This One is Forever, Y’all
So here we are again, just a little more than a month since I promised myself that if I ever went to watch another Georgia-Alabama football game, I would leave all hope at home.
My first memory of Georgia—Alabama was when I was 13 years old. Yes, I am speaking of the 1965 Flea Flicker game in which Georgia with second year coach Vince Dooley beat Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide 18-17. It was a rare opportunity—perhaps the first I remember—to watch my Dogs—we were not yet known as DAWGS--on television.
You might remember the game. If not, surely you are aware of the history. Moore—to Hodgson—to Taylor—to Glory. Then we had to make the two-point conversion for the win. A bold move for a second-year head coach because a tie was an option. Once again, Moore to Hodgson.
I was watching in my living room with Craig Hertwig, who would grow up to become an All-America tackle, an NFL player and beloved Athens bar keep known as Sky.
Life is funny. We never know what it holds in store. I would never in a million years believed, at that moment, that one day I would have Pat Hodgson hug my neck and tell me he loved me or that I would deliver Craig Hertwig’s eulogy or ride camels across the Arabian desert with Vince Dooley, but all those things have come to pass.
The next Alabama game I remember was 1973 in Tuscaloosa. My college roommate and lifetime friend, Jimmy Hutchins, and I made a weekend of it—sort of. We spent Friday night outside Birmingham and almost got killed and arrested at the Boom-Boom Room, a Bessemer City nightclub, and we went to the hoochie coochie show afterward, at the Alabama State Fair, where, in the dark of that big tent, we peed into a paper cup rather than disturb the giant rednecks who were seated on either side of us in order to make our way to the bathroom.
Now you know something neither of us ever told another human being. I preached Jimmy’s funeral three days after the Georgia-Alabama National Championship game four years ago. He went to bed at halftime and died thinking we had won.
But the 1973 game was an afternoon game, as God intended. Georgia’s cheerleader coach, Lee Cunningham, gave me a sideline pass and I walked right up to Bear Bryant before the game as he was leaning on the Alabama goalpost watching his team warm up. I asked him to autograph a poster of him I had brought for the occasion.
He actually acknowledged me and mumbled, “I don’t sign before the game.” Then he pointed to a certain area of the sideline and said, “Bring it right there after the game and I’ll sign it.”
As I turned to walk away, thrilled at the prospect of getting the great man’s signature on my poster, he called after me, saying, “Boy. Don’t come around if Georgia whips our ass.”
I thought we might do just that as we drove for two straight scores to start the game. But then Alabama began to play at another level. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. We lost 28-14. I was so disgusted that I didn’t want Bear Bryant’s autograph.
There was 1976, however. In 1976 we beat Alabama in Athens, 21-0. Milledge Avenue became a parking lot after that one and we danced in the streets until midnight.
The next year, 1977, David Croom and I arrived in Tuscaloosa with hope in our heart, but Bama crushed that hope, 18-10. It would be seven years before I would see us play the tide again. This game was in Birmingham, and I attended with my friend Anderson Hembree, who is an Alabama graduate. Pulpwood Smith ran two long touchdowns and Georgia won 24-10. In reality, Kentucky had beaten Vanderbilt because Florida, LSU, and Auburn all finished the season ahead of us and those teams plus Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt finished ahead of the Tide that year.
There were other years and other games, of course. We were man enough to beat them in Tuscaloosa, when Pat Dye said we weren’t. My kids and I watched the Matt Stafford “one and done” overtime game in Tuscaloosa and had a great ride home.
But since then, we have lost to Saban and the Crimson Tide seven times in all sorts of circumstances, from the Blackout Embarrassment to the 2nd and 26 disaster to the Justin Fields fake punt debacle to the most recent inexplicable thrashing laid on the Number One team in the land.
So why should I have an ounce of hope as we approach Monday night?
Well, I don’t know why. But I do. I’m packing it right next to the 15-year-old bottle of Pappy Van Winkle that I have been saving for years, with which to toast our next natty with my kids, none of whom were old enough to drink when this whiskey was produced. I’m going to enjoy my foray into the frozen north to the fullest and after we win, I am going to howl at the moon whistle Dixie, and then come home and get Need Two More, ready for you all to buy and read.
Dawgs on top! Georgia 26 Alabama 21.
Look for me in Lucas Oil Stadium. I’ll be the good-looking guy in the red sweater, with Hope—and maybe Old Lady Luck—hanging on my arm.
You can read Huck’s columns on life in the American South every Wednesday and Sunday by subscribing to What the Huck. Go to darrellhuckaby.net and click on subscribe.