California Love: How our West Coast Scene in '17 Impacted Georgia Football's Future Now

California Love: How our West Coast Scene in ’17 Impacted Georgia Football’s Future Now

HAN VANCE ON Georgia football: That breeze. California knows how to party but when I was coming up in The Rhetta – Marietta, Georgia – UGA, in Athens, was the top party school in America. Then, it was becoming Rockville in deeper incarnate and it’s always been the Classic City at the birthplace of American public higher education (1785). We love life in Georgia and it really shows.

Hollywood glitz and glamour instead in full effect this time out on The Strip. Affected. You just know JT Money, who had that groovey Wild West moustache already and was a wee babe out driving at night in LOS ANGELES, man, his longer-then hair blowing in the California air, where LA had a desert history that was still palpable in its coolness at night.

The true frosh starting QB for the storied USC Trojans, caught up in the glinting lights for a moment, narrowed his lazer-like focus, gripped the wheel and righted his ship. He was driving the car and the team and it had to feel like a dream.

Sure, reality set in for this true Hollywood celebrity (in-the-making) story. He threw 10 picks. Sailing into immediate action at a Power 5 league school is impressive, though, and he’s a 5-star SoCal kid who went to Mater Dei. He’s our own personal Matt “Lionheart” Leinart Junior now not just another quarterback. A star.

But back when he came into his second year as a sure starter: One game in, a harsher reality set in, injury and Medical Redshirt on the year. He was done.

He selected the ribald, gorgeous Deep South experience at UGA.

Then it surprised many, myself included, when he was granted immediate eligibility and didn’t have to sit out a season under NCAA transfer guidelines. The waiver details he didn’t detail or wish to discuss.

He was to be one of us.

Fast forward to now…he’s the most popular person in the state of Georgia at the minute after debuting with 401 and 4 TDs, to no picks or fumbles and 1-0 as the starter for UGA. The boy is good. Sure, Sanford Stadium SEC night game was the best possible setting for a first start, playing a team that is now 2-5.

False narrative by UGA beat writer Seth Emerson in The Athletic (which you have to pay to read) was suggesting that because JT wasn’t slated to start for the Trojans, that had deeper revelatory meaning. It didn’t. See, Slovis is the kid who replaced young JT at USC after he went out with the injury late into the first game of his starting sophomore campaign, when he was playing a great game. Slovis set the all-time college completion percentage for any true freshman, so he basically wasn’t replaceble at that clip. Obviously.

We got lucky, babe.

Cut to cool surfer, skater, author Billy Barnard and podcaster Tara Shah, the hottie alert president of the SD UGA Alumni out in San Diego. Quavo from the Migos in a minute, yo.

Billy and I both went to Lassiter High School in greater Marietta and then UGA, where I knew him when I was a soph. We’ve hung in SF and whatnot since, too. He was a little older.

In autumn 2017, he was telling me to go to a Dawgs viewing party instead of his home, and that there were actually two separate watching party scenes, which I thought was super dope and emblematic of who we are at heart.

My lovely alumna wife Jami Buck-Vance who was out from ATL in Cali on some Silcon Valley business, had wanted to see U2 at the San Diego Chargers stadium. The Bolts were leaving Diego while we were coming in to party and see the show, which my favorite Beck was opening so it was an incredible double-bill, though any U2 show has the highest expectations.

I flew out and she flew down. They lived up to it.

The next day was a Georgia versus Mississippi State Bulldogs game in Athens, so we watched at the Loading Dock with Tara and her legions, barking along in a bar while planes loudly few over our heads at the downtown San Diego airport. It was exciting!

Met my San Diegoan UGA alumnus friend Dale Pontecorvo too, and after a rousing rousting and routing saw our Dawgs over the Dan Mullen Maroon Pups, my wife and Dale and I hit Waterfront, San Diego’s Oldest Tavern. It was an epic last night out West. Smoke show staff, my wife bought me a black hoodie.

Billy’d showed up before during the game, we exchanged books and caught up and ate some chips. Tara and I clicked and became friends right away. (We are still good friends.) Then in my NOSTRAHANISH mode I foresaw Georgia probably getting the Rose Bowl and said I’d go.

We did. Tara made it happen when the tickets were released and we were 5th row in Pasadena where you at! We got down huge, and this was after the real coming out party for our fan base which was the Redout at Notre Dame, a day after the Dawg-nation got loud at a Cubs game and barked into a Chicago sky. That put Georgia back on the big boy map,


Indiana at night in the Heartland and we were going Dirty South/Hollywood showtime. Then Los Angeles, like, happened people. By the time of the Rose Bowl, rapper Quavo was on the sideline as our players, especially Rodrigo Blankenship and star Sony Michel and Roquan Smith played their butts off in the comeback win, after coming out sleepwalking and shellshocked by the glare of the moment and the Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield.

We were newsy, after the CANINES VS CATHOLICS, beating Florida up, then winning the SEC over Auburn in a convincing revenge win, at the World Capital of College Football, my home in Atlanta. The SECCG is a bigtime game.

Once we were suddenly in the big time, the hits kept coming…

Losing to Bama back home in-state sucked, but the way our loud fans had represented there and out in California – including the late yelldown of the dirt farmers and the total Dawgs takeover of Venice Beach on Sunday, where the locals met us – had made an impact.

Even losing the way we did in a Hollywood storyline ending made a whole lot of brand recognition. It was such high drama, something we’ve sadly specialized in since.

Big Up to Dom’s stepdad, and LA local Ravion Morgan, and my man Mike Tom who let me stay, Merv Waldrop and Travis Carter. Merv-Trav-Han are undefeated, together. …Still. We shall return.

No coincidence. Our best quarterback is from California, y’all. The running back of the future at Georgia is from California, Kendall Milton; the true frosh should’ve seen much more carries and got dinged up in the AT Jacksonville nightmare loss.

Georgia – the football program brand – would benefit from moving the WLOCP game to every third year in Jacksonville; therefore, keeping the tradition in existence while making it fairer to Athens and UGA as a whole.

We benefitted much long-lasting from winning these big out of region games, and the future sees Georgia facing many more non-SEC name schools, including a home-and-home with UCLA. With a trip to Florida State coming, that could be the year that UGA opts for that change, a transition year out for fans, before not going to the Sunshine State every single year.

You will be seeing Oregon in Atlanta, Oklahoma again, Texas – my birth city of Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World – perhaps too much of old rival Clemson, I mean, heck we open with Clemson in Charlotte next year, which is already getting hype. We are very national and have to seize on that opportunity with good showings in these big games, winning the SEC as UGA has 13 times, getting back to the CFP as Georgia has just once.

Winning it all, most importantly, which UGA recognizes only two titles: 1980, 1942.

Tara is younger than I am but went to the same high school and college with me too, she’s a Blue Devil alumna and I started high school off the Square at the old classic Marietta High School. Really fun times. Marietta as a mother…our best game by any receiver this year was easily the 197 by Jermaine Burton Saturday. He went to Marietta for two different periods, also playing for IMG in Florida and being our third key Californian now. He chose UGA from the Golden State, where he matriculated.

The whole region not just the state, see.

We have egregiously underused weapon Darnell Washington at tight end this season. He selected Kirby Smart out of Vegas, baby, and we best show him the bling. He was rated as the top overall “athlete” in college football recruiting last time, as Georgia finished with a second #1 national ranking for a Smart class.

Kelee Ringo was the top player out of the beautiful state of Arizona, the injured corner set to key contribute much in Athens in 2021.


Even with two tough and big losses already this season, that still means something nationally. And, we need to improve and leave lasting legacy while it still means so much, across the wide swath of America.

(Which I write about at – see my San Diego story there and some other cultural writing, like this here.)