ATHENS — Hurricane Matthew broke the streak. Before that calamitous storm scraped the Southeast coastline on Oct. 8, Kim Catalina had attended every single sporting event that her son Tyler had participated in during his lifetime. His older brother, too, for that matter.
That hurricane eventually would postpone the Georgia-South Carolina game until Sunday, a day later than scheduled. It also prevented Kim Catalina from making it out of Logan International Airport.
“United (Airlines) called us a day previous and said they were canceling flights out of Boston,” Kim Catalina explained this week. “So, with that being said, it’s the only game I have ever missed since our children put on a uniform going back to tee ball. That is a fact.”
About her sons, Tyler and Tony Catalina Jr., Kim Catalina adds, “They are my world.”
That’s pretty apparent considering the lengths at which Mom and the whole Catalina family has gone to see them this fall. Tyler Catalina is Georgia’s starting left offensive tackle. He’s a 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior by football eligibility and a graduate transfer from Rhode Island. He left his home in Worcester, Mass., and came all the way to Athens and UGA to answer the Bulldogs’ call for help on the offensive line and get a taste of SEC football. Worcester is a city of about 181,000 people 40 miles west of Boston.
Tyler’s parents, Kim and Anthony “Tony” Catalina Sr., were all for this. Of course, it meant that their youngest son would play football and attend college 1,000 miles away. But they decided early on that was their problem, not Tyler’s. Georgia represented the greatest opportunity for their son to pursue his football dreams of playing in the SEC and hopefully one day in the NFL. So they’d just deal with the logistics themselves and figure out what they’d have to do to get to games.
That has manifested itself into what has been a seemingly endless journey of a lifetime. And while it is coming at considerable trouble — and expense — the Catalinas wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my son, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Kim Catalina, born and raised in Massachusetts. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
Other than that South Carolina game, she has missed very little. And Tony Catalina and a friend made the drive to Columbia, so there were Catalinas in attendance at the game, too.
Kim Catalina is the driving force behind mobilizing this clan. Shortly after Tyler Catalina signed with Georgia late last February, she looked at the UGA football schedule and booked trips to all 12 regular-season games. She’s a meticulous planner and keeps a binder that holds every little detail on each excursion.
And not just for her. She plans also for Tony, some of his friends, an occasional grandmother or a grandfather, and, ever so often, Tyler’s best friend, Matthew LeBlanc. All of them wear No. 72 Georgia jerseys with “Catalina” stitched on the back to the games, which makes for quite a sight when they’re all congregated at a tailgate.
That was Kim Little’s introduction the first time she met the Catalinas in person. Little and her husband Jerry, a UGA alum, are huge Georgia fans and follow the Bulldogs wherever they go. Little and Ms. Catalina struck up a friendship via social media (more on that later) but never met each other until they rendezvoused in downtown Atlanta for a tailgate before the North Carolina game.
“Here we were in a parking lot in downtown Atlanta and we looked up and saw all these Georgia red Catalina jerseys coming our way,” Little says with a laugh. “That was the first time I met her. It was just the coolest thing. They joined our tailgate like they had been coming for years, and it just went from there.”
Since then, the Littles and Catalinas also hung out in Memphis, where they stayed for the Ole Miss game on Sept. 24 and rode together to Oxford. And the Littles see them every Saturday in Athens without fail, either at their tailgate spot with Dale Dubose and friends next to Myers Hall, at their own tailgate or after the game at Tyler Catalina’s apartment near Milledge Avenue.
“They’ve just been blown away by football in the South,” Little said. “The North Carolina game shocked all of them, the way Georgia fans filled a pro stadium and how loud it was and everything. And they’ve really enjoyed Athens.”
What makes the Catalinas’ support of Tyler particularly compelling is the internal family dynamics. The fact is, the Catalinas have been divorced for many years. In fact, Kim Catalina often travels to games with her boyfriend, John Bishop. He’s a Worcester policeman and a friend of Tony. All of them, Kim, Tony and John, grew up as friends in the Greater Worcester area.
And they’re all still friends. They all show up every weekend at Georgia’s games to root on Tyler and revel in this Southern phenomenon known as SEC football.
“Everybody gets along,” Kim Catalina said. “We do holidays, birthdays, graduations, football games. I think every divorced couple with children should get along. You have to be role models for your kids. It is the ideal situation for everybody. … We embrace the family unit, the meaning of family. We don’t like having to share, where you go here for half a day and there for half a day. We do everything together.”
And they have a good time doing it. The general routine is they all will leave Boston on Friday and head to wherever Georgia is playing that particular weekend. When it’s in Athens, they’ll all pile in at Tyler Catalina’s two-bedroom apartment. Tyler’s room always is available because the team always stays together at a hotel the night before a game, home or away.
“They love it just as much as I do,” Tyler Catalina said of the SEC football scene. “Up North, we don’t get this kind of atmosphere for football. Them getting to travel to the different states where we play every week is awesome. They love it.”
Tyler shares his Athens apartment with his older brother by just more than a year, Tony Jr. Tony Jr. took a year off from his job as a high school coach and teacher. He is working part time as a quality-control assistant in UGA’s football office.
Kim Catalina also took a hiatus from her regular job. She has worked for many years at the same Worcester car dealership. But once she started to map out the travel and started to quantify the hours, she knew she wouldn’t be able to give her employers the dedication they deserved. So she convinced them to give her the fall off.
“I’m going to be in Athens almost the whole month of November,” she said. “I’m not coming back until after the (Senior) Gala (in December). I already bought the dress! Like I said, you only live once.”
As for paying for it all, Kim Catalina jokes that she’ll worry about that later.
While the pomp and circumstance and tradition of SEC football has been fun to experience, the Catalinas have had to deal with the other side of it as well. The season hasn’t gone as well as the Bulldogs had hoped. And while Tyler achieved his initial objective, which was to earn the job as Georgia’s starting left tackle, the performance of the offensive line has been blamed for a lot of the Bulldogs’ woes while limping to a 4-3 start (2-3 SEC).
Once an outgoing and vivacious participant on multiple social media platforms, Kim Catalina has deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts. She has privatized her Facebook page to include only close friends and family.
“Poor kid, she took every comment personally,” Little said of her friend. “She stays positive about everything that’s happening on the field, but she’s very, very protective of her sons.”
“I’m very proud of the way he’s playing,” Ms. Catalina said. “I really am. He works very, very hard.”
It was on Twitter that Kim Catalina met Little. She noticed Little following Tyler and several other Georgia players, so Catalina reached out to her for information. First, it was about things like which power and gas company to use. Later, it was about where to go and what to do in Athens and other SEC cities.
They’re all very excited about the next destination. The Catalinas have heard all about the legend known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” when Georgia plays Florida in Jacksonville. So they’re going to make the most out of this trip.
The plan is to fly to West Palm Beach and spend a few days lying on the beach before venturing up Interstate 95 to soak up some more SEC football atmosphere.
“We’re going to go down and make it a week of it,” Kim Catalina said. “We’ll drive up refreshed, see the game, drive back down, spend a few more days and fly out right into Worcester. You know what? It’s awesome!”