Georgia is famous for its Southern Charm, beautiful landscape, our historic cities, and of course our sports teams. I can remember going to camp as a kid and having other kids think that Georgia was full of cows and pastures. That we did not have large cities or a large population, those questions are no longer asked these days by young kids. There are many things about this fine state that make it one of the utmost states to live in for sports in the entire world. Yes, not just the country, but in the world. Collectively we do not hold many Championships, only United with the MLS Cup win, and the Braves with their World Series (we did win the Pennant 5 times in the ’90s, and the Eastern Division 11 years in a row). The University of Georgia has its 1980 National Championship, and Tech has their own from 1990. The Hawks and Falcons have been SO close, but as we all know with the Falcons we devastatingly lost the Super Bowl, and the Hawks are never a perennial contender.
Our state is not great because of the number of championships won. It doesn’t seem that championships have to be part of the equation. Sports are great in Georgia is great because of our collective sports identity. Any Friday night you will see a high school stadium jam-packed with fans to watch high school players battle in one of the toughest states in the country for high school football. Baseball is a large sport in our state with East Cobb Baseball producing some tremendously talented players who go on to play in The Show. The rivalry’s we hold are some of the greatest ones in sports. They call the UGA vs. Tech game “Good old fashion hate”, and I can attest that it is not an exaggeration. In my family, I was raised to hate two teams with utter passion, Georgia Tech, and The University of Florida. There have been so many great games between both teams, and it’s because they are both filled with the hatred of defeat and the ecstasy of winning.
The Olympics is the world’s foremost popular sporting event has come to our Capital in 1996. Even as a 2nd grader it was impossible to watch Muhammad Ali, the GOAT stricken with Parkinson’s disease valiantly hold that flame above his head and not have tears running down your face. Although shaking from the effects of his disease, but still represented what our state means in sports: True Grit, and the ability to overcome huge obstacles no matter what the disability. Watching Kerri Strug running down to vault one last time after tearing 2 ligaments in her ankle, running down to her last jump you could see the pain her eyes, but still, she stuck the landing with one foot. Hobbling until she collapsed on the mat from the pain, she helped the US women take gold for the first time. Moments like these endear sports fans to our State.
When sports teams don’t work out the fans of this great city flock to support our teams, even though the Thrashers were never the best team in the NHL we still flocked to see them. Greats like Marion Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Byfuglien, and Chris Chelios all played for the Thrashers. Those are some of the greatest names in Hockey. Byfuglien is considered by some to be the best defensemen in the NHL; Hossa has won multiple Stanley Cups, and Chris Chelios who is one of the greatest 100 players of all time. He also holds the distinction of having more penalty minutes than any player in the history of the NHL. What better fit for a tough city like Atlanta?
UGA, especially under Kirby Smart have dominated college football. Putting out a ton of the first-round draft picks every year without fail. Saturday at Sanford Stadium is one of the, if not the best atmosphere in College Football. Having been to many different stadiums as a recruit there was never anything like the sound when the Bulldogs ran out in their black jerseys against Auburn in 2007. You could feel the stands rocking beneath your feet from the shared madness of the crowd. The pain of watching a tough game to Alabama in the National Championship that came down to a last-minute TD pass. Still, UGA fans believe in their football team, and they continue to be foremost and strive for that elusive title of best in the country.
Georgia is consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country in football recruiting. Most consider this state to be in the top 5 at producing talent for college football. There have been so many great players to come from Georgia it’s hard to make a list due to its length. Just to name a few: Hershel Walker, Cam Newton, Jarvis Jones, Thomas Davis, Calvin Johnson, and Thomas Davis are just a few names that have hail from this Southern State.
What makes Georgia special are the fans. We have no fair-weather fans in this state. Every year they flock to the stadiums to watch our teams compete to be the best. The passion that is felt between rivalries and the trash-talking rights to our friends who root for those teams we hate. Our historic city that Sherman burned on his march to the sea rose from the ashes to become a place of great diversity and culture. The center of the struggle for Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King was born here. Some of our Universities are the oldest in the country.
Atlanta United becoming the best team in the MLS in its first 3 years as a football team. We brought players from all over the world to create a dominant force that took the MLS by storm. No one thought that United would vault to the top of the league so quickly. The fans held such a huge part in it as well. The loudest Bobby Dodd ever sounded was when that first goal against N.Y Red Bulls shook the whole city. It was a striking thing to see in person.
There is no other place that I would rather call home than Georgia. It is part of all of our identities for those of us who are native sons to our great state, and sports are a huge part of what makes us. Sports are what bring us together; we hug the people next to us even if we don’t know them. Everyone high fiving and cheering as one collective group as if we were on the field ourselves, there is truly nothing quite like it. Like every major city, we are not perfect and have our issues. Still, for the times that we are all together in those stadiums we love so much all of the different backgrounds and socio-economic barriers we put up in life disappear. Then, we are all just Georgians.