Between The Hedges – A Progress Report

I believe that the beginning of week 4 is a perfect opportunity to assess what has transpired so far and what we might expect in the near future from our beloved Bulldogs in Athens. The start of the season has been widely discussed in UGA circles and those discussions have covered a pretty wide range from elation to depression to confusion and everywhere in between. The facts are not disputable. We have played 3 very different teams with one being a non-conference ranked opponent on a “neutral” field, another being an FCS school at home and the most recent being a conference opponent at their house. Those teams are a combined 4-1 outside of their matchups with Georgia. So with caveats and asterisks everywhere, which we will discuss below, we should all agree that we are in the best possible position after 3 weeks. We could reasonably be 0-3 right now, at least 1-2, based on the first three games but we aren’t. We are undefeated and have given our freshmen a load of game action as we prepare for the meat of our schedule. Before we get to that future schedule, let’s take a look at where we are now. These are my observations and you are more than welcome to disagree and provide counter points as that is what college football discussion is all about.


The last three weeks have allowed the Richt faithful an opportunity to mock the hiring of Kirby and proclaim that we are no better. First, I disagree, but secondly and most importantly, it’s much too early to put any reasonable measurement on the transaction. I will tell you why I disagree through. I see us at no better than 1-2 with Richt at the helm of this years squad. I don’t believe he gives the reigns to Eason this soon. He was very loyal to his players, and I admire that to a degree. What that means is that he would have allowed Lambert to be our steady hand and keep us in ballgames. We do not win the UNC game or the Mizzou game in my opinion with Lambert at QB. Think about the past and how the quarterback situations have been handled. We would have seen glimpses of Eason but I don’t believe there is any way we go into week 4 with him being the undisputed named starter as we are now.

What Kirby and his staff have done so far is come in and opened up the competition for the entire team. Each player is being evaluated on a weekly basis and the players that want to be on the field are on the field. Tenure and experience aren’t the driving factor on roster decisions this season and that is the first time in many years. Kirby has also not been shy about that fact. He recognizes and acknowledges poor effort and poor performances and has been assuring of Bulldog Nation that it will not be accepted. No more status quo as they say. As for game day, I believe clock management and halftime adjustments have also been immediate improvements. We are 3-0 because we have overcome a deficit in 3 consecutive games in the second half. How many times did that happen in the last 4 years?

While this section is truly not meant as an indictment on Richt, this is very much a defense of what I believe to be an improvement in our coaching staff. We have wanted nothing more out of our head coach over the last few years than emotion and a sense of urgency and we have had that in the last three weeks. And let’s be honest, we all have eyes and can see what has happened on the field over that span. None of us are satisfied. The difference this year is we know our head coach isn’t either. When asked how it felt to be back home in Sanford stadium after the week 2 game, Coach Smart said, among other things, “we did not play to the level of our expectations or Bulldog fans expectations, we know that. We have to get better.” This was after a win. Refreshing. And one of the biggest worries was over whether we could maintain our recruiting edge and that has been answered with a resounding YES!


Offense has truly been a mixed bag so far in 2016. Week 1 started with Nick Chubb coming back from his brutal knee injury of 2015 to gash UNC for 222 yards and 2 scores. The game also included a couple of flashy plays from the young freshman, Jacob Eason. Enough flashy plays in fact to raise what was a dull roar to name him the starter, to a fever pitch. And we got our wish in week 2. It was clear in the Georgia Dome that we were a more potent offense with Eason at the helm. The field was stretched with his big arm and, for that game, helped open up running lanes for Chubb to seal the victory with a 55 yard scamper, putting a stamp on the Heisman hopeful’s return.  

Week 2 is a game we all would just assume to forget. The only benefit to arise from the game was Eason getting more reps and escaping with a W in his first official start. The performance was shaky and led to another week of questioning who the starter would be. We would not find out until just before the Missouri game that it would again be Eason. Only this time, Lambert never saw the field. Now, as of Monday morning, Eason has been named the starter for the upcoming Ole Miss game. I’ll call it progress.  Of course, there really shouldn’t have been any doubt after his performance this past weekend. In his 3rd game, and 2nd official start, he threw 55 passes, the most by a UGA quarterback since 2000. So much for easing into conference play. One of those 55 passes was the game winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in his first conference game on the road. Oh, and it was 4th and 10 so let’s give the kid some moxie points too. Also of the 59 passes, only one landed in the hands of the opposing team and only 4 drop backs resulted in sacks. Lambert was sacked 3 times in the first quarter of the UNC game, which supported one of his perceived weaknesses of holding the ball too long. Lambert does deserve a lot of credit for helping the kid get ready and become more comfortable in the huddle. It is nice to have a 5th year senior willing and able to do that for a young freshman. So let’s not just write Lambert off. I think even he knew that Eason’s talent was beyond comparison in our quarterback room so this is not meant to disparage his efforts.  

While Eason threw the ball what felt like 1,000 times this past Saturday, our run game had its second consecutive underwhelming performance. And not at the fault of the running backs themselves. There have been no holes to navigate at the point of attack and in fact, they have been met in the backfield on more occasions than I am comfortable with. Some of that is due in part to having a freshman quarterback and defenses daring him to beat them. Another is due in part to having the level of talent in the backfield. If I were a defensive coordinator sitting down to review film up until this week, I would be putting 8 in the box on every down as well. But perhaps the most alarming reason for the run game drop off seems to be the perceived underperforming offensive line. I use the term perceived because I really don’t think they are as bad as they may look due to the defensive alignments they are facing. Again, 4 sacks in 59 opportunities are not terrible. But 8 men in the box can’t be the only excuse and the coaches have acknowledged that improvement is necessary.  I have to believe that we are somewhere between the 289 rushing yards vs UNC and the 55 pass attempts vs Mizzou. If you told me at the beginning of the season that Nick Chubb would be healthy and below 100 yards in 2 of the first 3 games, I would not have predicted 3-0. It helped to get Sony Michel back this week and he provided some edge stress for the defense but Chubb is our workhorse and I feel much more comfortable when he tops the 100 yard mark. That means things are going well in the run game. If the run game improves, the game will slow down some for Eason. In addition to the offensive line issues, the wide receivers have also been called out for their unwillingness to get involved in the run game by being active blockers. That led to Jayson Stanley getting his first start against Mizzou, even though he is not 100% comfortable with the route tree yet. Add an above average number of dropped passes to the blocking issues and the wide receivers have underperformed to date. The tight ends have been non-existent, presumably because they are being kept in to help fight those 8 man fronts.  While the wide receiving group has underperformed as a whole, our clear cut MVP through 3 games has to be Isaiah McKenzie. I-Mac has been electric in every ball game and has developed great rapport with Eason and the offensive coordinator. Jim Cheney has found a number of ways to get him involved and I-Mac himself has improved his route running and hands tremendously this season, save a dropped TD against Mizzou. He made up for that with a beautiful catch on the game winning TD. He had 10 receptions for 122 yards and 2 scores. He was targeted a whopping 16 times. If Eason and McKenzie continue to blossom as a duo, that will soften up the running lanes for Chubb and also open up the passing game for Chigbu, Godwin, Ridley and our talented Tight End group.  

Going forward, we clearly need to improve our blocking up front. In addition, Cheney could improve on mixing up some of the play calling when running the ball. It was noted by Bill King on the Junkyard Blawg that when UGA lined up to run, it was mostly out of classic run formations. On the rare occasion we ran out of a spread formation, we were successful. You simply cannot load the box when you spread the field with 4 outside receivers. Eason also needs to keep improving and stretching the field to allow the run game to be freed up. The wide receivers need to cut down on the number of dropped passes and the tight ends have to get more separation when they are used in routes. We have the potential to be a truly explosive offense if we can improve in those areas. The more game reps Eason gets, the more comfortable he will become with the speed of the SEC and the playbook. I have to believe that it hasn’t been fully unleased on him quite yet.  


The defense this season has been a tale of two halves so far. We have looked unsure and confused at times in the first half of games, specifically the UNC and Mizzou matchups. They are two high powered offenses and have been able to move the ball seemingly at will on us during both 1st halves. Ole Miss may be (likely is) the best offense of the three and we can’t wait until halftime to get comfortable and start to be aggressive. UNC was a balanced attack with Elijah Hood and TJ Logan at running back and a group of 3 very talented WR’s. Missouri provided much more of a strain on our secondary and was held under 100 yards on the ground. Ole Miss will be as one dimensional as any of them as they have produced no run game to speak of. But they also have the superior quarterback when compared to the others and are going to provide the toughest test of the season on our pass defense.  In order to be ready for the pass offenses we face over the next several weeks, our defensive front is going to have to start getting to the quarterback. Aaron Davis, a safety, is currently tied for the team league with 1 sack. That group includes Trenton Thompson, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Natrez Patrick among its eligible members. Trent has been a formidable force in the run game and Roquan Smith has been excellent in coverage and moving from sideline to sideline in the run game. Carter and Patrick have been all but non-existent in the pass rush so far. That can’t continue against Chad Kelly and Josh Dobbs. If Kelly is given the time that Drew Lock was given, he will carve us up; much like Lock did the entire first half. Pressure on the quarterback was the key to our success in the secondary in 2015 when we were ranked #2 in the league.  Speaking of the secondary, Juwan Briscoe, Malkom Parrish and Maurice Smith have proven they can provide good coverage but they are as ineffective as anybody else would be when there is no pass rush. The secondary is being asked to cover for far too long on many plays. The ball hawking skills of Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and Quincy Mauger will only improve when the pass rush turns up the heat as well. Although, Mauger is tied for the league lead with his 2 interceptions through 3 games and one of those interceptions was truly a beautiful play. The secondary has tackled better this year and produced 5 turnovers in the second half of the Mizzou game. Those turnovers were the overlooked story in that game and gave Eason the opportunity to provide the heroics with less than 2 minutes remaining. The defense did not call it a night after that td though as they forced a huge fumble to seal the win.  Looking ahead, the defense will continue to be tested with Kelly, Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, and Auburns spread offense. Our only hope at a solid overall season is with the defense providing some lights out performances in those matchups. We can’t ask Eason to throw 55 times or expect Chubb to rush for 222 each week. If the defense does not show immediate first half improvement this Saturday, I worry that Ole Miss will be too much for us. The need for pressure on the quarterback cannot be overstated. It’s what makes our defense work. Pressure spawns rash decisions by the quarterback, third and longs and turnovers. So far, we have not had that pressure on a consistent basis.

Special Teams

This is going to be short and sweet because this is our biggest deficiency. We have to get consistent touchbacks on kickoffs. Game 2 had several and cut out the potential for big plays in the return game. Touchbacks were nowhere to be found in the first or third game and Mizzou made us pay more than once. Our punt return defense continues to commit dumb penalties involving kick/catch interference. The play this past week was only a hair early but was also the most egregious thus far, resulting in Kirby Choates being kicked out during the second half and being suspended for the first half of the upcoming matchup with Ole Miss.  

Finally, it should be no surprise to anyone that we need a field goal kicker. What we have seen so far is abysmal and downright depressing. Perhaps we have been spoiled with the likes of Blair Walsh and Billy Bennett and Marshall Morgan over the last several years but extra points are even an adventure these days. Knuckle balls and shanks are becoming the norm and I currently have no faith in the kicking game. Special teams continue to be a disaster in Athens in some facet and I had really hoped we would see an improvement this year.

Odds and Ends

  • We have seen a large amount of freshmen get game action so far this year. Our starting freshman quarterback is the big story. But we had as many as 11 freshmen on the field between offense and defense this past Saturday. This is good in the long run but makes for some tense moments in the present.
  • Two names we haven’t seen much of yet are Mecole Hardman and Elijah Holyfield. Hardman picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown on the obvious kick catch interference call against Mizzou but it was good to see him in action. 
  • The “Get Back” coaches are having to work a lot harder this year than they have in the past. I see them quite often trying to get a coach back on the sideline. It’s good to see.
  • Recruiting continues to go well for our 2017 class with the addition of Mark Webb. We had to go into Pennsylvania to pull this kid so the coaches are working hard on the recruiting trail.  
  • I was in town for the home opener 2 weeks ago and discounting the game, Athens is as beautiful as always. I enjoyed the trip except for the nightmare that is parking. We walked past the indoor practice facility and it is coming along nicely.

Looking Ahead

Our next 7 games are conference opponents and include Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. The next two weeks will go a long way in sorting out the SEC East. We go to Oxford MS this weekend to play the high powered offense of Ole Miss. They are 1-2 but have lost to both FSU and Alabama in that stretch. They put up 43 points on the vaunted Alabama defense in their most recent loss. Florida travels to Tennessee this weekend to provide what has begun as a shaky Tennessee campaign its first real test. Tennessee lost two of its best defensive players this past Saturday and Florida lost its starting quarterback so both teams are sort of hobbling into this one. Maybe they will continue to beat each other up. Then, when all the dust settles from this Saturday, the Volunteers come to Athens on October 1st in what shapes up to be quite possibly the biggest game of the year for Georgia. Someone in the East could very well be eliminated in the next 2 weeks, logically rather than mathematically. It’s also possible that all three teams come out of the next 2 weeks with 1 loss apiece making the UGA/UF game our biggest game of the year and the Tennessee/Alabama game the same for Vols fans. Are you excited yet, football fans?  

Here’s the bottom line. We are a good but not great team in the present. We are far from perfect. We have the potential to be great if we allow the coaches to continue to do what they are doing. It is unreasonable and unfair to believe that we would turn our coaching staff over, play 85% of the recruiting class in the first 3 games and start a freshman at QB and still go undefeated or be a lock for a conference championship. I read an article last night that said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are football teams.” Anyone who is paying attention can see the changes that are being made and the standards that are being adjusted. It will not happen immediately. We are 3-0 but could possibly be 3-2 at the end of the next two weeks. Do I want that? Absolutely not. Will I be standing on a ledge if we are? Of course not. I’m in this for the long haul and I truly feel something special happening with our football team. We just have to sit back and allow it to happen. If we stumble over a division title in the process, I will be thrilled but that truly wasn’t my expectation coming into this year and certainly isn’t after the first 3 weeks. We need to allow time for this to unfold. Be patient Dawg Nation!


The Art of Distraction

“Distraction – a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. Synonyms: Diversion, Interruption, Disturbance, Interference, Hindrance.”

I’m pretty sure we all learned what distractions were as kids. Sometimes there were good distractions. I think back to hanging out at the Legion Pool in Camilla. I was a 16 year old boy surrounded by girls in bathing suits. If my friends and I were talking, I probably missed half of the conversation because I was “distracted.” They could have been telling me that a spaceship was coming over the horizon and I would have probably just nodded and said, “yep.” I remember sports also took my mind off of school work or bad grades when I needed to recharge. I could turn on Sportscenter and forget all about that F that I may have gotten in Mrs. Williams History class. I don’t know if this one should be in the good category but it was good for me.

Of course, there can be bad distractions too. Texting and driving is a biggie these days. It’s even illegal in most places. That same distraction listed in the good section above is now a no-no as well. If I’m at the beach with Alicia and we are chatting and my eyes drift to the scantily clad beach goer next to us, my nodding and “yep” is likely going to be the dead giveaway to my transgression. I’ve been distracted by the TV and tripped over a toy in the floor. I was distracted once as a teen driver and backed right into my mom’s parked car in our driveway. I spent an entire 9 weeks distracted by Lewis Grizzard books in Senor Bryant’s Spanish class. No Bueno.  

All of those distractions are just normal life course events. They are everywhere. We have to train ourselves to block out distractions.  Sports teams are told not to listen to the media or read the newspaper because it could be a distraction. Some people put on headphones on the bus or the subway to block out the distractions. Part of the problem with distractions is that they feed our innate need to be involved in everything that’s going on. Without those headphones, you may want to hear what your neighbors are talking about on the bus. You never know, it might be juicy content. When a ball player hears the criticism that the coaches asked them to avoid, they feel the need to inject their opinion or defense into the matter in an effort to defend themselves or their team. It doesn’t matter that it is some lame sportscaster who gets paid to offer outrageous opinions. What matters is that this opinion has gotten under the skin of the athlete. And when an athlete loses 100% focus on their training or game, they are at a disadvantage. In the end, all it’s done is brought attention to the sportscaster, which is welcomed by them, and taken the athlete out of their game.  

Now is the time I should make clear that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald from the Book Depository. I believe that terrorists flew planes into the Trade Center and caused it to topple. I believe that there may be life forms in space but I don’t think we’ve been hiding them here for 100 years from the rest of the public. However, I also believe that everything is not always as it appears to us. Even with the few examples above, I believe there are things that we don’t, and never will, know. There are also things I think we probably shouldn’t know if it is a matter of national security. Conspiracy theorists don’t have an open mind. They would probably get a lot more traction if there were any give and take in their arguments. But no, they are usually so dead set on the conspiracy, that logic can’t be considered. So consider, in a tiny nutshell, my position on these things is that I don’t think I am lied to every time the news reports something major but I do believe we shouldn’t be totally dismissive of inconsistencies either. I think there is room for a little of both and I’d bet that most of the population is in my category on that. Maybe I’ll write more about that one day but that’s not the topic today.

Let me also take a moment to say that I am neither Pro-Clinton nor Pro-Trump. They both have a tremendous amount of deficiencies and I think we are in trouble with either. Further, anyone who knows me will confirm that I have an open mind and heart. I am not close minded when it comes to race, sexual orientation, gender or anything else that comes to mind. I do not like Country Music and I think the people that do should be forced to live in a state all their own, preferably Texas, but that’s where I draw the line on bigotry.  

So with those comments in place, let’s continue our discussion on distraction. I do believe, without a doubt but without concrete proof, that we are distracted on a daily basis by the news, social media and television from the bigger things going on that should have our attention. A prime example is to look at trending topics on Twitter at any point in time. While it’s true, that we all have the right and need for distractions, I am really talking about the things that get us all ginned up. Today, you have such gems as #TrentDilfer, #AGTFinale and #BlackRiflesMatter trending. They all have their own merits as topics and they all affect different groups of people in different societal circles.  But they are all overshadowing the bigger picture.Let’s take the #TrentDilfer hashtag. For those of you who don’t follow football, Dilfer is a former quarterback who is now a talking head on Monday Night Football for ESPN. There has long been a debate over whether or not he was a good quarterback. He has a Super Bowl Ring.  Dan Marino doesn’t but that doesn’t make him better than Marino. He is somewhere in the “game manager” category to be honest. Does he know about football? Sure. Is he one of the best ever? Not close. That aside, he now gets paid to express an opinion, HIS opinion. You may also be aware that a pro football player is currently expressing HIS opinion of the American Flag/National Anthem. And Dilfer shared his thoughts last night about said player. It wasn’t popular to the masses. It wasn’t all that popular with me either but because I disagree with his sentiments, not that I have a problem with him actually saying it. To be specific, Dilfer said the following:

“This is a backup quarterback whose job it is to be quiet and sit in the shadows. Yet, he chose a time when all of a sudden he became the center of attention. And it has disrupted that organization.”Colin Kaepernick has chosen to sit or kneel during the National Anthem in protest of what he sees as oppression against his race. That’s not for me to judge and I personally am not offended whether he stands or not. He is doing what he feels is the right thing for him. Further, as an old friend recently said, “I don’t pay you for your opinion.  I pay you to be a gladiator in an arena” ~ Jason Lee.  In reality, it should really have zero effect on people’s lives what this individual does during the national anthem.  And in a free enterprise society, which is what we are, you have the right to protest him for what he is doing by not going to any SF 49er’s games and not buying his jersey. It’s really kind of an open shut case. Do I agree with it? No. I’m not running out to add any CK memorabilia to my sports collection anytime soon. Does that make me racist or close minded? I guess that’s for you to judge. I feel like I have just as much right to disagree with him as he does to do what he’s doing. I think it’s disrespectful to our country and the men and women who protect it. To each their own.

The issue I have with Dilfer’s statement is that CK is not doing what he is doing on behalf of backup quarterbacks everywhere. His role on the team has nothing to do with what he is doing, if he is to be taken at face value. Again, I disagree with what he is doing but the capacity in which he is doing it matters not to me. By Dilfer’s logic, CK should be quiet if there is mass sexual harassment happening in the organization because, well, that’s his job as a back-up quarterback, to be quiet. See, my point is that it’s ok to disagree with Kaepernick for what he is doing. It’s also ok to agree with him if you want. Doesn’t mean that I have to and it doesn’t mean that I am racist if I don’t.  I don’t think it’s ok to forbid him to do it either. Let the free market speak for whether or not it should affect his livelihood. By that same token, I think it’s ok to agree or disagree with Dilfer’s comments in substance. I think he has the right to say anything he’s willing to say so long as it doesn’t cross the line of what his employer has deemed appropriate or innapropriate. I just personally disagree with both of them.  

Here’s where it gets muddy. If you go to social media (and I’m going to tie all this up in the end, I promise), here is what you get on each side.  For the pro- Kaepernick, it’s his right to do what he is doing because this is America and he is entitled to his beliefs.  Dilfer is an idiot and should be fired for being so insensitive.  For the anti-Kaepernick, he’s anti-American and should be outright released by the 49er’s.  Dilfer hit the nail on the head.  Here’s the rub.  Either they are both out of line or neither are.  Either their employers should hold them to a certain standard or they should allow them to be individuals.  Either it’s their right or it isn’t.  It’s that simple.  Again, I don’t have to agree or like either one of them.  I just don’t have to be so damn offended by either of them either.  I have the right to be indifferent.

So there is a big fat distraction right in front of us.  One football player (sure, others have joined) has divided our entire nation with one act of Heroism or Marxism, depending on the kind of glasses you are wearing.  It’s all anybody can talk about and it’s just what the men in black suits want us to focus on.  While this has taken over social media and the water cooler, if they exist anymore, 1984 becomes more and more like 2016.

Here’s a small sample:

  • Our way of life is being threatened every day.
  • Our religious liberties are being taken away.
  • We are being disarmed.
  • Many of our people are unemployed.
  • Many people have no healthcare.
  • North Korea just tested another nuclear weapon.
  • The US just gave Isreal $38B while we have homeless veterans and starving children.
  • One of our presidential candidates is a reality tv show star that is a good real estate developer.  He continues to say “disaster” over and over and over without offering reasonable it rational ways to fix it.
  • Another of our presidential candidates wouldn’t know the truth if it was a pants suit.  She is also having what appears to be major health issues and may even be using a body double – if you are one of those conspiracy theorists.  Have you seen what 4 years of presidency has done to health in the past?
  • We are still pushing for a cease fire in the Syrian craziness that seems to be never ending.
  • People are plotting to kill us (Americans) at this very moment.
  • There is a push to impeach the IRS chief.  The whole thing may be abolished one day.
  • Innocent Americans are being killed in our streets.
  • Innocent police officers are being targeted by the very citizens they are trying to protect.
  • Rules and restrictions are being shoved down our throats daily that continue to limit our ability to live freely.

Not one of those items are trending on Twitter.  You may not have even known some of those things.  I had to look some of it up myself.  The point is that there are much bigger issues than whether or not a football player stands for the national anthem and what a former quarterback thinks of it.  I totally get that it’s a big issue for certain groups.  But the whole reason he’s doing it isn’t even being discussed.  And personally, I don’t think what he’s doing has any tangible affect on why he’s doing it.  I just don’t make the connection.  But again, I’m indifferent.  

In conclusion, we just have to understand that we are all different and we see the world through our own unique set of eyes.  But in the end, I think we all want pretty much the same thing. We want to live our lives, raise our children, financially support our family and feel safe when we go outside.  But we are more divided now than we were 15 years ago.  We are moving backwards instead of forward.  And we aren’t doing ourselves any favors making our way through this world focused on the tearing each other down.  Eventually, we are going to lose our focus and we are going to back into that car in the driveway.





Living In Moments

Are we getting the most out of this life?  It’s hectic and there’s deadlines and milestones and responsibilities.  What’s your life story?  Are you going from event to event flying by the seat of your pants or are you really taking in the scenery as you go?  It’s really quite difficult sometimes to do the latter.  Maybe that’s why memories can stir such nostalgic emotions.  Because it’s usually only after we’re done that we reflect on the good times or the positive feelings.  If that’s the case, only if we are blessed with a long and full life will we recognize the great times and experiences we truly shared with our closest companions.  I think we all owe it to ourselves to “stop and smell the roses” on a regular basis.  But it’s really not that simple.

I believe that yesterday was one of the few times I was able to just live in the moment for tons of consecutive moments.  From the time I woke up until the time I went to bed, I was present and conscious.  The bad part is that I don’t really know how I did it so I can keep doing it.  It just happened organically.  It really was a fullfilling day.  Even normally stressful or difficult moments were slowed down and felt like the bullet dodging scene in the Matrix.  And I can honestly say I got what life offered during that time.  It felt good and feels even better when I think back on it now.  

Anybody who knows me well enough will tell you that I can be a little boorish and selfish when football season arrives.  I’m not real open to enjoying other things during this time of year.  For better or worse, that’s me and I admit it.  I’m thankful for those that understand and forgive me for it.  There is UGA football, pro football, fantasy football and occasionally video game football.  Part of it stems from nostalgia, once again.  I remember spending this time of year bogged down in Tecmo Super Bowl seasons, watching football games, going to UGA games, collecting football cards and playing in the front yard all throughout my formative years.  It didn’t hurt that I attended a “football school” during that time either.  Football is in my blood.  It’s a part of my soul.  I watch it intensely and deeply and it means something to me.

That being said, even going to “fun” events can be less fun around me during these months.  I’m not smiling and singing happy birthday if Georgia is losing in the background.  I’m not laughing it up at the Supet Bowl party if Cam Newton is winning.  I’m not very jovial if my starting fantasy running back gets yanked after a fumble in a crucial matchup with a heated rival.  I understand that it is a weakness for me.  I get that it’s not a good look.  Trust me, I really do.  But it hasn’t changed in many years and sometimes seems like it’s only getting worse.  And I am addicted to the feeling, good and bad.  I love it!  

So going to a UGA game for me can have all sorts of emotional ups and downs.  It starts with planning in general.  Athens isn’t a Sunday drive location.  It’s a solid 3 1/2 hours, including about 2 of those hours on two lane roads.  And about 90,000 people are spread out over those two laned roads on that weekend doing the same thing I am.  So planning is an important and sometimes stressful start to the trip.  Overnight stay or not?  If so, where, if not an expensive room in Athens?  All of it depends on game time and game importance.  12 o’clock games are always the toughest.  It’s usually a mandatory overnight stay unless I am all of a sudden in the mood to get up at 5:30 am and strike out on the road.  Football would be the only motivation I ever have to do such a thing.  

Why 5:30 for a 3 1/2 hour trek to a 12:00 game, you ask?  Because when you go to a UGA game, you don’t show up at 11:45 and take your seat.  There’s parking.  There’s a Dawg Walk that is very important that happens a couple hours before kickoff.  The fans and the players feed off of it.  There’s milling around various landmarks to take in the atmosphere and exchange “Go Dawgs” with your red and black brothers and sisters.  There’s the bookstore and it’s powerful allure.  There’s finding Hairy Dawg for a picture.  There’s paying respects to the fallen but never forgotten UGA’s of the past. There’s finding the spike squad for pictures.  And all of that is done before settling into your seat for some of the traditional experiences in Athens like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the Welcome to Sanford highlight videos on the Jumbotron and the stirring Bulldog Saturday introduction video voiced by the legendary Larry Munson.  It’s not just a football game.  It’s really close to a religious experience.

So I know what you’re thinking right now.  This sounds exhausting.  Truth is that it can be sometimes but it’s part of fandom when you live and die with your team.  But that’s sort of the point of this blog today.  Any time you’re really invested in something, it has the tendency to take away your ability to live the experience.  That didn’t happen yesterday and it was such a soul cleansing experience.  I know, dramatic right?  Well, hear me out.  I’m talking about taking one of the most important “things” (outside of family and friends) in my life and having it truly wash over me.  I lived the moments yesterday and it was good.  First, it was my first time taking Bailey to a game with it being just us.  We left on Friday evening and stayed in Covington, about 45 minutes outside of Athens.  The day started at 8:00 with a football sunrise and no rush whatsoever.  Bailey was in a great mood and she said out of the blue, “Thank you.”  When I asked what for, she said “for bringing me to the game.”  That was pretty special.  We got ready and had some breakfast downstairs before we made the short commute over to Athens.  It was a very scenic ride and I caught myself thinking that if I ever moved, this would be my dream spot in Georgia.  Such a beautiful area.  We rolled into Athens and spent probably 30 minutes riding around looking for the best parking.  You go knowing you’re going to have to pay to park and you’re going to have to walk.  But we just rode around the campus and watched the sea of people in red and black hanging out at tailgates, playing cornhole and throwing footballs.We found our parking spot and started walking the campus.  First, I showed Bailey the Vince Dooley statue and told her who he was.  Then, we checked out the practice field and the indoor practice facility “under construction”.  She was pretty impressed with Stegeman Coliseum as well.  We walked for about 20 minutes just talking and looking around.  Then we got to the Dawg Walk area, which we caught the end of, and looked at some vendor merchandise.  She picked up some UGA sunglasses and some face stickers and we moved on to the Tate Center to get some eats and see some more cool Athens trademarks.  We wandered into the stadium and walked around field level to see the field, players and the Spike Squad.  We walked around really with no purpose except to see the sights.  We made it to our seats with more drinks and food and watched all the Pregame festivities.  During that time, they played a video dubbed “Coming Home”, highlighting Kirby’s return to Athens as Head Coach.  I had seen the video on YouTube but it took on a new feeling in person at Sanford Stadium.  After the video, I put my arm around Bailey and told her, “No matter where life takes you or what road you travel, your home is always here.  That G is your home and you can always come back.”  I don’t know why I did but I felt it at that time.  And she got it and smiled.  The sun went in and out of cloud cover at just the right moments alternating heat and a cool breeze.  We watched Eason complete a long pass on the first drive and Chubb finish with a TD run.  Bailey said, “Eason is good!  And Chubb is back!”We didn’t expect a competitive game but FCS opponent Nicholls State had other plans and that would be the last “good” drive of the game for UGA.  We watched the halftime show and decided to walk around more for the second half.  We actually walked away from a 10-7 game at the half and I was totally ok with it.  Of course, we never left sound distance of the PA and there were TVs everywhere.  But I’ve never left a live game like that.  We found our way to the Kona Ice vendor and then the tent sale at the bookstore.  There was something surreal about walking around with Bug and hearing the ebb and flow of the crowd.  We went inside the bookstore and looked at tons of UGA gear.  We got to see Isaiah McKenzie break a 66 yard TD on four TV screens put together.  We picked up a few items and walked out to the bridge with Georgia leading by a slim 26-24 margin.  With 3:00 to go, Bailey sat on my shoulders and we watched the Dawgs grind out a few first downs and run the clock out from the bridge overlooking the stadium.  Bailey reached out to initiate a high five and once again told me “Thank you!”  She didn’t understand or even care that we just survived one of the biggest scares in our football history.  Losing to an FCS opponent in the second game of the season would have been devastating.  I understood it full well but for once, I was happy to win and decided to reserve my review of the performance for later.  We were 2-0 and for Bailey and I, that’s all that mattered.  And really, that’s all that should have at that time.We took the same walk back to the truck.  Back by the Stegasaurus, the practice field and Vince.  And the 3 1/2 ride back really didn’t feel like one.  Bailey fell asleep pretty quickly and I zoned out with other college football games on the radio.  We stopped for supper in Macon and got home around 8:30.  We were both exhausted and didn’t take a lot of convincing to call it an early night.  This was a great day for a lot of reasons and it could have been a total stress event.  For that, I am thankful  for Bailey’s genuine love for Georgia and desire to experience it with me.  I’m invigorated by my own ability for one day to enjoy the moments instead of getting wrapped up in what could have been negatives.  Parking was a nightmare but we didn’t let it affect our day.  It was hot and we were sweaty and getting burnt as time moved on but we rolled with it.  Bailey never lost her composure.  We allowed an inferior opponent to go toe to toe with us in our stadium in our home opener but in the end, we won.  And whether by 2 or by 40, it shows up as a W.  And so does the day as a whole.  It’s a day that I will remember when I’m old and feeble and hopefully one Bailey will too.  The takeaway for me is to try, though I know it will be hard to duplicate, to create more days where I can enjoy the moments unfolding around me.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in arguments, being uncomfortable or being underwhelmed by the effort of your football team.  But amid those issues, there is so much more there to get out of our experiences.  It starts with you and the people you have around you.  You’ve got to want to avoid the drama and the negativity that so many carry.  It’s not always easy but if you want to really live, you have to do it.  And yesterday, I really lived!