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Not always a Dawg, but now I'm a die-hard

The college football season is finally here, and no one, I venture to say, is more excited than me.

That's because I, the self-proclaimed World's Biggest Bulldog Fan, self-annointed king of all things Georgia, wish my life away for eight months a year in anticipation of the other four.

At the risk of sounding cliche, I bleed red and black.

Only I didn't go to the University of Georgia. In fact, I'd never seen Athens until about four years ago. I did go to a university in Georgia, though. Well, kind of; I earned my legal studies degree from South University, a private institution in Savannah.

Except I never technically went there, either. I went to a branch campus in Columbia, S.C., where I'm from. Gamecock country with a few Clemson Taters, er, Tigers roaming around.

So how did I become such a huge Dawg fan? Simple, really. My ex-wife is a south Georgia native. Her family moved to Carolina but remained fanatical about Georgia football. It took me a while to get with the program, but that's nothing new. Anyway, that was the genesis of it all.

I'm no bandwagon rider, but I'm just sayin' - it's not like the Gamecocks ever gave me anything to crow about.

As you can imagine, life in Columbia is not easy for a Bulldog backer, especially on the rare occasion that "we" lose to "them." In 2007, for instance, the coots won in Athens, 16-12. Nevermind that Georgia went on to win the Sugar Bowl and finish 11-2 and No. 2 in the country; Forget that the chickens, in all their glorious mediocrity, limped to 6-6 and watched the postseason from their favorite Five Points pub. No, sir, none of that mattered to them because they beat Georgia.

A few months later during a basketball game in Columbia that Carolina won, the USC student section started a chant: "Just like football."

Seriously? For a split second I remember internally chanting the Gamecock mantra: Wait 'til next year. Fortunately, in Dawg-speak, "next year" actually means the very next season, not some indeterminate, wishful "maybe one day" when one's football team won't stink.

I don't hate the Gamecocks, but having close friends who trash talk incessantly, and without basis, has instilled a disdain that allows me to dismiss with prejudice any claims USC might have on me, citing home state loyalty.

The first trip I made to Athens was actually for a concert at the Georgia Theater. After that, I hit the road every chance I got and always hated leaving.

In Gwinnett, I live in a great county just a stone's throw from Athens. Earlier this year, I met Vince Dooley at a Lawrenceville book signing. Bulldog license plates are everywhere. I now live among kindred spirits, no longer an outcast.

With all the Bulldog paraphernalia displayed in my apartment - including a shower curtain, bath mats, dishes and an autographed football - it looks like a 12-year-old decorated it. I'm 36.

My girlfriend, once a Duke cheerleader, could care less what her Blue Devils do on Saturday. I've never taken a class at UGA, and I'm inconsolable - and intolerable, I hear - for days after a loss.

Courtesy of the aforementioned girlfriend, we are headed to Sanford Stadium on Sept. 12 to welcome South Carolina to town. One of my very best friends from Columbia will be accompanying us, and I hope he has a miserable weekend.

So, no, I don't have a degree from UGA hanging on my wall. I am not a Georgia native.

But trust that wherever I go and whatever I do in life, win, lose or tie, I'm a Dawg 'til I die.

Heath Hamacher is the night police reporter and also covers health and human services. E-mail him at heath.hamacher@gwinnettdailypost.com.