June 17, 2013

‘Big Dawg’ carries on tradition in dad’s memory

By ALLIE JACKSON, The Athens Banner-Herald

ATHENS — Georgia Bulldog fanaticism is a tradition for the Woods family. As is painting an image of the UGA mascot on top of their heads.

Mike Woods grew up a Bulldogs fan. He calls himself the “biggest fan.”

Athens residents know him as “Big Dawg” as he has become a staple in the Bulldog Nation, especially on game day.

Taking the lead from his father, Lonnie Lee Woods Sr., who passed away in 1987, Mike decided to carry on his dad’s tradition of shaving and painting a bulldog on his head. More than 25 years later, he still honors the tradition and is looking to pass it on to his son in hopes of keeping his father’s memory alive.

“Dad started painting a bulldog on his head for all the games,” Mike said. “That was in 1980. He used to drive the bus for the Georgia defensive team and they would ask when he was going to shave his head and paint a bulldog on it. ... He told them if they go to the national championship, he would.”

That year, Georgia won the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame. Mike’s dad stayed true to his word, shaving his head and then having a student artist paint a bulldog on top.

“He did that on game days until he passed away,” Mike said. “And then I started doing it in 1990.”

Mike said one day, after his dad had passed, he attended a home game and an older lady who always sat in the seats in front of the Woods family said to him he ought to continue his dad’s tradition.

“And now I keep it going for him,” Mike said. “I thought this would be a great way to remember my dad and a great time (Father’s Day) to do it.”

A staff sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II, Lonnie Woods received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for his service.

It was Lonnie who raised Mike as a hardcore fan.

“I was born and raised a Bulldog and I bleed, my whole family bleeds, red and black,” he said. “We have been buying tickets for 43 years and I haven’t missed a home game since I was 6 years old.”

Mike said his dad would dress in a red sports coat, black slacks and a tie on game days. And, of course, the unmistakable artwork atop his freshly shaved head.

Although Mike paints his head in his dad’s memory, he said he wants to do it in his own, unique way.

“I’ll paint my head, but I’m not going to wear a red suit and slacks,” he said. “I wear black overalls with patches all over them. And when I pass away and Trent (his son) starts painting his head, he’ll do it in his own way, too.”

Mike has two sons — 43-year-old Michael and 32-year-old Trent.

“My brother is ... a bit of an introvert,” Trent said. “So the way the tradition goes, my grandfather used to paint his head and when he passed away, my dad took it on. I won’t paint my head until my dad passes away. And I’m not sure who I will pass it down to. Probably (my nephew), Hampton Woods.”

Trent said when he begins to paint his head, it will be about honoring both his father and grandfather.

“I can’t think of a better man to follow. To be like my father. I’ve seen my father do anything to help people out and a lot of times he does things no one ever knows about,” Trent said. “I can’t think of a better person to grow up and be like. When it’s my time to do the tradition, I can’t imagine what it will be like because I can’t even fathom going to a game without him. I go to the games mostly because I like to spend that time with him.”

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Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com