October 18, 2017

Even if it’s not football, Bulldog Barn barks good advice

(Note: With Georgia riding on a 7-0 wave, and the Bulldog-Gator bash next week in Jacksonville, I thought it’d be good to dust off this Nov. 14, 2012 column.)
     From Wrightsville to Sandersville, along Highway 15, the asphalt runs red and black.  Herschel, the Bulldog who needs no last name to be recognized, exploded out of Johnson County and into The University of Georgia’s record book.  His exploits were regaled, from the sideline, by another Wrightsville native, Loran Smith.  And 18 miles north in Washington County, the Edwards brothers—Robert and Terrence—became UGA legends, too.     
     Herschel, Robert and Terrence have hung up their cleats.  But there’s another notable attached to the route that South Georgia members of the Bulldog Nation travel into Athens.  In 1980, the year Larry Munson begged Herschel’s teammate to “run, Lindsay, run,” the creator of another Bulldog icon was born.
     Tennille’s Ross Smith came into the world woof, woof, woofing.  It was the natural thing to do.  His father is a rabid Dawg fan, as was his father.  In 2000, that passion caused him to pick up a paint brush and bark his Bulldog beliefs on the clapboard side of a weather-beaten country store, five miles south of Sandersville.  Twelve years later, the Bulldog Barn is a landmark signifying Sanford Stadium is 90 miles away.
     So how did the barn blog begin?  With the help of Sandersville’s Ben Tarbuttton III, I tracked down Ross, a civil engineer who lives in Milledgeville.  Ross explained, “It was Coach Jim Donnan’s last year.  Some of us were upset that Corey Phillips wasn’t the starting quarterback.”  On a whim, Ross, with his cousins and boyhood buddies, grabbed paint and a brush to announce their frustrations.  His uncle’s abandoned Jot ‘Em Down Store became the now popular Highway 15 icon.
     While Ross mans the brush, he is quick to say that the messages are a product of teamwork—the Old Savannah Crew (OSC), composed of cousins and friends who grew up along nearby Old Savannah Road.  Reflecting, Ross said, “We were 20-year-olds—young and reckless.  Today, I don’t think we’d have said: ‘To Hell with Carter, Phillips for President.’”
     In 2011, an OSC message was: “No complaining!  Get on the bus!  Hunker down!”
     Frustration barked again in 2010: “Richt, $53K per week for this?  Better figure it out!”
     But in 2008, the barn read: “Hurricane Richt projected path Miami 1-8-09.”
     Ross reported that one of his favorites was in 2007: “Ticket: $40, Coals & Meat: $51, Munson: Priceless.”  Another he liked—a lot—was in 2003: “Pollack: Growth on a QB’s Fanny, Greene for Heisman, Same Junkyard, New Dawgs.”
     The only non-Bulldog sign followed 9-11 in 2001.  Ross painted an American flag with one star: “United We Stand.”
     After big games, the OSC is not surprised to find 20 people hanging around the barn in anticipation of the next message.  Ross laughed about the time that he almost dropped his paint brush.   A state trooper pulled up and got out.  “It was intimidating,” Ross said. “I was wondering what I might be doing wrong.”  Instead, the patrolman just wanted to take a picture.  (If you’d like to see photos of Ross and Company’s work, visit their Facebook page: UGA Football Barn Sign.)
     As much as fans have fretted about fortunes of the Red and Black, they also worried about the condition of their beloved Bulldog Barn.  Time—the Crimson Tide nor the Gamecocks—was its worst enemy.  And sure enough, the wind, rain and rot sacked it earlier this year.  When that news rippled up and down Highway 15, donations poured in.  Ross, leading the OSC, went to work. 
     Hammers swung in a fury to complete the renovation, just as the 2012 Bulldogs chomped the Florida Gators—again.
     Woof, woof, woof!