ATHENS – As Georgia prepares to play Alabama for the national championship on Monday, there probably are a thousand fans stories similar to the one Chris Thomas tells. But his sure is a sweet one.
Thomas’ father, Treston Thomas, was as big a Georgia football fan as there is. He went to every game he could, home and away. And, of course, he was at the “big one.”
That’d be when the Bulldogs met Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1980 season. On Jan. 1, 1981, No. 1 Georgia defeated the Fighting Irish 17-10 to complete a perfect 12-0 season and become the undisputed college football national champion. And Thomas, a proud UGA alum, was among the thousands of Bulldogs fans in New Orleans to witness.
The next day, Treston Thomas bought a sweatshirt down on Bourbon Street before he left town. It was nothing fancy, just one of those quick-turn, screen-printed jobs, red with the old mean-lookin Bulldog logo, a giant #1 and “National Champions 1980” scripted across the bottom. But Treston Thomas loved that shirt.
“He literally wore that sweatshirt every day for 20 years during the cold months,” his son, Chris Thomas shared. “He’d come home from his job at State Farm, change out of his work clothes and put on that shirt.”
Treston Thomas passed away at the age of 65 in 2009 after a long battle with early-onset dementia. In the days that followed, Chris and his brother Nick were going through his father’s things with his mother, Patricia. Mrs. Thomas happened across the old sweatshirt, threadbare from decades of wear, and was going to toss it out.
“I said, ‘no, no, no. I want it,'” Chris Thomas said. “I told them, ‘I’ll frame it. If the Bulldogs ever play for a national championship again, maybe I’ll break it out and wear it for good luck.’”
Well, everybody in the family has remembered that proclamation. So, the frame and sweatshirt have come down off the wall of Thomas’ Georgia-themed basement in Watkinsville and it has a date at Micheal’s Saturday morning. Thomas is paying the arts and crafts store $25 to take the sweatshirt out of the frame without tearing up both the frame and the sweatshirt.
“I’m scared to death it’s just going to fall apart,” Thomas said. “But I’m going to wear it.”
Thomas was tempted to break out the sweatshirt last week when he, his youngest daughter Anna and his mother traveled to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. You know, for good luck. But he backed off at the last minute, remembering his pledge.
“I said the championship game and that wasn’t the championship game,” he said.
Well, Georgia got through — barely — and Thomas will be attending the national championship game in Atlanta Monday with Anna. The 11-year-old has been his traveling partner all season. They’ve been to games at Notre Dame, versus Mississippi State in Athens, Florida in Jacksonville, Georgia Tech and the SEC Championship in Atlanta and now the Rose Bowl.
“It has been a privileged year of football travel for her and she doesn’t even know it,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ older daughter, Shay, is not interested in football. His wife, Apryl, is actually an Alabama graduate but “gets too nervous at games.”
“Which is fine because I only have to come up with two tickets,” Thomas said.
He hasn’t come up with those tickets just yet. The Thomas’ gave up their season tickets before their father died, and prices for upper-level tickets to the championship game are ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 apiece on the secondary market.
But Thomas, a State Farm agent himself, anticipates that prices will come down by Monday.
“I’m going to pay whatever I have to pay,” he said. “If they’re still $2,000 then, so be it.”
Somehow, some way, Thomas and his daughter are going to be in that building on Monday. And he plans to have on Treston Thomas’ tattered old sweatshirt when he gets there. That way, he feels like he’ll have a piece of his father’s heart — and that old New Orleans luck — with him.
“Herschel Walker was forever his favorite player,” Thomas said of his father. “After he was diagnosed with dementia, we’d always ask him, ‘what number did Herschel wear, Dad?’ And he’d say, 34. A couple of years later he’d say ’43.’ Then he wouldn’t say anything at all.
“But I know he’s going to be with us for this game. And I know we’re going to win!”