Bigger than me: My memories of my first UGA football game
Lonely. Very lonely. Will I make it here? Do I fit in here?
"So, what are you going to wear to the football game on Saturday, Becca?" asked Leigh, who lived across the hall from me in Creswell. I thought it was a silly question. In my mind, football meant hot dogs, hamburgers, sweat, shorts and T-shirts, and an all-around laid-back, exciting time.
"Um, I don't know, I guess a Georgia shirt and shorts?" I didn't have a creative answer to this one. Honestly, I hadn't put that much thought into it.
"I heard that a lot of girls dress up for the games. I heard that they wear dresses and skirts and stuff," mentioned Kimberly, another Creswell resident. Our group on the hall was a mix of ladies from all over the country, each very individual but somehow the same.
"Seriously? I would never have thought that! Gosh, I don't even like dressing up for church." My response tried to shake off the fact that I was actually very nervous about the game on Saturday. This would be my first college football game, and I was beyond excited. But this whole what-to-wear debate was just a smaller example of the larger issues I had faced during my first three weeks living on campus at the University of Georgia. I felt as if college was the middle school of my up-and-coming adult life. I didn't know anyone. I was still trying to figure out how to not get lost every day on the bus routes. And now, I was going to have to worry about wearing the wrong thing to a football game?
"I guess I could wear this black skirt I have, and I have a red tank top. That should be OK for the first game. But I'm not wearing heels. No way!" We agreed that flip-flops were a must.
GAME DAY. I awoke that Saturday morning to sounds disrupting the calmness in the dorm. It was just after 10 a.m. and still quiet in a building where many residents had only gone to bed hours before. I heard sounds of a crowd, the bustling and movement that comes from large groups of people.
I climbed down from my bed and peeked out the window to see tents of red and black covering the landscape. Already, the smell of bratwurst on the grill filled the air and permeated my window. Somewhere in the distance, the band was warming up, and I could hear the energetic cadence of the drums and the blasts of the trumpets. This is wonderful! This is going to be a wonderful day! For a moment, it didn't matter if I was alone or not. The atmosphere awaiting me outside caught me in a whirlwind of excitement.
I dressed up in my awkward little gameday outfit and made my way outside. Walking down the hill to Tate Plaza, I breathed in the life that was all around me. With every step closer to the stadium, closer to this thing that had brought so many people to campus, I felt my heart pound with anticipation. This is bigger than football. There is something deeper here.
The crowd thickened at the gates to Sanford Stadium and my anticipation gave way to anxiety. I felt alone again in this huge crowd, an ocean of red and black with the sights and sounds of college football becoming all-consuming. "Goooooooooo Georgia Bulldogs!" I finally emerged from the crowd at the gate and caught my breath before I began the steep climb up the steps to the 600 section — all the way at the top, with the rest of the freshmen. As I climbed, I glanced momentarily through each of the tunnels and could only capture brief snapshots of the field, the turf manicured with freshly painted lines, ready for action.
At last, my tunnel number appeared and I walked through to a sight now burned into my memory. The ocean of red and black that clogged the gates to the stadium was now a rolling wave of fandom encircling the Georgia G on the field.
There is something bigger here. It's bigger than me. It's bigger than football.
"IT'S SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN ATHENS!" My peaceful awe was disrupted by the cheer of the stadium's inhabitants. Nearly 100,000 people were packed like sardines, now standing proud and tall. It was almost methodical, as if the announcement was synonymous with the "please rise" in a courtroom as a judge entered.
A highlight reel commenced on the big screen, and the scratchy voice of legendary announcer Larry Munson summarized the events:
And now, as we come for another meeting between the hedges, Let all the Bulldog faithful rally behind the men who now wear the red and black, With two words—two simple words—which express the sentiments of the entire Bulldog Nation ...
There was a pause, and then ...
It is strange how those two words could translate into something more than football, something more than pride in my school team. It is strange how those two words, spoken by other freshmen around me as we looked down on older alumni and fans, seemed to melt away the loneliness. At that moment, I no longer felt out of place or lost at the university. I was part of something bigger: a part of traditions, a part of pride, a part of a family. I knew I could make it; that I belonged.
Yes, I get it now. There is something bigger than football here. Bigger than all these people, bigger than me. It's comfort. It's life experience. It's real. And one day, many days from now, I'll know that somehow, in this whole wide world, I learned how to replace fear and loneliness with confidence and joy.