By James Mcchesny Williams:
I must ask for forgiveness in advance of any audience reading this piece. It seems I am confused about what Georgia football is, about what it really means. A friend of mine, who plays running back for the team, had this to say about fanatics such as myself: “The players on the field are the only ones who realize what’s actually going on. It’s a football game. Everyone else in that stadium thinks it’s a war.” Count me among those who have perhaps lost touch with the reality of the situation. I see the banners waving in the autumn air and I mistake them for battle flags. I see the moving, militant masses clad in red and black, and I feel as though I am part of an army. I see blood drawn, spirits spent, and tears falling from countless faces. In those moments I am sure we are at war. There’s more to be won or lost than a football game.
My friend assures me that I am mistaken. When he receives a handoff, or catches a pass out of the backfield, there are men trying to bring him down while he tries to avoid them. There is nothing abstract about the crunch of a 300-pound man’s tackle. Georgia football isn’t an idea, I’m told. It’s simply a series of plays. Plays form the composition of games, games form the composition of seasons, and seasons, we all know, are apt to change, to give way to something new, to fade away. As I write this in mid-July, it’s strange to think that the emotions I am sure to feel over the course of the next five months will be reduced to a callous record of wins and losses come the new year. There’s no rational reason to assign to those twelve to fifteen games any significance beyond themselves. So why, year after year, do I continue to do so?
The uncomplicated answer, I suppose, has to do with winning a championship. Nearly everyone- players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, sobbing children with painted faces, staggering Saturday-night drunks on Broad Street- asserts that the point and purpose of any given season is to become champions. One could argue that the purpose of any endeavor is to achieve the highest level of success possible. But people aren’t passionate about SEC or national championships. They are passionate about championship moments and memories. They aren’t drawn to the sheen and shimmer of trophy gold. They are drawn to a community with a common interest. I ask my friend what his favorite on-the-field moment has been up to this point in his career. He can’t decide on one. Instead, he describes a general feeling of contributing to the team, of being a part of something greater than himself. I ask my older friends and relatives why they still care so much, after all these years. Their slightly discrepant answers can be summarized simply and singularly: they love Georgia football.
I am ready to concede that, in truth, there’s no sanctity to Sanford Stadium. That there is nothing hallowed between the hedges. I will, if I must, halfheartedly admit that I take this team too seriously. But it won’t change anything about what Georgia football means to me. I’ll always understand the seasons as something more than a final record. If there is anything true to be said about the intensity one feels before a battle, about the powerful and compelling emotions that precede a fight, it would take a Georgia fan to say them. Here in the quiet heat of an Athens summer, I’m not getting ready for a football season. I’m preparing for war.