It is morning, early fall, 1978, when falls were still cool and crisp in the South instead of just an extension of summer. I am 7 years old. Somehow, I've managed to become buddies with the toughest, coolest kid in the second grade. We are hanging out on the playground, waiting for the first bell to ring. Our friendship will never amount to much, but my life is about to be shaped in ways unimaginable.
I spot a kid wearing a sweatshirt with a yellow jacket on it. My buddy's shirt has a bulldog. I ask him about his shirt ...
"My shirt is Georgia."
"It's a college. A big school. Their football team is the Bulldogs and they're cool. That (he points at the kid in the yellow jacket shirt) is Tech, and it's not. We (he points at himself and me) are for the Bulldogs."
I don't need to be told twice.
Once again it is fall. 1980. I am outside raking leaves. We have an old radio that maybe Marconi himself built, and I have run the cord out a window and put it on a stepladder. It only gets AM stations. I find a football game. It's the cool team ...
"Florida in a stand-up five, they may or may not blitz. Belue third down on the 8, in trouble, he got a block behind him, going to throw on the run, complete on the 25 to the 30, Lindsay Scott, 35, 40, Lindsay Scott, 45, 50, 45, 40. Run Lindsay! 25, 20, 15, 10! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!
It is 1982. I am riding somewhere with my daddy. I don't remember where. Georgia is playing Auburn, a team I will grow to hate by the time I'm a teenager. I know this game is important, but I'm 11, and I don't really know why. Something about a Sugar Bowl, which makes me think of breakfast. The man on the radio sounds like he might die at any moment. He asks the Dawgs to hunker it down one more time ...
"Pass into the endzone, and the Dawgs broke it up! They broke it up! The dawgs with 42 seconds ... I won't ask you to do that again you guys ... Georgia students standing and roaring, 23, 22, 21, clock running, running. Oh, look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!"
It is 1984. Football and the Bulldogs' place in it - and in my heart - no longer confuses me. I am 13 and I am sitting outside our old hunting camp in Oconee County, maybe 15 miles from Athens. Clemson is winning. We need a miracle. I swear - and I'm really not kidding - that I can hear the fans in Sanford Stadium ...
"So we'll try and kick one 100,000 miles. We hold it on our own 49 and a half. Sixty yards plus a foot and Butler kicks a long one, Butler kicks a long one ... Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!"
It is 1990. Our legendary coach is gone, his replacement still a question mark. I am a student at UGA. I work in the press box on game days. I work for Food Services and help cater the reporters' meals. I promise myself I will be on the other side of the chafing dishes one day. I need to light some Bunsen burners, but I don't have any matches. A man sits at a table wearing large-framed glasses. He is going over a roster and smoking a cigar. When he speaks his voice is like gravel in a meatgrinder ...
"Excuse me, sir, could I borrow your matches? I'll bring them right back."
"Here you go kid."
"What do you think about our chances today?"
"It ain't looking good."
It is 2001. I'm sitting alone at my parents' house watching the game on their television. Tennessee is going to ruin my October again. A Gwinnett kid steps in at quarterback ...
"Greene makes him line up on the right in the slot. We have three receivers. Tennessee playing what amounts to a 4-4. Fake, and there's somebody - touchdown! My God a touchdown! We threw it to Haynes. We just stuffed them with five seconds left! My God almighty, did you see what he did? David Greene just straightened up and we snuck the fullback over! Haynes is keeping the ball! Haynes has come running all the way across to the bench. We just dumped it over, 26-24. We just stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot and broke their nose. We just crushed their faces!"
It is 2007. One of the sports writers asks me if I've seen the wire story. Larry Munson's health is declining. He might retire.
"If he retires, I'll be in mourning. I'm going to have to take the day off that day."
I tell several of them in the newsroom that I'm not kidding. A couple laugh at me. They think I'm joking. But this time, just like so many years ago, when I swore I could hear the fans cheering 15 miles away in Athens, I'm really not kidding ...
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.
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