For a UGA season we will always remember and voices we can’t forget

INDIANAPOLIS – Dear Pete,

Somewhere on a move I lost an old cell phone with your last message (where you sarcastically congratulated me on finally setting up voicemail), but heard your voice a lot during the greatest season football in Georgia for four decades.

That glorious campaign, daddy, was your lifelong fandom – a dominant defense that stuffed the race, the most polarizing quarterback situation in program history, the outright destruction of rivals and sweet revenge on the show. ‘Alabama.

After years of your annual August proclamation – I think they’re good enough to win it all – you would have finally succeeded this time. And one of your favorite preseason claims – tight ends are going to be hard to deal with – also clicked thanks to the record production of Brock Bowers.

These Bulldogs beat the teams you hated the most – Florida, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Auburn and Clemson – by a combined score of 164-37.

I know what you would have said, sarcastic as always, after I told you the Gators only signed 10 rookies in December after firing Dan Mullen: I really hate it for them.

I heard you especially this fall during the endless Stetson Bennett-JT Daniels debate. We would have argued over that, and I know where you would have left off. Of course, you never hesitated on Mike Bobo, David Greene, DJ Shockley, Matthew Stafford or Aaron Murray.

But you positively engaged about Joe Tereshinski III, Joe Cox, Zach Mettenberger, Hutson Mason, Brice Ramsey, and Greyson Lambert.

Every spring, in your opinion, every quarterback was the elite. And you loved reminding us that Hines Ward did a really good job when he was forced to play QB, a nod to no situation too dire for you to discredit him.

I always lobbied during our discussions for the bigger arm and prototypical size. You’d have guts and guts and let’s be honest whoever was playing for whatever reason anyway. We had a fight about today’s quarterback after the losses and you always ended up pushing towards potential tomorrow.

I know you would have backed Stetson and then dubbed Daniels if Kirby had already made the switch. Either way, I know what was going on after Bennett’s 40-yard touchdown pass in Monday’s 33-18 win to finally break free from the tightness of Nick Saban and Alabama.

I told you.

Equally optimistic about quarterbacks, your negativity when wins and seasons slipped was a combination of angry words and rhetorical questions. I could feel the change in tone in the second quarter of the Southeastern Conference Championship loss to Alabama.

What are they doing? Damn, tell me how’s it going?

But you would have been back on board by the time Georgia crushed Michigan in the Orange Bowl to host Monday’s coronation.

Five years since your death, Pete. Took you with me for everything – got married, walked all the way to a job covering the NFL for the Cincinnati Enquirer, came back near Athens for the third time (we can’t not stay away), your first grandchild is coming in June. Between milestones, what I miss the most is the relaxed way we started each phone call, with me responding by saying ‘what’s up’ and you always respond: You tell me.

When I covered UGA I was telling you everything I knew before it was reported, everything about rookies as silent engagements, freshmen living up to the hype in practice, to what to expect before the season starts. When I left Athens for other jobs, you kept me updated based on extensive research on message boards.

In the summer of 2017, you went on vacation by the sea and never came back. You missed out on a special season for Georgia that fall, although the next four times Georgia faced Alabama would have led to some new combinations of swearing from your perspective on the back porch. You never stopped complaining about appeals that the referees made or not.

Until Monday.

I’m still looking around the house for that old phone. I don’t need to find it.

After 40 years of hope, Georgia has finally won it all. I can already hear you talking about the future. Bennett could return for another season. Who knows what Daniels will do. You wouldn’t mind if they both left.

I think we’re fine on watch with Brock Vandagriff. They can still win the whole thing next year.

Here are seasons we will always remember and voices we can’t forget.

Fletcher Page is the publisher of sports group USATODAY Georgia. Her father Stephen “Pete” Page was a pillar of the Young Harris, Ga. Community, husband, father, Air Force veteran, and die-hard Georgia Bulldogs and NASCAR fan. He passed away in 2017.

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