Why I’m Giving Up On Georgia Football

The UGA-Boise State game is what helped me realize that I had a problem, and needed to take drastic measures.

I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1998 with a B.A. in English.

I worked for the University of Georgia raising money for the Alumni Fund.

I’ve pulled for and loved the University of Georgia for my entire life.

But this year’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic against Boise State was my epiphany, and this past week’s loss to South Carolina cemented my decision: I’m done with Georgia football.

For a while, anyway.

Now, before some of you pour out the Haterade on my head, let me just say this: it has nothing to do with wins and losses. Not really. I mean, I’m sure if we were winning, it might not occur to me to make such a drastic change in my life. I’m sure, if we were winning, I’d just bite the bullet and keep watching, despite the mounting evidence, despite the warning signs.

But since we’re not winning, since we’re currently looking really, really bad right now, it’s the perfect time for me to step away from the game for health reasons.

Not bad kness, or a bum shoulder. Mental health reasons.

See, as a Georgia fan, I get too invested in the game. Too emotionally involved in the antics of 18-22 year-olds who are simply trying to enjoy the physical prime of their lives by playing a game at which they excel. Too attached to the ebb and flow of the games, to the point that I find myself wiling to say and do things that are not in keeping with my normal behavior.

I first began to notice this a few years ago, when my daughter was two. She toddled in front of the screen during the Georgia-Florida game and I almost lost my mind. Georgia was driving, and right when Stafford was rolling out for a pass, she blocked my field of vision. I couldn’t see what happened on the field, but could hear the announcers sudden change in tone.

Couple that with the fact that Ella had grabbed my face and was trying to tear it off with her fingernails, and it was a bad moment. I pulled her off of me with a bit too much force; she wasn’t hurt, and to be honest, she wasn’t even fazed. But the sudden sense of guilt and remorse for that split-second action was overwhelming. I was too into football.

And ever since then, I’ve noticed that same pattern repeating itself. I watch Georgia football and I get too wired in, too involved in a game that ultimately means nothing to anyone other than fans and the University accounting department. I live or die with each bad call, bad bounce, bad run of luck. I stew like a pot of chili if we lose.

Now, I get worked up watching any sporting event, because vicarious thrills are part of the fan experience. But I don’t get raging mad if the Falcons get beat like an extra in a Bruce Lee movie. I don’t lose my stuff if the Braves suddenly can’t win against the Bad News Bears. I feel the full range of emotions watching any other sporting event without developing the intense mental anguish that comes from watching Georgia football.

In short, I care too much for being just a casual fan.

If I painted my body, spent stupid amounts of money on donations, tickets, paraphernalia, parking, tailgating, and tattoos, then my actions might be justified, because I would obviously be one of those people who are just that into the game, or into the UGA pride thing.

But I’m not that kind of fan. I have one Georgia hat and three Georgia polos. No T-shirts, no sweatpants, no matching socks that bark the fight song (“Glory, Glory to Ol’ Georgia!”). If you didn’t know me, you might not ever know that I was a Georgia fan.

So my temporary insanity makes no sense. Thus, I’m giving up Georgia football for the foreseeable future.

Even if we get good, even if we play for the national title game in the next five years, I don’t know that I’ll be watching, because the good-bad play of the team doesn’t change how involved I get. I’m wired in either way; only the aftermath changes, and that’s not worth the roller coaster ride through mental derangement.

So take heart, Georgia fans: those of you who are true to the Red and Black, who bleed Bulldog blood and bark at unsuspecting strangers, you will not have to worry about this “fair-weather” fan anymore. You won’t have to berate me for not really loving the University or for not being a true fan. You can relax and have the team to yourself.

And there’s a bonus – I’ve found that when I don’t watch Georgia games, or listen to them on the radio, or follow them on the ESPN GameTracker, I’ve found that they tend to do significantly better. Like, I think the Dawgs are undefeated if I don’t care to know how they do.

So if UGA suddenly rises to the BCS pedestal over the next few years, you can send those thank you notes to this blog post.

And know in advance that you’re welcome.


How Lewis Grizzard Changed My Life

I was filing out an application for a men’s mentoring program today (it’s with the C.S. Lewis Institute here in Atlanta), and among the many questions I had to answer was this:

20. What book, other than the Bible, has had the greatest impact on your life? Explain why.

It took me a while to think of it, but once I settled on my answer, I was amazed at just how much that one little book changed the trajectory of my future. This is not spiritual, at least not on the surface, but the book that most changed my life was Lewis Grizzard’s Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.

I first read the book when I was in the sixth grade. My mother bought it as a pleasure read, but never quite got around to it. Something about the yellow paperback’s cover, a picture of Grizzard with a thermometer in his mouth and ice pack on his head, struck me as fascinating, and I quietly snuck the book out of my mom’s room and read it in one afternoon. I remember that I laughed at all of the jokes – even though this was an adult book with adult humor, everything resonated with me. It was the first glimpse of a truth about me: that I identified better with the generation ahead of me than I did with my own peers. My sensibilities, sense of humor, interests, observations, politics, and manners were more Baby Boomer than Gen X and I felt the same thing I felt when I stayed inside to listen to my parents and grandparents talk while the other kids went to play: that I was at home.

I loved the language, the irreverence, the risky-but-not-overt humor that everyone knew wasn’t like Mama’s but wouldn’t make Mama blush if she heard it; I loved the way that Grizzard was able to tell me about his plain life and make me interested. I had never read non-fiction before that (unless you count the Bible and my school books), and I had always assumed that non-fiction was boring. This opened up my eyes to the truth about story—narrative is the ebb and flow of all life, not just the stuff creative people make up. Grizzard’s book showed me that the average person is the central character in his or her own story while simultaneously being a major and/or minor character in countless other stories.

But I suppose what really makes this book most transformational in my life is the sheer fact that it made me want to write like Grizzard. I became a huge fan of his column in the AJC, and when it came time to select a career, and the college that would help prepare me for it, I followed in Lewis’ footsteps and chose the University of Georgia, majoring in Journalism. I gave up on that dream after my freshman year, but Lewis Grizzard’s book was so central to my choice that I never bothered considering any other school. It was UGA all the way.

I still find myself writing in the Grizzard tradition. I enjoy writing fiction, but I find that most of the time I connect best with people when I write in that columnist, everyman-observer, Southern boy style. I’ve found that I can write about anything that I want and be funny, serious, emotive, or all of the above within a single piece and people identify with it and embrace it. If I could have a career writing essays or columns that deal with my life as a parent or pastor or husband or Southern gentleman, I would be among the happiest men in the world, and I think in part it comes back to my salvation: I want to know that my life contributed something to the lives of others. My life – not what other people might expect from me, but who I am inside, no filters for public consumption.

I could go on, but in ways I couldn’t articulate, Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself was the awakening of the man I wanted to become, the man I am still striving to be. It remains a book that I read on a regular basis, even though some of the jokes aren’t as funny anymore; I can see in Grizzard a spiritual emptiness that leads to bitterness that I never noticed before, and it makes me sad for him, even as I determine to go in the opposite direction. But the book still reminds me of the stirring inside me to tell stories, to write well, to connect with people in a way that earns me an audience and the privilege to write about what I see is funny or true or meaningful or important about life. And it compels me to continue working toward the goal of being a published author, no matter how stacked the odds are against me. It is part of my purpose, I suppose, and Lewis Grizzard helped me find it.