Growing up Bulldog: Love of UGA passes from one generation to the next
This week, I was reminded of what a generational thing Georgia Bulldogs fandom is when my wife and I were in a pharmacy in Athens to get our second COVID-19 shot. As we walked past a display of UGA merchandise (which seems to be a feature of just about every locally owned business in the Classic City), we spotted some children’s items, including a pink onesie with a tutu that we thought might be a great gift for our first grandchild, a girl, who’s due to be born in late March.
That will make her the fourth generation of our family to wear the University of Georgia logo!
I think that’s one of the things I enjoy most about college sports fandom. Family members pass down their devotion to their favorite school/team from one generation to the next, and on and on …
As I wrote last Father’s Day, my Dad was a lifelong Dawgs fan, and he sent me and my brothers, Jonathan and Tim, to UGA. I met my wife, Leslie, while attending Georgia, and both our son, Bill, and daughter, Olivia, graduated from the state’s flagship university, as did one of brother Jon’s daughters, Caroline. Even today, a sports-related family texting group we have also includes Jon’s teenage grandson, Gabe Rudd, and son-in-law, Nick Billman.
Our Dad took my brothers and me to our first Dawgs football games, and, in turn, I took my son to his first (the 1991 game against Cal State Fullerton, when he was 6) and my daughter to her first (the Louisiana-Monroe game in 2005, when she was 11). I look forward to our granddaughter someday making the trek to Athens from North Carolina, where my son and his wife, Jenny, live.
Over the years, some of my favorite Georgia Bulldogs moments have involved outings with my kids. Their enthusiasm and delight at simple things like petting Uga, or meeting Hairy Dawg, or seeing a favorite player up close brought me back in touch with the early days of my own Bulldogmania, growing up in Athens.
A favorite photo of our son is him posing with Hines Ward on the turf at Sanford Stadium during a pre-scrimmage August fan session that the Athens Touchdown Club used to host, back when my Dad was a member. Another time, at the annual fan Picture Day that UGA used to hold, young Bill’s uncles had fun coaxing him into having his picture taken with a group of pretty cheerleaders.
I remember standing on Sanford Bridge, looking into the empty stadium with my son, then of junior high age, and asking him, “Can you see yourself here?” His response, “Yeah!” wasn’t really a surprise, since he’d started following the Dogs as a preschooler. He went on to earn two degrees from UGA.
When she was growing up, football season really kicked off for my daughter and me with our annual August trip to the UGA Bookstore. Ostensibly, we were there for Olivia to stock up on school supplies, but that was only a pretext for indulging ourselves in a shopping spree amidst all things UGA. We usually departed with a couple of bags full of new Bulldog clothing and memorabilia. We kept that up, all the way through her years as a student there.
When Olivia entered the university, following in the footsteps of her parents, uncles, brother and at least four cousins, she already knew the campus pretty well, and, when she helped other students find their way around, she frequently was asked how she knew so much about UGA. Her answer: “I come from a long line of Bulldogs and my family has had season tickets since 1975.”
Long before I had those tickets, I got into games free during junior high and high school, because I sold game programs, thanks to Dad being friends with the guy in charge, one of my former Sunday School teachers, Stu McGarity Sr.
One of his kids just retired at the end of 2020 as UGA’s athletic director. Greg was a couple of years behind me in school, his younger sister Peggy was in brother Jon’s class, while his older brother, also named Stu, was a year ahead of me at Athens High School. All three also went to UGA.
I asked Stu this week about his Dawgs-related family memories, and he came up with a bunch, including “working” in the old Sanford Stadium press box as a pre-teen and teenager with his friend Sam Richwine (“We’d get there a couple hours early so as to enjoy feasting on Poss’ barbecue and ham and cheese sandwiches!”); going with his dad to Picture Day (“always the hottest day of the year!”), then eating dinner in Dan Magill’s yard with the likes of The Atlanta Journal’s Furman Bisher and the Constitution’s Jesse Outlar; and going to the Georgia-Florida game annually as a family, staying in the same hotel as the team (“Lots of fun!”).
Another fan who grew up as a member of the UGA athletics family is Helen Castronis, whose father was former Georgia player and longtime assistant coach Mike Castronis (of “Coach Mike’s Corner” fame at the old Hodgson’s Pharmacy in Athens’ Five Points).
Gus York, Helen’s grandfather on her mother’s side, also played football for Georgia, in 1910-12, she said, “so I am a Dawg on both sides. And, when Mama (with her red hair) and Daddy were dating, they were called Red and Black.”
Helen’s father started coaching “with Johnny Griffith in ’61 (I was 8) and was associated with UGA until he passed away in 1987.”
Of course, Helen and her older siblings, Mike and Mary, all went to UGA.
Jimmy Taylor remembers growing up in Mobile, Alabama, and being bothered by the fact that his father was cheering Georgia’s 1965 “flea flicker” upset of the national champion Crimson Tide. “I just could not understand how my dad could pull for UGA when we actually lived in Alabama! He put his arm around me and said ‘Son you will go to college one day and experience what I have experienced.’… Boy, was he right!”
Jimmy attended his first UGA game a couple of years later, in Jackson, Mississippi, as the Dawgs took on Archie Manning and Ole Miss, and his first game at Sanford Stadium was “the season opener in 1971, watching Buzy Rosenberg set an NCAA punt return record for most yards in a game, along with 2 TDs. This is when I got hooked and have never let go. My dad has long since passed, but he definitely ‘passed the torch’ to me. I have been a season ticket holder since the day I graduated in 1981.”
Kirk Blackmon, 67, has been attending UGA games for 62 years — again, thanks to his father. “My dad started me young with being a true Dawg fan,” he said. “My son is 40 now, and my grandsons 11 and 8. Three generations of loving the Dawgs. The Blackmons bleed red and black.”
Another fan, Jim McLaughlin, fondly remembers “when my oldest son, Cole, turned 5 in 1980 (the greatest season of my lifetime), I decided he was ready for his first trip from Macon to Athens to see the Dawgs play. On the way up to Athens, we listened to every Dawg song ever recorded. Cole was in the back seat singing the songs with the biggest smile possible.
“Our season tickets were on the third row at the 45-yard line in the South upper deck. As you know, in those days, the team arrived by bus behind the east end zone. When the team showed, to the cheers of everyone, especially the track folks, I said to Cole, ‘Here come the Dawgs!’ The little guy stood up and looked as the team came onto the field, and said: ‘Dad, they look like people.’ Yes, children often think very literally.”
Bulldogs family ties run strong for John Branyan, whose grandmother attended UGA in 1919-20. After returning from World War II, his father and uncle attended the university on the GI Bill. An aunt also was a UGA graduate.
As a result, he said, “at an early age, I was raised to know that Auburn and Georgia Tech were evil, and were to be hated. … When I graduated from high school, there was only one school that I applied to, and thank God I got accepted to UGA. I met my wife at UGA. My daughter and her husband graduated from UGA, and my grandchildren say they are going to UGA.”
Tripp Taylor (Harvey L. Taylor III) graduated from UGA in 1993. His wife, Gena, graduated a year later.
He recalls his first game was “sitting in the bleachers on the Sanford bridge in 1980” with his father, Lee (Harvey L. Taylor Jr.). When he was young, his family would travel from their home in Austell to Athens for a couple of games a year.
After high school, he was attending Shorter College when quarterback Eric Zeier, whom he’d seen slinging the ball for Marietta High School, committed to play for Georgia. That made him want to attend UGA, too.
After graduating from the university, he and his wife moved a lot, as he worked in the meat industry, but he became a Georgia season ticket holder anyway. “Although we couldn’t make it to every game, I wanted Dad in Austell to have the option to attend when he could,” he said.
Tripp just this week had to move his father into a memory care facility in Kennesaw, but son Drew attends UGA now, he said, and the Taylors maintain their season tickets.
“Our family is honored to bleed red and black,” he said, and he attributes that to “our Dawg patriarch, Lee Taylor.”
Jimmy Camp is a 1968 graduate of UGA’s Terry College of Business, and his Bulldogs bona fides include rooming with the legendary Lewis Grizzard at Callaway Garden Apartments in Athens, and being in Grizzard’s first wedding.
“My father was a Bulldog fan that ran river deep,” Jimmy said. In 1957, a pretty terrible Georgia team upset Georgia Tech, 7-0, to break the drought of eight straight losses to the Jackets. (This was the game that prompted the retiring of the jersey number of Theron Sapp, the Dawgs’ hero of the day.)
“At the end of that ball game,” Jimmy recalled, “my father got up and ran around the house jumping up and down as he hollered about the victory. Our next-door neighbor thought at the time someone had been seriously injured at the house. Later, my sister married the son of the neighbor, and it has been a story that has been told many times, and at Daddy’s funeral.”
He added: “Not much of a story, other than to our family, but it has stood the test of time.”
That’s how it goes in Georgia Bulldogs families.