You Gotta Believe….. GO DAWGS!

Tonight the Georgia Bulldogs will play the Alabama Crimson Tide for the National Championship in College Football.

The game will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

It should be a good game with two SEC power-houses battling for the ultimate prize.

Alabama has been a participant in the National Championship numerous times over the last several years.

The last time the Georgia Bulldogs played for the title was in 1981, in New Orleans, in the Sugar Bowl, against Notre Dame.

In 1981, I was there.

A few days before the game, my parents, a family friend Chuck Foster, my best friend Andrew Lampros and I piled into an old motor home that my dad had borrowed from his brother.

We left Clayton early in the morning heading to the big game in New Orleans.

Over the next couple of days we toured the sights and sounds of The Big Easy.  We enjoyed the classic architecture, the street performers and got into the spirit of the game on Bourbon Street surrounded by thousands of Dawg fans who knew this was our year!

The Sugar Bowl would be played on New Year’s Day and the revelry of a New Year’s Eve celebration was something this 16-year-old and his friend had never witnessed.

We strolled Bourbon Street with my parents and Mr. Foster, no doubt mouths wide open at the sights and sounds we saw.  We made our way into Pat O’Brien’s Bar.  (In those days and especially in New Orleans it wasn’t uncommon to see teenagers in a bar, especially with their parents.)

In Pat O’Brien’s we met up with friends and mama and daddy let Andrew and I indulge in our first “Hurricane.”  A drink made with almost every type of alcohol imaginable topped with fruit juice.

At some point during our stay at Pat O’Brien’s, we were joined by my brother Sam and a group of his friends who were also in town for the Game.

Somehow Sam convinced mama and daddy to let Andrew and I go with them to usher in the New Year on Bourbon Street.  They promised they would get us home safe and sound.

So Andrew and I, and a group of 20-something guys made our way out into the night.  And what a night it was, memories that I still have to this day.

The next morning, after being delivered back to my parents safe and sound, we arose to the promise that THIS was Georgia’s year!  Nursing the effects of the night before, we prepared for the game.

As we made our way into the SuperDome, the Georgia faithful were everywhere, the excitement building to a frenzy as the Dawgs took the field.

That night we won, as the team carried Vince Dooley onto the field atop their shoulders, the Georgia Bulldogs were National Champions, defeating Notre Dame 17-10 completing a perfect season.

Andrew and I made our way out onto the field that night, surrounded by all the other happy Dawg fans and in those moments and the many moments that led up to that victory celebration, I created memories that have carried me for more than 35 years.

We still talk about that trip to New Orleans, it was a time that will forever be etched into our minds as some of the best of our life.

Deep into the second half of the game, my dad gave Andrew and I a life lesson that we still quote today.  As Notre Dame was moving down the field and threatening to score, a lady near us said loud enough for everyone in our area to hear something like “oh, I don’t think we are going to do it, I don’t think we are going to do it.”

Without missing a beat, my daddy yelled out “lady you gotta believe, you gotta believe.”

We did and he did.

Tonight as the National Championship Game is played, there will be young boys and girls in the stadium who will be making memories that last a lifetime.  Memories that they will look back on as they are older and celebrate, they will celebrate the excitement of a night, and the simple moments that merge together for one of life’s greatest experiences.

And maybe, just maybe, they will learn a life lesson…. you gotta believe!


A Night Like No Other….

Last night wasn’t a typical night, the Rabun County Wildcats played in the Final Four of the State Football Championships for a berth in the State Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday in Atlanta.

It wasn’t a typical night because it had never happened before, in the over 60 years of our football program, we  had never reached this point in the play-offs.

After dominating every team through the season, the Cats entered the game ranked #1 in the State, the only undefeated team left in the play-offs.

Our opponent, a strong, fast south-Georgia powerhouse, Brooks County had traveled the length of Georgia,  to the North Carolina line from the Florida line.  Bus loads of Brooks County fans had made the trek, it was going to be a battle to the end.

All week the topic of conversation in our small little mountain town centered around the game.  We were told to arrive at the stadium early as a huge crowd was expected and parking would fill up fast.

I woke up yesterday morning with a sense of excitement, lump in my throat and stomach that wouldn’t stop turning.  It seems as though that queasy feeling was contagious as I got texts through the day from friends that usually started something like…”I feel like I am going to throw-up,”  I could relate, I guess we all had Wildcat Fever!

By 4:30 friends were posting that they were standing in line to get into the stadium, the gates opened at 5.

Once I closed the store, I rushed home, took Lita out for the quickest walk she has ever had, threw some food out for her and was out the door by 5:15.

On my way to the stadium multiple texts tinged my phone “where are you,”  “I got our seats, just one row back from where we normally sit,” “hurry up, this place is rocking.”

I found my seat next to Becky Simmons Berliner, my friend since first grade, my friend that I have sat with during every game this season.  We both expressed our stomach pains and impending heart attacks, Becky telling me if we win she would cry, she just knew she would cry.

I knew the feeling, we had been waiting for a moment like this our entire lives, a night like no other, a night when history would be made.

By 6 pm the stadium was packed, now we only had an hour and a half to wait before the actual game began.  Looking around, Wildcat heroes from decades back had gathered to witness this monumental night, their hearts were on the field and their excitement was palpable, they knew this was their night too.

Finally it was game time, everyone was in place and the roar of the crowd from both sides of the field was deafening.

Brooks County scored first, after a scoreless first quarter, they got an uncharacteristic safety as the second quarter began.  A few plays later the Cats scored and we never looked back.

When we scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, as fans celebrated and cheered, I looked at my friend Becky, tears streaming down her face, a face filled with joy and excitement…. we were doing this, we were going to win!

And win we did!  The Rabun County Wildcats beat Brooks County 23 – 12 carrying an undefeated season to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday for the chance at a State Championship.

As the clock made its final tick into history, students, parents and fans rushed onto the field to celebrate a feeling we have never had before, one step closer to a dream that has for many years seemed unreachable.

I celebrated in the stands for a bit and then made my way towards my car.

I saw my friend Meredith standing in the end-zone with her four-year old son, sound asleep on her shoulder.  He had no idea of the history made on that night, but one day his daddy, one of our coaches, will tell him about the year a group of boys set out on a mission to be the best.

He will tell his son about that historic night, on the field where he had played as a high school quarterback, and he will share the memories of that night when history was made.

Just before I reached my car, I ran into a group of Brooks County fans waiting to load their school bus for an overnight drive back to the other end of Georgia.  In the crowd I saw a single mom I had met at halftime.  She had ridden the bus from south-Georgia to see her son, a saxophone player, march.

The saxophone player’s mom and her friends were all disappointed, they wanted to win as badly as we did, but as we talked she reached out and gave me a hug and said “y’all win next week.”  I thanked her and we wished each other a good night and safe travels home.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep.  I sat down and started thinking about the night… a night like no other.

When the history of last night is written, it will focus on Coach Lee Shaw, Bailey Fisher, Braxton Hicks, Cole Keener, Austin Jones, Andrew Barnes, Dawson Henricks, Gavyn Jones, Tanner Jarrard and all the others who contributed week after week to make this night become a reality.  But it will also feature the hundreds of young men who marched onto the field as part of the Wildcat Nation from decades past, men who didn’t have the same successes as the 2017 Wildcats, but men whose dream was fulfilled on December 1, 2017.

I couldn’t help but think about my mama and daddy, former coach and wife of the Wildcats.  I thought about Chris Mance, Merle and Frank Snyder, Ed Singleton, Bill Hall and my brother Tom, former Wildcats who celebrated in heaven on this magical night.

As I thought about this Wildcat team and all the others who had come before, I cried, tears of joy for a night like no other!

Next Saturday, we have an appointment…. an appointment at THE BENZ!  GO CATS!