It's been one week since I stepped into the Thomson High School stadium for the first time in more than a decade.
I graduated from the school in 1991, the year Luther Welsh left for Camden County - leaving a two-state-championship legacy in his wake. Luther's back now, and the Dogs are hunting for another title - this one the Class AAAA state crown. And I'm back in the Brickyard.
This wasn't how the game was supposed to be. Three-and-a-half minutes left before the half and the score is tied. But it doesn't matter to Thomson fans. "WHAT ABOUT THAT CLIPPING? COME ON, REF!" a fan in the reserved section screams. There's dozens of black and gold pompons, 20-ounce soft-drink bottles filled with dried beans and fans emitting incessant, throat-scratching barks.
On the sidelines, a shirtless young man streaks behind the players, a black flag with a huge golden "T" on it streaming behind him. It's a sprint he makes in the 29-degree air after every score.
Air horns blare when the Dogs kick a field goal, taking a 24-21 lead into halftime. By night's end, the score is closer to a blowout. Thomson wins 51-35 - leaving at least one Troup County supporter in awe.
"I hope y'all win state," he says as a line of defeated players walk by, some smiling and laughing, some shuffling and skulking. "That quarterback y'all have is ... wow."
For local fans, they're moving toward three weeks from now, when they hope a championship game is played "betwixt the bricks" - on a field that's been home to Thomson teams for years, a field where memories and tradition are players in the game, a field where the world stops on fall Friday nights.
It's an obsession to most. Barry Hunt's always here on the sideline, boosting the Dogs and encouraging the fans to get up and cheer. County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton wears his letterman's jacket as he shifts seats in the reserved section, hugging and shaking hands along the way. The mayor is certainly in the stands, as are most of the county's politicians and business leaders. The district attorney sits high above the game, calling every play for the local radio station.
Part social evening, part Southern spectacle, it's all football - Thomson style.
Seventeen years ago, the Dogs - led by quarterback Terry Pettis - beat Cedartown for their second consecutive state title.
A lot has changed at The Brickyard since then. Thomson fans now sit on the far side of the stadium. A couple of THS students share mascot duties, donning the gray bulldog suit and strutting through the stands and along the sidelines. The band is now the award-winning Bulldog Brigade. Even the concessions are good - especially the $1 hot chocolate.
And then there's Bones - a real Bulldog, a descendent of the University of Georgia's mascot UGA IV, led around by THS alumni Griff Garrison. Bones barks during the National Anthem, and wobbles through a victory lap after extra points and field goals. He is Thomson football.
Three weeks from now - down a road that flows through Rome, Ga., and the Georgia Dome - Thomson could be home to the biggest game in years for fans of the Dogs. I'll be there, along with many of the people I grew up with and those that watched us grow.
Where else would we be on a Friday night in Thomson?
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