I was a Georgia Bulldog long before I existed.
Before you stop reading thinking I’ve gone ’round the existential bend, hear me out.
I’m back at work today fresh off a four-day excursion to New Orleans.
(Fresh may be stretching it a bit, but for the sake of the bosses out there reading this, I’m Outkast-style fresh and clean.)
While in that beautiful city I did all the things I yearn to do when away from it: listened to its beautiful music, smelled and ate its incredible food, soaked up its indelible culture and watched my Saints in person.
I also spent a great part of my Saturday at Manning’s in the Warehouse District watching Georgia win its first SEC title since 2005, and sixth in my lifetime. Six sounds like a lot, but three of those happened between birth and age 3 for me, so I can only claim cognizant championship feelings for 2002, 2005 and 2017.
When D’Andre Swift put the nail in Auburn’s proverbial championship coffin, I began to cry, and did so free of shame or embarrassment at being in front of strangers. When Kirby Smart was doused with Gatorade and started jumping around with his team, the tears turned crocodile. Strangers patted my shoulders and sent me beverages out of concern, but those with me knew there was no need for such empathy.
You see, the tears flowed openly because I knew the sting of coming up five yards short in 2012, I relished the relief and joy felt at the end of a 12-year exile, and because I've been a Bulldog since before I existed.
My father was a highly recruited running back out of Commerce High School in the ’60s. Syracuse, Clemson, Florida State and Auburn came calling for his services, as did Wake Forest, who had freshman Brian Piccolo host him on his official visit to Winston-Salem.
From the outset, however, he wanted the attention of one coach, Georgia’s Johnny Griffith. When that attention came, all other suitors faded into a faraway background and to Athens my father went. He’d go on to intercept a pass from Alabama’s Joe Namath, become a starter (at center), a captain and an integral part of some of the most iconic plays and wins in Georgia history. He played on Vince Dooley’s first two Georgia teams, his career ending the year before coach Dooley claimed his first SEC title with the Bulldogs in 1966.
You could infer at this point that my statement at the start has been explained, but not quite yet. In fact, the genesis of that thought actually derives from a player out of the ’40s. I’ve been a Bulldog since before I existed and my father would only seriously entertain one football-related suitor because of his uncle and my great uncle, Van Davis.
Uncle Van played with the likes of Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi, and for coach Wally Butts. He wore No. 24 and started at right end for teams that brought home Georgia’s first bowl win (1942 Orange Bowl against TCU), SEC title (1942), national title (1942) and its last Rose Bowl victory.
I’m not going to be disingenuous and act as though I had the kind of relationship with Uncle Van that I’m fortunate enough to have with my father; I met him only once and then attended his funeral after his untimely death from a heart attack at 66. But I can tell you this, while my late uncle Mike is his spitting image, he made a Bulldog out of my daddy and thus a proud member of the Bulldog faithful out of me, my sisters, my mother, my brother-in-law and my wonderful nephew Baxter.
Yes, I cried Saturday in joyful relief at the present state of the Bulldogs, but truthfully my tears ran long because my lineage runs deep. When Georgia takes the field in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2018, 75 years to the day my uncle Van did as a leather-helmeted senior, I’ll feel the tug of that lineage once again.
After all, it existed long before I did.