The Union Recorder

September 14, 2013

ROWLAND: Which came first: Dawgs, Gators, or a grandson?

Mike Rowland
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — I can’t really remember the first year I fell in love, but I am pretty sure it was with a football. I know, I know. Girls came later, but football — OK, maybe I was 6. I think that was the first year I played organized, suit up in pads, hit the guy in front of you football.

One of the great memories of my childhood was going every September to the old gym across the street from the local recreation department and picking out pants, pads, shoulder pads and a helmet. The place was called The Demon’s Den, named after the mascot of the first high school in Warner Robins.

Of course I was lucky enough to grow up on the other side of town, so I eventually played for the Northside Eagles. If you grew in Warner Robins, then you understand. But in 1966, equipment day was better than Christmas.

Now I have no idea how big I was in the first grade, but my guess is small. You probably can’t tell from my picture, but I used to be 6 feet, 2 inches tall, I weighed 220 pounds, and I had locks and locks of flowing blonde hair.

Eleven years as a high school principal reduced me to 5 feet 8 inches tall, more pounds than I really want to admit to, and the hair thing … well, I can’t really explain that. All the men in my family, but me, have lots of it.

I refer you to the aforementioned career as a high school principal.

My love affair with football eventually got the best of me, and I went off to college to be a teacher just so I could coach. Of course, what I discovered is that I really loved teaching more than football, and a football field was a really cool place to teach.

My coaching career was short-lived, mainly because there wasn’t much money in it and my boys needed a daddy. Regardless, I have been to more high school football games over the years than I care to admit.

I don’t go much anymore, mainly I think because I don’t have to. Every Saturday morning, however, I spend my first cup of coffee perusing the Internet for every score in the state. Some habits die hard.

My earliest memories of Georgia Bulldog football involved a hotter than Hades dove field the first Saturday in September with a transistor radio close enough to hear Larry Munson’s gravely voice bark the play by play in a way that only a true Dawg fan can appreciate. Back in those days, college football wasn’t the television event it is today. Now, I’m not interested in going back to the days of The Lone Ranger on radio, but I miss Ole’ Larry every September.

I was married before I went to my first UGA game, and for a short time I even held season tickets. Nowadays, I just go up on Saturdays, tailgate with a really great bunch of people who represent friendships I have developed from all of those places of being a high school principal, and watch the game from a satellite feed provided at the site.

I almost never go inside the stadium, but there is just something about the college game day experience that boils my blood every Saturday.

I was a little worried about my Dawgs after that loss to Clemson, but I just knew they would rebound, and they did. How about sending Steve Spurrier back to Columbia with his visor in hand? How cool was that?

In fact, I told a buddy of mine, “We won’t lose another game this year.”  I’m sticking by that.

So this past Saturday was just like every opening home game Saturday for the past few years. Me and Mama loaded up the truck, took all of our garb and tailgate paraphernalia, and joined about half a million other Bulldog faithful making the journey to Athens.

You may not know this, but I have a grandson on the way. He is scheduled to arrive sometime around the first of November - just in time to conflict with the Georgia-Florida game.

We are scheduled to go to Jacksonville this year with my sister and brother-in-law, but I have a backup plan just in case Jr. arrives a little early. I’m sending Mama to Virginia, and I’m calling son No. 1 to meet me in Jacksonville.

Hey, the whole birth experience is really a woman thing anyway.

All kidding aside, I have no intention of missing the entry into the world of the latest Rowland namesake. In fact, I am looking forward to it more and more every day. But, given the fact that my new grandson’s nursery is decorated completely in UGA colors and memorabilia, I suspect he’d understand if I missed it to see the Dawgs eat a Gator.