UGA Lost And I Miss Lewis

This week’s Courier Herald column:

I miss Lewis Grizzard. He’s been gone from us almost a quarter century now. I think of him often on game days for the University of Georgia. It’s been a bit longer than that since UGA has brought a national championship to Athens.

Lewis was a humorist with just enough cynicism to show us that he was also a bit of a realist. Despite his real world grounding he was also someone capable of demonstrating a range of emotions. Among them was love. We all know he loved many things, and at the top of that list was Kathy Sue Loudermilk, his beloved dog Catfish, and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Lewis wasn’t a political columnist but many of his columns drifted into the topics of the day. He wasn’t a food critic but his columns defined for the state what the standard definition of barbecue is. (It is a noun, and it means pulled or chopped pork. This point is settled and not open for debate.) He wasn’t a sports writer, but it was his columns that helped me understand and fully appreciate what it meant to grow up in a Bulldog family – headed by a man that went to the University of Georgia on a football scholarship.

When Georgia played, Lewis helped us understand in prose the range of emotions we experienced. When we won we found new ways to express happiness 600 words at a time. When Georgia won big, we all immediately agreed that it was perfectly natural if not expected to name our first born “Kevin”.

And when Georgia lost, Lewis was there to help us grieve. When Georgia lost big, he helped us understand and cope in as few as eight words.

Georgia lost big at Auburn Saturday. Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it.

I want to talk about Georgia’s win over South Carolina the week prior. My Tech friends (sorry Lewis, but yes I do have some) can calm down. This isn’t about another Georgia fan that can only live in the past. It’s about moving forward.

The past is important to true fans. As Lewis once explained the meaning of college football a generation ago, it was about more than a game. “It’s our way of life against theirs.”

That was a statement uttered the last time Georgia was about to face Notre Dame with a National Championship on the line. It was when a guy named Herschel was still suiting up for games. It was before another 5 Million people came to live in Georgia from all corners of the globe. And it was before the scourge that we now call social media.

When Lewis wrote, words were currency. Long distance phone calls were still a thing, and exchanging ideas had a tangible cost. We had people like Lewis to express how we felt publicly, and we all read and either agreed or in the case of some of my proud feminist friends, vehemently disagreed.

The state has become a melting pot of people from everywhere – and many of them are Yankees. They bring their unique talents and skills to the state and have made it a prosperous international capital of commerce, research, and entertainment. They bring their own ideas of what a football game at our flagship university means. It blurs a lot of the lines of “us versus them.”

For many, the game is a lot less personal. It seems to be a chance to wear the colors of friends and cheer to be a winner. In the age of social media and unlimited entitlement, “winning” seems to matter a lot. Why we’re wanting to win so badly seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

I watched the South Carolina game from home, but “with” several of my friends on Facebook, each making random comments throughout the game. What struck me is that Georgia was playing the #2 team in the SEC East, and Georgia never trailed in the game. In fact, we won quite handily. Many of my friends, however, were upset that we weren’t winning by enough.

Last year’s 5 loss season had quickly been forgotten. The expectation had already become more than “just win baby”. Enjoying college football had already been redefined by a perfect season, and only by impossible margins.

Perfection is not a healthy expectation. Success can’t be defined this way in anything that matters. Even for the best teams, an undefeated season may come around once a decade or so. For most teams, it can range from once in a generation to once in a lifetime, if ever.

There’s a lot more to enjoy in life than waiting to observe one fleeting moment of perfection. It’s meant to be experienced and enjoyed one game at a time, one day at a time.

Refusing to enjoy the good because our demands are great is folly, and will always result in disappointment. Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk has made me hungry and I’m going to head down to Newnan and enjoy some of Georgia’s best barbecue at Sprayberry’s. They still have the Lewis Grizzard Special on the menu.


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