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A Special Win for Georgia Fans

By BJ Bennett
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Monday night was an emotional one for Georgia football and Georgia fans.

New memories rushing in, Georgia's historic national championship game triumph has also made an entire fan base stop, think and reflect. It's an emotion shared not just amongst fans and friends, but the people who have long made the program so special. For many, the focus is on the current stars like Stetson Bennett, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean. For others, Kirby Smart and the Bulldog staff. For some, memories even take them all of the way back to the days of Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker and Lindsay Scott.

Georgia's national championship makes me think, first and foremost, about Cason Kinstle.

I haven't talked to my best friend from high school much in recent years, but for much of Monday night, I thought about him.

Cason had the complete and utter misfortune, up until recently, of being born a Georgia baby in 1983. Sadly for him, his first official season with the Bulldogs came the year after Herschel Walker's last. As Cason grew up, Georgia's famed 1980 national title was close enough to reference, but not quite close enough to be real. He had seen a number of SEC teams win it all, just not the Bulldogs. And prior to Mark Richt's tenure in Athens, there wasn't much momentum suggesting more national history was on its way.   

When Richt arrived in Athens, we, ironically enough, did, too. Cason and I promptly attended Richt's inaugural game at Georgia, a win over Arkansas State to kickoff the 2001 season. It was Cason's first-ever college football game and one of his first times in Athens. We, still kids then, didn't buy the tickets. In a moment that becomes more surreal with time, we won them by singing "Who Let the Dogs Out", with barking, fittingly, at a local AM radio station broadcast from a retirement community, of all places.

Georgia's profile started to rise in the early 2000s and, correspondingly, so did Cason's hopes and dreams. Richt's Bulldogs won the SEC in 2002, Georgia's first league title in Cason's lifetime. The Bulldogs, also winning the conference in 2005, were quickly becoming a leading national name. It was an exhilarating rise for Cason, though one that also came with extra newfound stressors. With Georgia near the top of the national polls, the pressure was far more pronounced. This was fan development 101 and, as a teenager, was an insightful transformation for me to watch. 

It was a lot to deal with. It would be that way for a while.

Take that 2002 college football season, for starters. The Bulldogs lost one game, to Florida, by one score. Georgia may have been the best team in the country. As fate would have it for Cason, the game-winning touchdown pass in that contest was caught by former Gator All-American tight end Ben Troupe, who, quite literally, moved just a few doors down from Cason's parent's home roughly a decade-and-a-half later. Not only did Troupe ruin Cason's senior season of high school, he was suddenly showing up in his 30s at tag football games at the local park.   

Long before Troupe and Kinstle matched up as dads downfield, Cason had proven to be a truly tireless competitor. While Georgia wasn't quite able to get to that national championship level, we tried, relentlessly, through the valor of video games. Throughout high school and college, I played every edition of NCAA Football; Cason, however, program-built. With a remarkable tenacity and focus, he would go in and manually name all of the players on the Bulldogs' virtual roster, adjust the depth charts and meticulously play each game on Georgia's schedule, FCS Southeast included. Then, help me, he would recruit.

Though the Bulldogs may have just won the national championship, the foundation was long ago envisioned. Trust me.  

We haven't spent much time together in recent years, but many of my memories, with Cason, start with Georgia football. I remember watching him, turned away from the TV on his knees in my family's kitchen, emotionally unable to see the deciding moments of the 2002 Georgia-South Carolina game. I remember him rearranging the positioning of this vintage UGA plaque, which had the old-school Bulldog wearing a bright-red fuzzy polyester sweater, for good luck. I remember his constant affinity for players like the Bailey brothers, Kendrell Bell, Fred Gibson, Tony Gilbert, David Greene, David Pollack, Musa Smith and Hines Ward. 

I also still laugh at Cason's frustrations with Georgia's bandwagon fans, which, quite frankly, may be an issue for you once again, my friend. Don't worry, we all know who earned it. You were there through the ups and downs.

Cason and I spent countless days together as teenagers and, with me dealing with some very serious health problems at that age that limited some of what I coulddo, his friendship meant a lot. It still does. When I was struggling, he came over and was there for me every day. That pretty much meant Georgia, though I didn't grow up a fan of the Bulldogs, was on my mind, too.

With both of us aging, while obviously still remaining incredibly cool and athletic, I think often about our time as young men. His passion for and pride in Georgia, still ever-present, was a big part of that. Seeing the Bulldogs make history and winning Cason's first national championship, made me think and made me smile.

Monday night was an emotional one for Georgia football and Georgia fans. When the Bulldogs won the national championship, they won it for Cason and so many more just like him.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports