By now, everyone has surely seen the wonderful video recently released that will serve as an advertisement for UGA. In the song that accompanies the video, REM sing that "This place is the beat of my heart" while the text reads "You may leave, but it never leaves you."
There are three places in the world where these words ring truly nostalgic in my heart: my parents' home in Douglas; the classic city of Athens; and the U.S. Naval Academy.
All three are inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. My parents met in Athens and I grew up listening to their stories about their time at UGA. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from cool fall Saturdays in Athens tailgating with my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and friends of friends. My grandfather's brother, Howell Hollis, who coached golf at UGA for many years, provided us with some of the best seats in Sanford Stadium. I usually sat next to my mom's younger brothers, Howell Hollis (named after our Uncle Howell of course) and Bo Hollis. They were in high school then and were essentially de facto babysitters. During halftime, they would take my brother and me to go slide down the hills adjacent to the end zone under the railroad tracks. For you young folks, that last line made no sense. Haha. The games were always the highlight of the trip but the entire experience of tailgating, seeing family, playing on the hills, throwing those little plastic footballs and barking for the Dawgs combined for my bred-in-the-bone connection to Athens, Sanford Stadium and the team I love.
On Thanksgiving weekends we would stay in Atlanta at my grandparents' home and go to the UGA vs Ga Tech freshmen game that was linked the Scottish Rite Hospital in some fund-raising capacity I believe. That is another sentence that will make no sense to the young ones. We would also go to the varsity game. On Thanksgiving Day we would enjoy the Dallas-Washington game on TV while I pulled for my favorite pro football player, Roger Staubach (USNA grad incidentally - see how this starts coming together?)
But... perhaps the most memorable game every Thanksgiving was the family Turkey Bowl. In Atlanta, we would play on this unusual triangular patch of grass that was nestled between three streets in front of my grandparents' home. My mom and dad, brother, sister, uncles and some of their friends would join the game which somehow always ended in a tie (to prevent 364 days of trash talking.)
In 1975 my Uncle Howell enrolled at the Naval Academy (see a pattern?) while Uncle Bo enrolled at Ga Tech (please hold the boos and hisses.) After my grandfather passed away in 1978, our Thanksgiving tradition moved to Douglas where the Turkey Bowl Game continued and thrived. By the mid '80's Uncle Howell's wife and three kids were on the field.
By 1984, both My brother Drew and I were Midshipmen at the Naval Academy (see what I mean?) and coming home for Thanksgiving was one of the highlights of every year. Sadly, Uncle Howell passed away a few years ago, but the Turkey Bowl Game still includes my mom and dad, Uncle Bo and his wife and son, my brother and his wife and 5 children, my sister and her husband and 3 children and my wife and our two children, and me, and usually some friends and occasionally some stragglers. In my 45 years, I have been away from family on Thanksgiving twice: in 1990 I was in Subic Bay Philippines after 92 consecutive days at sea in the Persian Gulf and in 1991 I was stationed in San Diego and unable to get home. When I was in the Gulf, my aunt videotaped the Turkey Bowl game and mailed me a copy in a care package - so I didn't miss the game completely.
Important note... after blistering the Ga Tech curriculum for 4 years, Uncle Bo finally got his butt over to Athens for Law School and his 3 years of law school coincided with the three years that #34 stalked the goal line - and coincided with my high school years.
On many weekends during this era, I would play my HS football game on Friday night and leave Douglas at 5:00 am Saturday to get into Athens by 9:00 to meet Uncle Bo to watch Herschel run over people. And for the past 15 years, Uncle Bo and I have sat together in section 127.
Because I was wise, I became a Navy Supply Officer and got to spend the 1988 football season, Vince Dooley's twilight season, as a student at the Navy Supply School in Athens. Then I came back in 1992 to be an instructor. In 1993 I started law school in Athens and in 1994 my brother started law school in Athens. I met my wife in Athens and proposed to her on the steps of the beautiful Chapel on North Campus. And now my kids love the Athens game day experience and so it goes.
I know this post rambled on, which is appropriate because I am a rambling man, but here is the clincher. My heart swells with pride and my eyes tear up every single time I hear the Redcoat Marching Band playing the first notes of Fanfare on a game day and then again when the Dawgs run onto the field. The same thing happens when I watch the Midshipmen march onto the field before a game and when the players and the brigade sing Blue and Gold at the end of the game.
It also happens when I walk through the main gate at the Naval Academy after being away too long. It happens when I hear the national anthem. It even happens when Zsu Zsu hears the bell ring. And it happens every time I think about my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving and how much the family tradition means to me and our family and how it has evolved over the past 45 years. Without question, home, Athens and Annapolis are places that I have left, but they will never leave me. Oh my heart, oh my heart indeed.