The experience began with the Dawg Walk. The pregame ritual is one of Georgia most well-known and celebrated traditions. Since I can remember, my family tailgated with friends steps away from Gillis Bridge and the west end zone of Sanford Stadium where the celebration is held. It was imperative that we walked down the stairs to watch the band play and majorettes cheer as the football players that I held in such high regards headed towards their stage.
Yesterday I experienced this fond childhood memory from a new perspective. Instead of watching from behind a rope held by security guards, from the Tate Student Center stairs or up above on the bridge, I was in the thick of it. I walked down the path lined by uniformed band members, rhinestone-clad majorettes and fans like my former self. At the end of my walk were the parents of the players. I had the privilege of speaking to both Jonathan Ledbetter’s and Terry Godwin’s parents. They were extremely kind and helped to break me out of the state of awe that I was in with warm greetings and genuine conversations. I began to realize that maybe I did belong there. Then came the players dressed to the nines high fiving fans before moving on to hug their families. I found myself lost among giants in suits.
Instead of being the little girl peering over the hedges to grab a red shaker off the top, I was suddenly on the other side watching the players stretch and perform drills. I was in the action. While walking the sideline of the field on my way to the press box I passed by the seats, I sat in for every game from the time I was born to when I started college. Those 50-yard line seats are where I became a fan. Despite the big stage, as I entered the elevator, I left my personal feelings behind once again and became a journalist. Someone who watches the game critically and analyzes every play looking for the successes and failures of each player. Someone who wants to understand and expose the reasons why a team won or lost.
The halftime dinner was simple, hot dogs with chips and salsa, but my company was anything but. Being the “new kid on the block,” I grabbed a seat next to an unfamiliar face. Little did I know I was in the presence of a legend. Out of all the seat in the room, I had chosen the one next to Loran Smith. After every game, my dad would turn on the post-game radio show, and we would listen to his voice for hours either in the hotel room or on the long drive home. After a minute or two of small talk, I learned that he was a good friend of my grandfather. He said, “You come from a great lineage.” I then told him who I was working for and my year in college which he responded to with “I will be sure to remember you.”
The emotions I felt were plenty. The minute I woke up I had a knot in my stomach. A knot made of nervousness and uncertainty. As soon as the adventure began, I found myself silent taking everything in. I was overwhelmed with shock and awe. Talking to fans and fellow members of the media allowed me to loosen up. Eventually, I felt at home both on the field and crammed in my press box seat. When the fourth quarter came to an end, I was not ready to leave.
I never thought that this would be in my future. Georgia football has been a constant in my life that I associate with so many cherished people and unforgettable memories. I can personally attest to the fact that sports add so much color to people’s lives. Now I get to help enrich other people’s relationships with sports through my work as a journalist. There is no gift greater than that.