If you follow my personal social media pages, you’ve seen my #DawgDaysWithDad posts. It’s our thing. My mom, aunt, uncle, cousins and I have Auburn, Jordan Hare, and the Kick Six. But Athens, Sanford Stadium and the Georgia Bulldogs are for dad and me. I was 5 years old when he took me to my very first football game. I wore my cheerleader outfit and mainly remember the little purse my mom packed full of snacks and candy. Dad had to bribe me with a trip to Toys-R-Us if I made it to halftime. We don’t remember which toy I picked that day but for better or worse, eventually I caught the bug. The bug likely caught around the time I was standing in front of the TV with my hands tapping my hips asking, “What does this mean?” Offsides.
The bug grew at the memory of greeting the Georgia football players stopping in Newnan, Georgia (my hometown) on their way to Auburn. Through this, the Davis family’s most famous Christmas card with me and “my other granddaddy”, Vince Dooley was born. (My mom’s family will understand this joke, which I’ll tell another time.) Meeting my all-time favorite player, Champ Bailey. My childhood self, throwing her hands up in the air in frustration and saying, "Where's Mike Bobo when you need him?" (Clearly the player version of Mike Bobo, not the coach.) High fiving David Pollack at Dawg Walk. Sitting right in front of David Greene in Stegman, watching the legendary, champion Gymdogs and hearing him say, “Wow! This is awesome!” A million walks from The Varsity to Dawg Walk to section 108. A million walks back to the Varsity, some in celebration, just as many in defeat. Rain or shine. Sweltering or shivering. Win or lose. Dawg Days with Dad are my favorite days.
By now, you’ve probably already read all the articles, social media posts, relived through highlight clips and if you’re a Georgia fan, watched the replay a few times. Some of you may even be annoyed by it all. To that I say, “So sorry that I’m not sorry!” We’re hearing others, “Act like you’ve been here before.” That’s the whole point! We haven’t been here! We don’t know how to act! We don’t know what it is like to not end the big one in heartbreak. We don’t know! So, sorry not sorry! We are enjoying this is the only way we know how. Obnoxiously. For some, maybe a little drunk. (Dawgs will get this reference.)
This is more for my own memories than for you the reader, but maybe you’ll appreciate anyway. I’m going to try and put my experience of a lifetime into words. It will be hard and I’m sure I’ll leave some moments out. But here it goes.
Usually at the end of big games, my dad’s phone starts ringing immediately. His “War Room”, we jokingly call it. Friends calling to poke fun, celebrate or commiserate. So, if we’re not together, I’ll text him. I texted my dad as Georgia beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl, “Well. We’re going back to the ‘ship!!” His response, “I will call you in a few minutes.” This was the first sign he was up to something. It wasn’t his usual excited response. The phone call went like this…
Dad: “Hey! Do you think you can get a few days off work?”
Dad: “Do you think you can get 3 days off work in 2 weeks?”
Me: “What do you mean?!”
Dad: “To go to INDY! Do you want to go??”
Me: “TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!?”
Dad: “Yes! Can you get Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off? Do you want to go?”
Me: “What do you mean, do I WANT to go?! YES!!”
Dad: “Okay then! We’re going!! I’ve got a hotel and will work on a rental car next.”
We chit chat a little bit and I’m pretty sure I said 100 times, “We’re going to Indy!”
When I tell you I have the greatest dad of all the dads, I cannot overstate it. My dad is the absolute best. Apparently he’d been planning this trip since before Thanksgiving. He and my mom kept it a secret from me. Of course we all know the journey the Dawgs had to take through the post season. Nothing was certain, so I’m really glad they didn’t tell me. I didn’t have to stress in the same way they did. In the days leading up to our trip, I’d text him randomly, “We’re going to Indy!” “Yes, we are!”
We get in the car, AIS (“Ass In Seat” is the code) at 7am on Sunday morning. Ready to go! The 8 hour drive up (we stopped a few times) was actually a lot of fun. We noticed pretty quickly we weren’t the only Dawgs making the trip. People with stickers, magnets and their flags flying met us along the way. Many blew their horns, waving arms and cheering. We counted, 118 of us. We make it to our hotel, drive around Louisville, check out the campus, eat dinner and fall asleep, ready for the long day to follow.
Get up, it’s Game day! This is a whole new feeling when the game is the National Championship and you’re physically going into the stadium. I kept telling dad the rules… “We’re going to enjoy this no matter what. We’re going to have fun even if our team doesn’t win.” The whole day from driving into Indy, looking out the window to see what we’d been seeing only on the TV for weeks, Lucas Oil Stadium in all its glory along with the Marriott building and 2022 Championship logo. Next, we journey to the parking garage to walking around downtown Indianapolis to the fan fest to the Sam Hunt concert in the circle. It was the experience of a lifetime, the best. We really did enjoy every minute of it and we hadn’t even gotten to the game yet! The people of Indianapolis, event volunteers, police, security, and staff were incredible! They were all happy to be there, talk to us, take pictures for us, help answer questions, give directions and welcomed us with such genuine energy. We spoke with one volunteer who told us he’d served at several other events, including the Final Four and Swimming Championships they’d hosted and to hear how proud he was made me feel special to be a part of one. Leading up to it, everyone was talking about how it is ridiculous to have the College Football National Championship in such a cold city when the majority of football season is hot. Let me pause to give you a little insight. One of the plusses to Indy’s downtown scene is that they have indoor walkways. Once you find your way, you can walk all the way from your parking spot into the stadium without too much time out in the cold! This is genius and game changing for us southerners used to 90+ degree games. Then, there’s also the argument of the north not being considered a hot bed for college football. In some ways, I agree with all of those statements and would push for Atlanta or even Nashville to host more often. They have the market, fan base, draw and ability. Truly, I was blown away by Indianapolis and their hospitality. 100%, they added to our incredible experience and I’m happy for their success in being the host city of the College Football National Championship. We’d be lucky to go back.
*Peep the mail truck in front of the stadium. Is that an omen? Who knew a mail truck would be a storyline?
*Also, yes, Dad had a beer with me!
*Any Jacksonville State friends remember that time we saw Sam Hunt perform before he became as famous as he is today?! SO cool!
We were so entertained all day that all of sudden it was time to start making the walk into the stadium. The Dawgs don’t know much about those late PM kickoffs… hey! ESPN, CBS, SEC Network, I’m looking at YOU! TWO top 10 match ups that kicked off at NOON?! Really?! Anywho, to spend all day long in waiting seemed intimidating, but there was so much to do and see in Indy that we could have very well been late! But they were so organized and prepared that everything flowed well and didn't feel rushed. Now, if you know my dad, you know we are always AT LEAST one hour early to kickoff. We like to get in early, watch warm ups, see all there is to see and be together. Here's another hint, we don't have to fool with long, obnoxious lines. We made our way to the stadium about 2 hours before kickoff. You won’t believe it, but so did most of the other Dawgs! The walk in was something I’ll never forget. The anxious, nervous, excited energy. People were screaming and cheering. Ready. To. Roll. That’s right, ROLL. Alabama fans won’t appreciate this, but the Dawgs outnumbered them BIG TIME! That alone told me we were going to find a way. Somehow, we were going to finally, finally Beat Bama on the biggest stage.
As we get closer and closer, energy is building. You can truly “feel it in the air tonight.” (If you know, you know.) Along with everyone else around us, I had my phone out taking pictures and I’m pretty sure with every other step we made saying aloud, mostly to myself in disbelief, “We are at the National Championship!” “We are here!!” “We are going in!!” “We’re a part of this!” We go to cross the last street right in front of the stadium; I look up and see this...
Y’all. Championship Way meets Amen Corner. That’s when it hit me. We’re not just here. We’re here to WIN! Somehow, someway, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. No more “2nd and 26.” No more “Not since 1980.” No more stabs in the heart and twist the knife. This. Is. It!
We get closer and closer. With each stadium staff person, I got more and more excited as if that was possible. I’m still just repeating aloud to myself and anyone, “We’re at the National Championship!” “We’re here!!” “We’re doing this!” The staff person who checked our tickets smiled so big at us and said, “You have a great time!” Again, I can’t overstate how welcoming they all were! I tried my best to take it all in and took a few selfies with dad as we walked inside.
I was screaming, cheering, waving my shaker (my lucky shaker, at that) along with everyone else. As we rounded the corner to start making our way to our seats it really hit me that this is a moment I’ll remember forever. I got emotional and started crying. We had to stop. Dad put his arms around me and we paused to truly take it in. Some of you might be making fun of me at this point. “It’s only a football game.” I know. Believe me, I know. I’d tell myself in every heartbreak, “It’s only a game.” But in that moment, it wasn’t just a football game. It was a memory being made with my dad. It was a memory that I knew I would keep with me and look back on forever. Have you ever had one of those moments? You know you’re living in something special. Did you stop to appreciate it? I’m really glad we did.
We get to the stairs leading to our seats. Now, we knew our seats were somewhere in the nosebleeds. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to us or anyone else sitting up there in the dark. We were there. Dawgs were filtering in from every direction, faster than the other guys. If you’ve been a Dawg for long enough, you remember the days of Dawgs coming in at the last possible second because they wanted to get in that last beer at the tailgate and it didn't really matter to them to be early. Seriously, Mark Richt called us out for this so many times, but no cigar. Even this season, Kirby made a point to fire us up for the noon kickoffs. To be ELITE, we've got to be EARLY. Before we knew it, our side plus a majority of the Alabama seats were covered in red and black. The video boards are showing replays and hype videos for both teams throughout the year. I’m looking at my watch getting more and more anxious by the minute.
Then, it was go time. I don’t know that watching on TV you could really appreciate Natalie Grant’s singing of the National Anthem, but in person, it was out of this world! I’ve never heard fans cheer in pride DURING the singing like we did as she sang. It was incredible! The lights went out. We got to use our flashlights (Again, if you know, you know.). We got a full 30 seconds to boo the Alabama team coming onto the field before the Dawgs ran out. I know, I know that’s bad form. But it’s Bama. And like y’all say, Georgia has the most obnoxious fans in the SEC. Come, on. Give me a break. Let us have this one time. Could you tell on TV how loud the Dawgs were cheering at winning… the coin toss? HA! It. Was. Loud. We were ready. The first half was a doozy though. THE PENALITIES. The blown calls by referees. I don’t like to make games about referees because everyone has to deal with them one way or another. It's no excuse. But my goodness, it was bad. We were getting frustrated. Not only did we have to beat Alabama, we had to beat the referees too? Ugh. Stetson didn’t look good. The front line didn’t look good. We couldn’t get a rhythm on offense to save our lives. I was REALLY glad to have Jack Podlesney on our team because it was looking like his game to win or lose.
Halftime. I’m going off on a tangent for a moment because this was something we’d talked about in the days leading up to the game. We thought we were going to SEE Katy Perry perform. On record, I don’t have interest in seeing her perform and only really appreciate hearing her songs on the radio in the car… sometimes. BUT the halftime show was to be a part of the event. Except that it wasn’t. She wasn’t there. We saw both the Alabama and Georgia marching bands play. The whole time I was thinking, “Um, shouldn’t they hurry up? Is Katy Perry going to have any time left?” We must have majorly misunderstood the assignment of her plans because we never saw her. They didn’t even show on the big screens whatever it was she'd advertised as groundbreaking. I honestly had built it up in my mind that we were going to see some kind of 3D music experience. Again, I don’t really care, but it was a bit strange. Seemed a missed opportunity, in my opinion. Did you watch on TV? Was it worth watching? I’ve heard literally NOTHING about it. Is that weird?! It’s weird.
Alright. Back to the good stuff. Halftime is over. It is REAL, now. In 2 quarters we are going to either be elite or we're not. We got the ball to start the half and just knew we HAD to do something with it. Then, we didn’t. I started to get really nervous. It felt like everyone around us was thinking the same thing. “Is Kirby going to put JT in?” “Run the Damn Ball!” “Is Zeus hurt?” Then, we blocked Bama’s field goal. It got loud. Then, James Cook took off down the field. That set us off. We never stopped barking. Every time I’d feel myself get nervous, I’d elbow dad in that joking way. Bring myself back down to the moment. He’d respond, “You hanging in there? We’ve just got to keep hanging in there.” Zamir White, Zeuuuuuuuuuus got on a roll. THERE it is. There’s the run! Touchdown. Okay, I feel better. BUT we all know Bama. We know they can put together a quick drive in the clutch like no one else. And they LOVE to do it to us. Don’t let up. Don’t let them out. We didn’t. Sure, there was the Stetson “fumble” which turned into an Alabama touchdown. Whatever that was. I really don’t even know and we don’t have to dissect it because we’ll never see what the referees saw. I don’t care who you cheer for, show that play right next to the very first Alabama drive of the game, no way those get called differently. Absolutely, no way. BUT our defense, they didn’t give up. They Hunkered it Down One More Time. Everything I wanted to see out of our defense in the SEC Championship, we saw when it mattered most. Everything they had been for us all year long, they were and then some in the championship. One underrated comment that I haven’t heard from any analysts or commentators is that we have defensive star power ALL OVER our field, not just on the line and in veteran players. A different defensive player stepped up all year, even more so in the post season. I mean, did any of you even know Derion Kendrick before he picked off Michigan twice? Did you really know Lewis Cine before Monday? I know you didn’t because you’ve never seen his face with all that hair. Did you know Kelee Ringo beyond his special story with his momma? We knew Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter would have to be beasts. We knew Christopher Smith had the ability to make a play. We knew Nakobe Dean would rise above and lead. Those other guys though, they did something beyond what they were asked to do.
2nd and 18. Why are we going backwards… again? Is JT going in any time soon? Are we going to run again? Where is Zeus? Where is James Cook? What is a running back? Insert the walk on, junior college transfer, 5th on the depth chart, Baker Mayfield stand in for practice guy. Insert, the Mailman. “Nah. Watch this.” DIME in a bucket to A.D. Mitchell. Bananas! That place went bananas! We’re all staring at the yellow flag on the ground, waiting just to be sure. Offsides, defense. Bananas! People were throwing cups in the air, going crazy. But again, we all know Bama. All too well. They’ve got plenty of time. They’ve got the Heisman winner. They’ve got the best football coach ever. Yes, some of their best players were injured, but they’ve got the best recruiting classes, so their next man up is likely the best too. They’ve got it all. And plenty of time. Eight whole minutes. We’ve got to hunker down for eight minutes!
We finally start seeing Zeus and the power run. Kirby had a plan. We can feel it. But we also know heartbreak, all too well. It is still a 1 point game. Plenty of time for anything to happen. Anything usually happens TO us, not FOR us.
3rd and 1. Insert a little Stet to Bowers toss. Touchdown. Can you feel it? Is this hope? Do we have too much hope? Watching the replay, this is when they show Vince Dooley clearly beginning to make his way down from his box onto the field. I’m glad I didn’t see that in person, in real time. Is it too soon? Three and a half minutes. It’s too much. Bama can do anything with three and a half minutes. We all know it. All too well. Let’s. Get. Loud. We’re all screaming and trying to make as much noise as we can. This is it. Are we elite or are we not? Is our defense what we’ve said it is all year long? Y’all, I didn’t truly realize how many chances Alabama had to get something until I watched the replay and saw those near miss passes. Some of those passes were right on the money, just not complete. I’d like to say it was our great defense. It was, somewhat. But I’m realistic enough and have seen plenty of football games to also say we had a little luck on our side. Now, here’s the thing about luck. Some of you want to place BLAME with luck. But luck is EARNED, not given. You work hard so that when your moment comes, when luck presents itself, you’re ready to accept. We were prepared to accept what we had earned and made the most of it.
1 minute and 9 seconds. 3rd and 10. This is the loudest I’ve ever heard Dawg Nation. Ball is in the air. Kelee is in the air. Kirby is in the air. Dad has lifted me in the air. Cups are in the air. Shakers are in the air. 2nd and 26 evaporates into the air. 1980’s flag is no longer in the air alone. Dawg Nation is in the air. Time is in the air. I can’t hear myself screaming because it is so loud. I can’t feel anything because dad is still hugging me and I’m crying… again. We’re all screaming and hugging. It’s happening. It’s really happening. We’re at the National Championship and we’re going to WIN the big one! Finally! We are going to Beat Bama. The clock is ticking down ever so slowly. Alabama fans are leaving ever so swiftly. Saban is calling timeouts ever so meticulously. Delaying the inevitable. Around 15 seconds, we all start counting down. Bryce Young is sacked. Time runs out. Dawgs On Top of the mountain. Demons be gone. Finally. The Georgia Bulldogs are in the air, tonight.
Dad and I then decide we are going to sprint down from the darkness to the bottom for the trophy celebration. We make it down in time to hear Kirby begin by remembering the great Larry Munson, “There’s going to be some property torn up in Indianapolis tonight, baby!” Stetson, the walk on, junior college transfer, 5th on the depth chart, stand in for practice guy, MAILMAN delivers. I’m watching as Rece Davis interviews him and I’m thinking, “Look at God.” You CANNOT tell me a guy like that could do what he did WITHOUT God. NO ONE and I do mean NO ONE beyond his teammates and coaches believed in him. We heard it and even said it ourselves all year long. “Yeah but Arkansas isn’t that good.” “Yeah but Kentucky isn’t Alabama.” “Yeah but he hasn’t had to do anything yet because the defense carries him.” "He's not built to beat Alabama." All accurate. He didn’t let any of the noise get to him. You cannot do that in the way he did without God. You cannot convince me otherwise.
“Shed the tears if you want to. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” - Rece Davis to Stetson
The walk back to the car was the best of all time! People were still screaming and cheering. High fiving strangers. “How ‘bout them Dawgs!” Dancing in the middle of the streets. There was one police car/set of officers looking on who got on the bullhorn, “Hey! Hey! Excuse me. Excuse me… Go Dawgs!” And the crowd close by went wild together! It didn’t stop the ENTIRE walk back.
Now, I’m going to give the Alabama fans credit. We didn’t interact with many because they were so outnumbered by us, but those we did see and talk to were kind, good sports. One man during breakfast at our hotel on game day went the extra mile in talking with dad. It was a pleasant conversation which ended with him saying, “I hope you all have a good time.” Clearly, he’d been there before. That has not always been my experience of the “Bammers” as the Auburn faithful like to call them. I do have some stories for another time. In all seriousness though, I didn’t see any rude fans or angry altercations. That is possibly a first for such a big game. I’m speaking for my own point of view, so if you saw something different, please take this with a grain of salt, recognize the bigger picture and don’t take away from my experience. Thank you.
We make it back to our hotel, which was not quite full the night before, and almost had a hard time finding a parking spot! We walk in at 3am to a group checking in and greeting everyone, “Go Dawgs!” Still excited, but also EXHAUSTED! I hop in the shower while I know dad immediately turned on ESPN to watch every highlight and listen to every comment. The next morning, I heard my favorite funny quote of the trip. There was a group of college/maybe just out of college young adults sitting at a breakfast table together. They were clearly on the struggle bus, trying to pull it together for the ride home and possibly still intoxicated. One of them looks off into the distance and says to no one in particular, “This is the best hangover I’ve ever had.” I wasn’t hungover in the way he was, but I completely understood the feeling. It was a glorious drive home. Bright sunshine. Talking about our favorite moments. Watching and listening to the highlight videos. Trying to relive everything so we will remember.
I’m going wrap this up, I promise. Some of you may feel like I’ve just been rambling. You may not relate to the sports element of this story. That’s okay, but I do hope you get to have the experience of a lifetime in your own way. This was truly a priceless few days with my dad and the Dawgs happened to be at the center of it. I hope I’ll be able to remember it like it was yesterday for years to come. I certainly smelled the roses it in the moment.