METTER – Here in the seat of Candler County, you can brush up against the best when it comes to agri-business, farming, fishing for bass and catfish. You also can cavort in conversation about the past with Kennedy Dekle, whose affection for the Georgia Bulldogs can best be characterized as “nonpareil.”
Dekle is the oldest living season-ticket buyer for Georgia football games and plans to continue for “several more seasons.” Then he comes with a disclaimer.
“I have a bad left knee and getting to the hedges on Saturday is not a problem,” he said. “The problem is getting back to my room at the Holiday Inn, but the Lord willing, I will be there for that first kickoff with Austin Peay Labor Day weekend and beyond.”
He will be 93 on Sept. 18, and there is no place he would rather be in the fall than between the hedges. This has been a ritual since 1949 when he graduated from UGA with pre-med credentials with plans to enter the Medical College of Georgia.
He had entered UGA in the war years and joined the Navy in 1943. He spent three years and seven months in the military and saw the worst when it came to debilitating combat action. He was a medic when the Marines took Okinawa, and like those who lived through the worst of war, doesn’t enjoy talking about his experience.
He is a proud American and a member of the Greatest Generation, but he is loath to engage in details about his war experiences. A latent exposure to the History Channel has motivated him to “look back” and to learn more about his military experience.
“I can put it into perspective better now,” he said.
But he will wax on like a Shakespearian bard when you bring up Bulldogs football. He has the most legitimate of credentials when it comes to things red and black. He founded the Candler County Bulldog Club, which joined with surrounding counties for rallies promoting Georgia football.
A frequent house guest for him in the 1950s was coach Wallace Butts and Dan Magill, the Bulldog Club secretary. Dekle would organize a fish fry for his Athens guests and Bulldogs aficionados in the area.
“Man,” he said, “we had some good times.”
Later on he became friends with Larry Munson, the fabled play-by-play announcer.
“Somebody asked me if we could get him to come speak to us, and I said, ‘Well, we don’t know unless we call him,’ ” Dekle said. “I called and got his number, and then I called Larry. He came, and he liked our community. We arranged for him to go fishing. He caught a lot of catfish, which we cleaned for him, and he took them home with him. You could tell he liked being with us down-home folks in Candler County.”
Butts always will be a favorite. Dekle liked the Little Round Man’s affinity for the passing game, but what set the former coach apart was his colorful style and ability to spin a yarn and to make people laugh.
“Coach Butts was always a big hit when he came here because he was such a remarkable storyteller,” Dekle said. “He could imitate anybody.”
At Georgia, Dekle became friends with Frank Sinkwich, the Heisman Trophy winner. Dekle has fond memories of shooting pool with Frank at the “Q” room.
Dekle also remembers what it was like when the stadium was expanded following the 1966 season.
“We were assigned seats in the new upper decks, which gave us better yardage,” Dekle said. “We became good friends with the people who had seats around us. It was like a fraternity. We always wanted to win, but we didn’t get our nose out of joint like they do now. Nobody was ever rude in the ’60s, but things have changed. Still, I can’t imagine not being between the hedges when Georgia kicks off in the fall.”
His favorite game for years was the Georgia-Alabama game in 1942 when the Bulldogs, trailing 10-0 at the half, came roaring back for 3 touchdowns in the second half to win 21-10. He was there to see Sinkwich throw 2 touchdown passes to his roommate George Poschner, which so impressed the northern sports writers who were on hand for the game that they voted Poschner an All-American.
When Georgia came from behind on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl to defeat Oklahoma 54-48, Dekle decided that game should be ranked above the 1942 Georgia-Alabama game. The recent Rose Bowl victory has become his all-time favorite Bulldogs game.
For years, I have traveled the state and have heard countless testimonials about “Georgia’s greatest fan lives here.” Waycross, Hiwassee, Ellijay and Vidalia — doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll get that tribute.
I have never felt that I could legitimately pick Georgia’s greatest fan. If pressed to vote, however, it would be hard not to vote for Kennedy Dekle. Not sure if I could identify a fan whose love and loyalty has endured longer than that of this Candler County native.