It is hard to write about anything else when you have spent the entire week getting geared up for a football game. The Auburn vs. Georgia
rivalry is part of the DNA of my family. My grandmother lived 30 miles from Athens in Monroe, Georgia. My brother played for the Dawgs in the latter part of the 1970s and my sister found her way to Athens as well.
For almost 48 years, I have fought that rivalry with my siblings. The first year that Ernest played on the UGA Varsity at a game in Auburn (things were different back then), the familial rivalry hit a fever pitch. My mother kept being asked which team she was pulling for. She said she was praying for a tie. The final score was 22-22. That was an eye-opener for me when it came to the power of prayer.
I love the AU-UGA rivalry because of the relationships. Georgia players coached Auburn and Auburn players coached Georgia. Most prominently, that would include Pat Dye and Vince Dooley, but there are many other cross connections. This was almost a game between cousins. Both rosters contained players from the other team’s home state.
Tailgates were shared between friends who claimed to root for both teams except for this one Saturday in November. It was evenly matched for most of the rivalry, until Georgia’s run in the past decade.
This was the way football was supposed to be played. Fierce fighting between brothers until it was over and then you sat down to dinner. It is the oldest rivalry in the south and is a game between family and friends. Until it wasn’t.
I have been a bit dismayed for the past decade about how the game lost its connection between the fan bases. Auburn people stopped wanting to visit Athens. Dawgs did not want to come to Auburn. Criticism of each other’s fanbases took away the bonds between the schools and made the competition a bit more raw.
This is not just about a game between two teams that I have been attending most of my life. It is about the edge that has crept into collegiate sports, particularly between rivalries. It doesn’t help that UGA has had a long run of victories. Social media can share some blame, as well. An occasional game at night after a long day of drinking at tailgates can fuel the flames between the fanbases.
It is easier to hate a team that you oppose than to love them. So, let me set the record straight. I love the Georgia Bulldogs. I have been tailgating with their Lettermen’s Club for more than a generation. Good old fashioned smack talk is allowed, but there is always an awareness that it is a game. Just a game.
Likewise, we have hosted dozens of Dawg boosters in Auburn over the years. They are friends first and always. Friends of our friends are always welcome. The Donalsonville News even used to publish a front-page picture of all the Dawgs and Tigers from our hometown that gathered in Athens or Auburn for the annual game.
Auburn gave Georgia a run for its money this past Saturday. I was pleased with the way the Tigers played against the #1 team in the country and the winner of back-to-back national championships. It was not over until it was over.
I have said “wait until next year” for almost a decade against my Dawg friends. This year that phrase feels like it has some real meat behind it. Our time is coming. Change is on the Plains. Deep down, the Dawgs know it.
I am so proud of my Auburn Tigers. As for the Georgia Bulldogs, all I can say is wait until next year.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com