Pretty much everyone who knows me is aware of my love for the Dawgs, but that's not where my love of football started. As far back as I can remember, I have loved football, but it all started with the mighty Golden Bears of Griffin High School (my high school alma mater). When I was a kid back in the 80's, Griffin was a perennial powerhouse in the state, and I absolutely LOVED going to the games. Dad was always willing to oblige, and grabbed tickets whenever he could to take me. He was patient with my zillions of questions on why the players did this, why the players did that, and taught me the game at a very young age. He also had to bear with my rabid desire to stay until the final whistle blew, no matter how cold it was, even though the games were often times decided before the 4th quarter even started.
The funny thing though is that it's not the games themselves that were my favorite part. My absolute favorite memories are from walking to and from the games, just the two of us. Of course at the high school level, it's not like you're having to walk THAT far from where you parked, but those are the moments that are most vivid in my memory. Walking to the stadium, I loved the sound of the drumline playing, feeling the energy of the crowd, and us talking about how we thought the Bears were going to do. Then, after the games, the walk back to the car consisted of our post game analysis....or at least me asking even more questions, and Dad patiently giving even more answers. I'll always treasure that one-on-one time more than he knows.
As I got a little older and started enjoying watching football on TV, Dad and I shared that as well. I primarily played soccer growing up (my love of football kinda scared my mom when I was little, she didn't want her poor, fragile little son to get hurt, so I was ushered into soccer where I still ended up with a laundry list of injuries), but whenever we weren't out at soccer games on Saturdays, Dad and I were usually watching college football. Of course we always watched the Dawgs, but would also watch whatever other big games were on. Then on Sundays we would watch the Falcons games together, even though we pretty much always knew that they would lose.
Dad would even find ways to use football to teach me life lessons. I'll never forget in 1987 when #10 Notre Dame was visiting the Orange Bowl to play #2 Miami. I was 10 years old at the time, and for some reason I decided that it was a certainty that Notre Dame was going to pull the upset, and I bet my Dad $10 on Notre Dame winning. Dad took the bet, and Miami promptly waxed them 24-0. Dad made me honor the bet, and told me that he hoped it taught me a lesson on gambling. I know $10 doesn't sound like much, but when you are 10 years old, that is a LOT of money. I certainly learned the lesson, and have never wagered money on an athletic event since. I have seen what gambling has done to people I know, and know now that losing that $10 may have actually saved me a lot of money down the road.
Dad and I have always connected well on many levels, but something about when we discuss football has always been an especially intimate connection for me. We've been going to the UGA games together a good bit the past 5 years or so, and I still LOVE our walks back to the car together after the games. We typically take a shuttle to the games, but the shuttles are too long of a wait after the game, so we walk about a mile to get back to the tailgating area when he has also parked there with my tailgating crew. That gives plenty of time for analysis, griping about the playcalling, and solving all of the Dawgs' problems.......you know, if only Richt and the coaching staff would ever ask us. And it still brings back those same feelings from when we used to walk to and from the Griffin High games. Even though we're surrounded by people, sometimes it feels like it's only the two of us, just walking and talking in our own little red & black world.
It's been really cool the past few years seeing my Dad go through a bit of a renaissance with his love for UGA football. He went to school there, and went to games all the time when he was younger. I came along pretty shortly after he and mom finished school though, and they pretty much sacrificed all their free time to give me and my siblings all the time we wanted for our extracurricular activities. We always had something to do on the weekends, and to the best of my memory, I can't recall him going to any of the UGA games when I was growing up. Even when I was at UGA, my siblings were in middle school and high school, so weekends were tied up. Then I lived in Florida for 5 years, before relocating to the Greenville, SC area 6 years ago. Once that happened though, Dad and I started going to the games together, and it's been a blast. We've had season tickets for the past 5 years, and were even at the Dome together for both of the SEC Championships we've won under Richt. Now that I have kids, I'm the one who can't make it to all the games, but Dad is at every home game unless there is a major conflict, and Mom is with him at most of the games that I don't attend. It's obvious how much he enjoys attending the games, and I'm pretty sure that one day he'll be one of those little 80 year old guys you see still coming to the games, still giving everything they've got to root the Dawgs on to victory. Seeing him and mom get to go and do all the things they couldn't do when we were kids is such a great thing, because they literally sacrificed all of their free time for us when we were kids.
Happy Father's Day, Dad, I love you. Thanks for everything you've ever done, if I tried to do a post on all the ways you've influenced me, I'd be typing for days. But I hope you enjoyed this post on the football side of our relationship.
And Happy Father's Day to any applicable readers of the blog out there. I hope today is a special one for all of you.