The Ol’ Bloviator thanks his friend Ann profusely for calling his attention to this column by Lewis Grizzard, which seems timely and should prove evocative, especially for some of the old timers around here. Save for Lewis’s proposal for making hunting a real sport by arming the deer, the O.B. didn’t care much for his politics, but their shared affinity for the Georgia Bulldogs made them kindred spirits nonetheless.
To my Son, if I ever have one:
Kid, I am writing this on September 3, 1984. I have just returned from Athens, where I spent Saturday watching the University of Georgia, your old dad’s alma matter, play football against Clemson.
While the events of the day were still fresh on my mind, I wanted to recount them so if you are ever born, you can read this and perhaps be able to share one of the great moments in your father’s life.
Saturday was a wonderful day on the Georgia campus.
We are talking blue, cloudless sky, a gentle breeze and a temperature suggesting summer’s end and autumn’s approach.
I said the blessing before we had lunch. I thanked the Lord for three things: fried chicken, potato salad and for the fact he had allowed me the privilege of being a Bulldog.
“And, Dear Lord,” I prayed, “bless all those not as fortunate as I.”
Imagine my son, 82,000 people, most of whom were garbed in red, gathered together gazing down on a lush valley of hedge and grass where soon historic sporting combat would be launched.
Clemson was ranked number 2 in the nation, and Georgia, feared too young to compete with the veterans from beyond the river, could only dream, the smart money said, of emerging three hours hence victorious.
They had us 20-6 at the half, son. A man sitting in front of me said, “I just hope we don’t get embarrassed.”
My boy, I had never seen such a thing as came to pass in the second half. Todd Williams threw one long and high, and Herman Archie caught it in the end zone, and it was now 20-13.
Georgia got the ball again and scored again, and it was now 20-20, and my mouth was dry, and my hands were shaking, and this Clemson fan who had been running his mouth the whole ballgame suddenly shut his fat face.
Son, we got ahead 23-20, and the ground trembled and shook, and many were taken by fainting spells.
Clemson’s kicker, Donald Igwebuike, tied it 23-23, and this sacred place became the center of the universe.
Only seconds were left when Georgia’s kicker, Kevin Butler, stood poised in concentration. The ball rushed toward him, and it was placed upon the tee a heartbeat before his right foot launched it heavenward.
A lifetime later, the officials threw their arms aloft. From 60 yards away, Kevin Butler had been true, and Georgia led and would win 26-23.
I hugged perfect strangers and kissed a fat lady on the mouth. Grown men wept. Lightning flashed. Thunder rolled. Stars fell, and joy swept through, fetched by a hurricane of unleashed emotions.
When Georgia beat Alabama 18-17 in 1965, it was a staggering victory. When we came back against Georgia Tech and won 29-28 in1978, the Chapel bell rang all night. When we beat Florida 26-21 in the last seconds in 1980, we called it a miracle. And when we beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl that same year for the national championship, a woman pulled up her skirt and showed the world the Bulldog she had sewn on her underbritches.
But Saturday may have been even better than any of those.
Saturday in Athens was a religious experience.
I give this to you, son. Read it and re-read it, and keep it next to your heart. And when people want to know how you wound up with the name “Kevin” let them read it, and then they will know.
Sadly, of course, there would be no Kevin. And in less than a decade, there would be no Lewis, either. Thrice-divorced, Grizzard was a lot better at telling stories than sustaining relationships with the opposite sex. For that matter, despite a coterie of drinking and golfing and tailgating buddies, not to mention a huge fan base spread across the South and sprinkled across the nation, for much of his abbreviated life, he was probably one of the loneliest people on the face of the earth.
In the self-deprecatory tradition of southern humorists, Grizzard often called himself a redneck, but as journalist Peter Applebome has observed, he was actually “the patron saint of the new suburban South, where you could have both the values of the old general store and the designer label wares of the megamalls.” He lived in Atlanta‘s exclusive Ansley Park, his footwear of choice was Gucci loafers (worn without socks), he was partial to Geoffrey Beene cologne, and he used the gun rack behind the seat of his truck to hold his golf clubs. Although he protested that he liked pork barbecue much better, he owned up to eating caviar at Maxim’s in Paris and even to visiting the Louvre.
He seldom passed on a chance to reaffirm his country-boy bona fides, regaling audiences with stories of “rat-killings” in his native Moreland, Ga. or discussing the subtleties of the southern pronunciation of “nekkid.” In truth, however, like all southern writers worth a flip, he did his best job of telling about the South and its inhabitants by telling about himself. Even occasional readers knew of his love for his mother and his dog, Catfish, his yearning and ambivalence toward his absentee father, his health problems and his sense of impending doom (both of them simultaneously cause and effect of the way he pounded the Stoly and burned through the Marlboros). There was also his deep-seated anger and refusal to accept the social and demographic changes that arrived in tandem with Sunbelt prosperity. Never was a book more aptly titled than his I Haven’t Understood Anything since 1962 and Other Nekkid Truths, published in 1992. Two years later, his poked, prodded and perennially abused ticker would simply have no more of it, and Lewis Grizzard was dead at forty-seven, an age when many of his old UGA classmates were just readying themselves to drop off their kids in Athens. If Lewis was the classic example of the funny man who could ultimately make everybody feel better but himself, then it is small wonder that he managed to wring so much pleasure not only out of beating Clemson, but out of every precious minute he spent between the hedges in Athens. In this respect, at least, he was the brother the OB never had.