The old Red & Black offices at the University of Georgia were wonderful. They certainly weren’t state of the art — no, you had to climb up squeaky stairs just above the coffee shop that chimneyed up wonderful fumes on Sunday mornings, and there were times you felt like the floors below you could collapse at any moment, which totally would have screwed us for deadline — but they were the perfect offices for a bunch of cocky, green college newspapermen and newspaperwomen.
I remember the dusty old couch in the room where the daily story budget meetings were held. I remember looking across the street at Toppers, one of the two local strip clubs in Athens. I remember the concert flyers, the stickers, the inside jokes that were plastered on all the walls. This was a college bar without the booze, a shrine to the Athens of yesterday made by the journalists of today so that when they took their future jobs they could remember the past and smile.
And there was the best wall art of all. It was a photo of Georgia’s legendary coach Vince Dooley, wearing a hat with a feather in it, posing like a stage actor eager to tackle hours of Shakespearean iambic pentameter.
That photo hung on the wall in the sports department, next to the Mac computer that barely connected us with working e-mail in the late 1990s.
No telling how long that photo lived on that wall, but one day in April of 2000, I hatched a plan. I took the picture off that wall and drove to Dooley’s office. I must have had an appointment to interview him — we didn’t have the kind of relationship where I could just drop on by whenever I wanted to chat — and at the end our talk, I pulled out the photo that labeled him Vince “Hamlet” Dooley
He looked at it, laughed, and claimed he didn’t remember posing for it. I believed him, though I also found it hard to believe.
That, I’m sure, is the last time we spoke.
I was reminded of that photo when I read Tanya Sichynsky’s nice piece on Dooley for the R&B as he was set to be honored for the 50th anniversary of his first season in Athens.
So, I went and found it. It, of course, is still glorious.
After I left the interview, that photo somehow never made it back to the newspaper offices. It never retook its place on the wall along with the old REM stickers and the Asa Nisi Masa concert flyers.
Because after I left Dooley’s office, with the signature of a legend and a personalization to boot, I took it home with me.
That piece of wall in the sports department of the old Red & Black would remain bare. And much like Dooley himself, that spot was never again filled by anything quite as grand.
In my mind’s eye, I think I’m OK with that.