For the many fans that came to Athens for Georgia’s season opener in early September against Appalachian State, and for the thousands of fans that watched at home, the day was a mark of a new beginning, a new season.
It was a day many had been looking forward to. It was a day of celebration.
But for one family in Athens, the day of celebration was laced with a little sadness and grief.
Georgia super fan Mike “Big Dawg” Woods passed away in early January, but for his son Trent Woods, his funeral didn’t happen until Georgia played Appalachian State to open the 2017 season.
“What a lot of people don’t understand about that first game is that the first tailgate to me was like his funeral because after dad died I felt like God told me to be there for my mother, brother and sister,” Woods said. ”Then, one of my first thoughts at that first tailgate, that first game, was that I knew at that point, that was the moment when it really hit home with me.”
Georgia’s first game of the season was the first game Woods officially took over the family tradition of painting a bulldog on his head, something that his father and grandfather had done before him.
More difficult than imagined
But for Woods, that first time was more difficult than he could have thought.
“From when he passed away until that first game, that day had been a road-block in my head. I couldn’t get any further,” Woods said. “But once my mom finally painted that bulldog on my head, that day was amazing.”
For the Woods family the tradition of the painted head is a family affair, more so now than ever before. Woods’ daughter Chrissy is his designated “PR rep”, giving Woods a presence on social media. He says her support is what has gotten him to the point of taking over his family tradition. Woods’ mother paints the infamous bulldog on his head, just as she had for his father every Saturday until he passed away.
But even though it’s a family tradition, Woods said that his family doesn’t get to see exactly what his father meant to the Georgia fandom.
“My [family], they don’t get to hear all of the people that come up and hug me and say ‘Your dad meant so much to me’ or ‘Your dad did this for me’,” Woods said. “I hear all of these stories about my father and they are such a blessing and I can’t relay that to my family of how much of a blessing he was to fans.”
‘Blessing’ to Georgia fans
But what exactly did Mike Woods mean to Georgia fans? Trent Woods explains it’s difficult to put into words.
“How can you put into words all the things my dad has done for the University of Georgia?” Woods said. “Football players are here for four years. Coaches? They come and go. My dad was with Georgia since he was born.”
As was Trent, too, only not as Big Dawg but accurately named the “Son of Big Dawg”.
“After I went into that transition of being the Son of Big Dawg to now being Big Dawg myself, I now can miss my dad, not just fulfill a role that we talked about me taking over for years,” Woods said.
This means that Woods finally has a chance to grieve the loss of his father, and it hasn’t been easy for Woods, who said that while excitement was in the air during his first outing at Big Dawg, it was filled with an overwhelming amount of emotions. And for the first time, a football game at Georgia was about more than Georgia – it was about a relationship with a father and his son.
“Georgia wasn’t a part of it and all the tradition,” Woods said fighting back tears recalling his first appearance as Big Dawg. “It was just me missing my dad.”
And while it is with a still heavy heart that Trent Woods takes over for Mike Woods, it is something that he knows he has his family’s support, as well as countless fans of Georgia.
“Seeing Dad go from just taking a couple of pictures here and there to all of a sudden people everywhere recognizing him and to become somewhat of an icon like that is an honor. And the only way we could have done that was through the love of the fans. Bottom line,” Woods said. “Man, Georgia has the most kick-ass fans around.”