, stop by and see us, too! It’s free to attend and we’ll have signed books for sale.  We’d love to see you!

 

In the fall of 1990, I moved into room 427 of Russell Hall at the University of Georgia. As I humped all of my worldly belongings to that spartan little room on the 4th floor of the shittiest place I’ve ever called “home”, I remember having serious misgivings. Those emotions were hardly assuaged as I opened the door, with both of my parents in tow, to find a stranger in his boxer shorts, sitting on the edge of a tiny bed with a syringe conspicuously protruding from his thigh.

“It’s okay. I’m diabetic,” were the first words I ever heard my new roommate speak.

Thankfully, he was telling the truth, but thus began my love affair with a place I had never heard of, and a sport to which I had given far too little credit.

George was my roommate, and he was in fact a diabetic. He had been giving himself insulin shots since the time that most of us began forming our first lasting memories. We had many ups and downs over the years. George is a person I can count on to this day. He had just returned to our room from marching band practice. Being a member of the Georgia Redcoats is a big deal. Look it up. Better yet, you try to join that elite group. He played the Sousaphone. Not a goddamned tuba.

A scant few days later, I walked into Sanford Stadium for the very first time on a Saturday morning. My life has never been the same since. I was a football fan. I thought I was a football fan. I had watched a lot of NFL football on Sundays with my dad. We used to play football in the back yard during halftime of those games. Dad taught me routes and how to throw a spiral. I thought I was a football fan. I became a football fan that Saturday in September of 1990.

I heard noises and chants and songs. I smuggled cheap bourbon into a stadium in plastic bags. I made B&C’s and 7&7’s in huge plastic cups in the shitty student section seats. I wore khaki shorts with a white button up shirt, red tie, and black blazer. I yelled until my 18-year-old voice was gone. I watched kids throw up. I saw some asshole hit a Georgia State Trooper in the head with a pint-sized whiskey bottle launched from the upper deck. I watched people get handcuffed and arrested. I got handcuffed and arrested. The band marched at halftime and made glorious noises. Glory! Glory! To Old Georgia. I was transfixed. I was a football fan. I am a football fan. I will always be a football fan.

I got in fights in Atlanta bars when Tech guys showed up and saw us in our red and black and our white “Super-G” freshmen hats. I drove to Jacksonville, FL in a borrowed car and stayed in the nastiest motel in St. Augustine. I learned to hate the color orange. I learned to hate black and gold, and crimson, and Tigers, and Gators, and Vols, oh my. I faked ID’s, I bullshitted sorority girls, I inhaled, I tripped, I lit shit on fire, I always had my buddies’ backs, I wrecked Mustangs, I played with guns, I made friends with people I might’ve never talked to, I got nerdy, got freaky, got artsy, went crazy, gained the freshman 15 and then lost 30, lipped off, fucked up, lost the love of my life, lost my thirst for life and then gained a whole new perspective on life…all in the span of a year. I played RPG’s (the analog kind that required dice), I tried to run over a guy with George’s Mazda because said guy was trying to shoot George with a .357. In Clemson.At a Hardee’s. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that one. I’m still pissed. I fell in love and out of love on a monthly basis. I walked, mostly naked, across campus. I got punched. More than once. I punched. More than once. I did shit that, believe it or not, I’m still not going to share here.

I’m telling all of those stories so that I can tell this one. I am a college football fan. I never played the game. I generally think it’s silly when grown-up, mature “adult” types put so much faith in stuff like this to which they never really belonged. But, here’s the deal. I did belong there in those heady, silly, adolescent days. I belonged there like I’ve never belonged anywhere else. So, here’s the story. Still listening?

Fast-forward 20 years. In December of 2012, I was in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome watching my beloved Bulldogs playing Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Well, we lost, to make a long story short. Still, it was the best college football game I’ve ever watched live. I won’t bore you with the details of the game, nor all of my excuses about how it could’ve turned out differently if only…

Suffice it to say that if my Dawgs had prevailed that night, there was a good chance that the BCS would’ve seen fit to place UGA in the National Championship game. I would have appreciated that. It was not to be. We lost. And we lost fair and square.

Walking out of the Dome that night my whole crew, and there were a lot of us, and we were all dressed in conspicuous red and black, ran a gauntlet of exuberant Tide fans. There were no fights. There was minimal, if any shit-talking. There was a lot of hand-shaking.

Eventually, we reached a large tailgate party of Bama fans who were partying exactly as I would’ve been If UGA had won. As we trudged down Northside Drive toward this group of revelers, I began to worry that our civility was nearing an end. To the contrary, a big ol’ boy in Bama gear strode purposefully toward me.

“As far as I’m concerned…” he began, with that outdoor voice that only way too many lite beers can create, “the national championship game was just played. And your Dawgs have every bit as much right to it as we do.”

I’m paraphrasing after 4 years and many more beers, but that’s what that ol’ boy said. And he meant it. I shook his hand too. And then he hugged me. Hard. And for real. And then, he and his wife, and his 20 or 30 houndstooth-wearing cohorts invited us all to join their party. They offered us food, and booze, and hospitality, and friendship.

We all had to get back to our hotel. But I felt a strong urge to stay with them. I turned to look at my beleaguered crew, and noticed that my (now) wife was smiling, but with tears rolling down her cheeks. I took a shot with those damned Bama fans. We all did a big cheers. There was much more hugging and hand-shaking, and legitimate discussion of the game, and the BCS, and all the other good teams.

I’ve perhaps never been a part of anything so pure between strangers. Hate and competitiveness were checked at the gate. That night, we were all just fans. That night, respect and honor prevailed. That night in Atlanta in December was the greatest college football I’ve ever seen. I am a football fan.

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