Arts & Entertainment

For the Love of the Dawgs

A lifelong Georgia football fan on heartbreak and hope

Photo: Beth Sanders

The writer with Hairy Dawg.

It’s well documented over the course of human history that hope can be a dangerous thing. Thucydides called it “danger’s comforter.” Friedrich Nietzsche dubbed it “the worst of all evils.” Stephen King said it “can drive a man insane.” I know better than to write about hope, so instead, I’ll write about love.

I love the Georgia Bulldogs. I have my whole life.

My brother was born the day before the Georgia–Florida game in 1992, and my parents—lifelong Georgia fans who attended UGA in the seventies and early eighties—drove him home the next afternoon dressed in red and black as the late great UGA announcer Larry Munson hollered lullabies through our Honda’s speakers. We lost by two, but it was pretty good indoctrination.

photo: Beth Sanders
The writer’s father and brother in the hospital the day after her brother was born.

Munson, and later Scott Howard, would become the soundtrack of my life. During away games throughout my childhood, we huddled around the basement television, which was always on mute—don’t you know every sportscaster on ESPN roots against us?­—as the good guys narrated from my dad’s old GE cathedral radio.

Growing up in Athens, I don’t remember attending my first game. We’ve been going since I’ve had consciousness, and some of my earliest recollections involve wearing an itchy polyester cheerleading uniform as I, waist-tall and holding tight to my parents’ hands, braved the throngs of drunk college kids. You’d think the memory would be traumatic, but to this day the smell of stale beer makes me a bit nostalgic.

photo: Beth Sanders
The writer as a baby with UGA mascot Uga.

So many Georgia football moments saturate my adolescent memories: a trip to the Sugar Bowl in 2003 as the Superdome roared for Musa Smith; chill bump-inducing black jerseys during the 2007 season; Todd Gurley’s triumphant return in 2014; overcoming Notre Dame under the new lights of Sanford Stadium in 2019. Each moment—however brief—gleams with the patina of family and hometown pride and unabashed joy. My family and I spent a glorious sun-soaked New Year’s weekend in Southern California for the 2018 Rose Bowl, which I count as one of the most downright euphoric days of my life. When I’m having a bad day, I’ll often search highlights from that game on YouTube and in minutes, I’m smiling in spite of myself.

photo: Beth Sanders
The writer with her father and brother at the 2003 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

But as physics and football demand, highs are always accompanied by lows. Just a week after the mountaintop moment in Pasadena, we lost in a gut-punch overtime to Alabama in the national championship. Watching the SEC championship rematch a few weeks ago felt all too familiar.

On Monday, we’ll play Alabama for the title again. I wasn’t alive in 1980 to witness the last time we won it all. As the past forty-two years have been peppered with almosts and not-quiteyets, Georgia fans have developed a defense mechanism to avoid the heartbreak and passed it on through the generations: build up walls of cynicism and detachment; reject hope before it rejects you. Even this year, as I’ve watched arguably the best Georgia team in my lifetime dominate every regular season game, I’ve remained “cautiously optimistic.”

But I love the Dawgs too much for caution. As any country ballad or romantic comedy will tell you, falling in love requires vulnerability and always involves the risk of heartbreak. But isn’t it worth it when it all works out in the end?

So, on Monday night, you’ll find me among the Bulldog faithful, standing there in front of our TVs with fingers crossed and breaths bated, cheering with our whole hearts for the team we love.

photo: Beth Sanders
The writer and her family at the Rose Bowl in 2018.