When it was fourth and short, I turned to see the face of the neighboring Georgia fan suddenly swallowed in a leathery pouch of middle-aged fan fury.
The ghoulish mask was intended to support the team, but at a first glance, it looked like the guy had suffered a severe burn. He shouted his muffled support through the two-tone head ornament. If this fellow was a motivator for the guys on the field, it was the kind of jolt “Jason” — of the horror flick — might give you, that extra jump in the tailback’s step coming with the fear of fan freakdom from section 210.
The fellow took the mask off and passed it to his kid. “You watch this,” the guy said, elbowing my friend. “Deek’s going to fire ‘em up. Get ‘em Deek!”
I’ve enjoyed going to games with my dad in years past. But I don’t want to share that mask-exchange kind of closeness with him. I thought of my father passing his CPAP mask for sleep apnea to me. I believe I’ll skip that kind of fellowship.
Of course, the kids will wear their own masks Saturday for Halloween. And so will some of the adults down in Jacksonville.
If you think about it, football Saturdays in the South are kind of a Halloween for grown men. People adorn their body, their homes, their vehicles with their colors. It’s like a tame version of gang life. You got your colors. I got mine. But the fights usually aren’t on the streets. No, the violence is generally of the cyber variety, the blog smack talking. It’s the “you’re-mama’s-so-ugly” mentality transferred to collegiate allegiance.
Georgia’s fan base is as rabid as any. Some jump in for the hate talk. Some know all the answers. Some are blindly loyal to coaches, while some are never happy with coaches despite a team’s success. Then there are some who are just glad to be in the middle of it all, along for the ride. Perhaps the most famous of those fans is from Madison County. Mike “Big Dawg” Woods carries on a family tradition of painting his bald head like a Bulldog. Actually his wife does the artwork. And I’d say the top of Woods’ head is second in line to Uga as far as familiar Bulldog mugs. Just as CBS will surely show Uga chilling out on some ice on the sideline, I’ll guarantee the network will cut to Woods pointing to his own painted head early in the game Saturday. That man is everywhere.
Still, it’s going to take a lot more than red and black body paint to cover up the orange and blue Saturday. The annual trip to Jacksonville has become an end-of-October hex on the Georgia program. There may not be such a thing as the boogeyman. However, if he exists, he has an annual reservation in the Georgia locker room down in Florida.
But this team is haunted by other phantoms this season, from a phantom defense to a phantom celebration penalty on what should have been a game-winning touchdown.
So here’s hoping the other guys get spooked for a change this Halloween.
Deek, where are you? Grab your mask.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.