‘HAVING’ to go to church
They warned us again and again about turning in those…
Third down. Up by eight.
But Alabama was almost in the red zone. With a touchdown and a two-point conversion they’d tie and send it to overtime. Just like 2018.
“It’s gonna end in another 2nd-and-26,” I thought, “another agonizing, razor-thin loss to the Crimson Tide.”
Should I pray? No! We don’t serve a Touchdown Jesus — or an Incomplete Pass Jesus.
I bowed my head. “Lord, please never, never let me pray for a football game! I know there are more important things in the world than thi—”
As Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo picked off Bryce Young’s pass, fell back to earth and ran for the end zone, I cried. So did Bulldog fans from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to U.S. military bases in Kuwait. After 41 years, the Dawgs are national champions!
A month earlier I had been in the pit of despair after Georgia’s 41-24 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship. My sister asked me why this team means so much to me. After all, I’ve never been a football guy. I struggle to name all of the positions.
When Georgia last won the natty with Herschel Walker and Buck Belue in 1980, I barely noticed. I was 6, and we had just moved to Macon, Ga. “The Empire Strikes Back” was about to hit theaters. That had most of my attention.
My conversion to Georgia fandom didn’t happen until 1996, the year I graduated from Lipscomb and moved to Athens, Ga., to begin work on my master’s in journalism.
I first set foot in Sanford Stadium on a rainy September Saturday to watch a lackluster performance against Texas Tech. I left in the third quarter as a handful of students who remained booed our quarterback, Mike Bobo.
I walked back to my apartment, where I heard someone yell “How bout them Dawgs!” With 1:45 left on the clock, Bobo had thrown a touchdown. Georgia won 15-12.
Two months later I watched Georgia play at Auburn on TV with friends from church. Our mascot, Uga V, tried to bite one of the Auburn players as he scored. That rallied our troops. The Dawgs won in the fourth overtime. We jumped and hugged and I started shouting, “I said it’s great … to be … a Georgia Bulldog!”
But y’know, it’s never really been about football. Every time I see the Dawgs play I think about those days at the Georgia Christian Student Center, a ministry of the Campus View Church of Christ.
I remember my first visit, how I couldn’t pick a pew because people kept inviting me to sit with them.
I remember my Adopt-a-Dawg family, the Cosgroves. I remember our campus minister, Todd Stancil, physically pushing me out of my comfort zone to reach out to visitors at our Monday night devos.
I remember Sean Weyrich leading “Get Right Church.” I remember the trips to Gateway Getaway in Florida to hear Buddy Bell and Mike Cope.
For the first time in my life, I had to go to church. I needed that spiritual recharge. I longed to be with those people — Matt, Troy, Nate, Kisha, Wendy, Tricia, Andy, Dustin, Benny, Jason, the Norwoods.
For the first time in my life, I had to go to church. I needed that spiritual recharge. I longed to be with those people …
I know I’m leaving a ton of names out. But each of you — all y’all — played a role in who I became and where my faith journey took me. I have visited some 75 countries and territories covering stories for The Christian Chronicle. In almost all of those locales I’ve sported Georgia gear. It reminds me of those friendships and the foundation of faith I found during my brief, three years in Athens.
On the Saturday after the national title game I livestreamed the victory parade in Athens. I watched Kirby, Stetson, Nakobe and Jordan wave to the crowds on South Lumpkin Street, right in front of the stately columns of the Campus View church building.
I got teary eyed again. Thank you, friends. And how bout them Dawgs!
(Let’s see the interception again, this time with the “Titanic” soundtrack.)
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