(Left to Right) An archival photo of the 1934 University of Alabama SEC Championship Team, including Al Nogi (Grandfather Ruff). (Courtesy/Kimberly Nogi)


Dear Bulldog Nation,

I owe you a long overdue apology. In 2007, I single-handedly (and accidentally) cursed the University of Georgia’s rivalry with Alabama — and the weight on my shoulders has become more than I can bear.

That year, I was a junior at UGA and I traveled to Tuscaloosa for the biggest road game of the season, where Georgia won 26-23 in overtime. I traveled partly to see the most anticipated matchup of the year, but also to pay my respects to my late grandfather, who was a four-sport athlete at the University of Alabama in the 1930s and played football with the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. Despite the fact that my blood runs red and black, it’s laced with a touch of crimson, too, and I wanted to pay homage to my “Grandpa Ruff.”

As I crossed the Georgia-Alabama state line, I began passing “Saban is our Savior” signs almost as frequently as the mailboxes dotting the roads leading to the campus. When I arrived, I traded tailgating for a visit to the Alabama athletic association’s archives, where I watched old footage of my grandpa, and then spent a few quiet moments at the Denny Chimes, a bell tower in Tuscaloosa, which he walked by daily over 80 years ago.

When game time came, I took my seat in the Alabama Letterman’s Club section, proudly wearing the correct shade of red despite the disgusted reactions of those seated nearby. It was a nail biter of a game — a back-and-forth shootout — that went into overtime. When Leigh Tiffin nailed a 40-yard field goal to give Alabama a 23-20 lead in overtime, I thought it was over.

So, I did what any devoted Georgia fan would do. I started to pray.

As Georgia took the field for their answering drive, I mouthed a silent plea to my grandfather: “Please, Ruff. Just let the Dawgs win this one. I don’t care what happens after this — just let us have this game. Do it for me!”

Within seconds, on first-and-10 from Alabama’s 25-yard line, quarterback Matthew Stafford launched a pass to Mikey Henderson for the game-winning touchdown. The scoreboard briefly flickered 26-23 before going dark as a hush fell over the crowd of over 90,000.

“Thank you, Ruff!” I shouted, looking to the night sky with a grin from ear to ear.

Now, it’s been an unlucky 13 years since I made that desperate appeal, and the phrase sandwiched in the middle — “I don’t care what happens after this” — has continued to haunt me. Why did I say that? It would seem that Ruff has taken it literally.

I was reminded of this in 2008, as Georgia fell to Alabama in a blackout matchup Between the Hedges, which former Alabama strength and conditioning coach (and current Georgia special teams coach) Scott Cochran prophesied would be Georgia’s own funeral.

Then again, in the 2012 SEC Championship, tears streamed silently down my cheeks as time expired and Alabama edged Georgia 32-28.

It plagued me when we lost in Sanford Stadium again in 2015, and I was heartbroken in 2018 as I watched quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith to secure another Crimson Tide win in overtime, but this time with the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship title on the line.

So, here we are with another fateful matchup on the horizon. UGA, I’m asking for your forgiveness, and Ruff, I’m asking for your mercy.

I want to break this curse for the Bulldog Nation.

I had originally made plans to return to Tuscaloosa this year to perform penance, but due to the pandemic, an at-home sacrifice will have to suffice. I’m issuing this public apology, and I’ve agreed to wear my grandfather’s gold football letterman’s lapel pin and a few houndstooth accessories on Saturday in hopes that Georgia’s momentum will shift this year. I’ll also send up another prayer to my grandfather for good measure. It’s about time we had a bright spot in 2020, and this could be it.

As the Dawgs prepare to travel west for another tough meeting under the lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium, I can only hope that my atonement will spark a “change in the tide” — both this Saturday and for years to come.

So, may the best team win.

And Ruff, please let it be the Dawgs this year.

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