Published Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Guest Column by Norma Haynes
Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
Being the football fan that I am, I enjoy every game played here in my hometown and the college games all around me that I spend every Saturday in front of the television enjoying. To me, sports can be a diversion from the problems of every day life, and I think we all need that in these trying times.
As a UGA fan of many, many years, I look back on the years that money and television didn’t rule the games. You knew that kickoff would be at 1 in the afternoon, that you could find a great place to park and that you would have ample time to enjoy that picnic lunch before you walked to the stadium. Then, after the game, you had plenty of time to get home before it got so late at night.
When we were able to go to the games in Athens, it was the highlight of my week. We always parked behind the Alumni House (which has been torn down) and met the same group of supporters every Saturday. We ate together and walked to the stadium. When we returned to our parking places, we set up tables, got out our folding chairs and spread out the remains of our food.
Because all the players lived just behind the Alumni House in McWhorter Hall, many of them would come to our tables to eat after the game. How much fun we had getting to know them and feeding them! Now, of course, all of that has changed.
And just as the relaxing visits to Athens have changed, so have many other changes come to our football world, and not all of them good.
Back in the 1970s, Sports writer Johnny Brown started a tradition that lasted for many years. When the Georgia football team traveled to Auburn for the big game, Johnny arranged for them to stop in Newnan. They would get off the bus and be greeted by their loyal fans here. It was an exciting time for young and old alike. The team was given apples and a drink, and then they pulled out on their way to the rivalry in Auburn.
Johnny enlisted my help after a few years, and we set up a fun stop that got bigger every year. The first year I took over for Johnny, I enlisted our Sheriff Aaron Massey to help me lead the team buses from the expressway into Newnan for the stop.
At that time, we had no communication with the UGA leaders, so we were pretty much on our own. It was raining that day, and Sheriff Massey and I drove up on the expressway and eagerly awaited the sight of the buses. We had no idea how many or who would be in the travel team, so we just had to figure it out on our own.
As we sat there with the windshield wipers going, we looked out the rear-view windows to catch first sight of the Bulldog entourage. After a while, I saw two buses traveling one behind the other, and I told the sheriff that could be the team. He replied that we would just find out. So, with that, he pulled out in front of the two buses, and led them onto the Newnan exit ramp.
When the first bus came to a stop, the driver jumped out and met Sheriff Massey, who exited his car and walked to the bus. Upon greeting the driver of the bus, the sheriff asked, “Do y’all have any Bulldogs on that bus?” The bus driver looked stunned and replied, “No Sir, we don’t have any dogs on this bus and neither does the one behind us. We are on our way to Panama City!”
Sheriff Massey came back to the car just laughing up a storm. He told me he bet those folks laughed all the way to Panama City about the Coweta Sheriff stopping them to see if they had any dogs on board.
After that episode, we made sure we had communication with the team before we brought them in to the rest stop.
During the 1980s, when Herschel Walker was the star, we had hundreds of people waiting to greet the team. Fathers got their children out of school early. Mothers dressed in their red and black. John Ritch (the band director at Evans School) brought his band to play (John played in the band at UGA). It was a chance for the children and the old folks (most of whom could not get to a game in person) to talk to the coaches and the players, to get autographs and have pictures taken.
Even after Herschel was no longer a team member, we continued to host that rest stop, and people turned out in droves to wish the team well. The football players always told us how very much they enjoyed that stop and the interaction with some of their most ardent fans. I always felt it was a great way for some of the young people who could not go to a game to see and talk with their favorite players, and I felt it was a motivation for the players and the coaches to have all those admiring fans urging them on to victory over their rival, Auburn.
Soon after the present coaching staff came along, they put a stop to the Stop. They said they didn’t like their players to be unfocused by that interruption. To me, that was a crying shame since, after all, these young players needed and wanted the support and admiration that was given them during their short, short stay in Newnan, Ga.
At least for about 30 years, thanks to the work of Johnny Brown, and the continuing work of the Newnan-Coweta Bulldog Club, we have great memories of that short visit by the Bulldog team as it made its way to play their big rival, Auburn.
As the Georgia-Auburn game approaches on Saturday, I have warm memories of Sheriff Massey and our stopping the buses on the way to Panama City and of the young men who got off those buses and were welcomed by many loyal fans right here in Newnan.