One of Aaron Murray’s biggest fans sent him a text message in early August.
“This is weird but I just bought tickets for your last season.”
His response: “Next time, hopefully you’ll be buying NFL tickets.”
The text came from his sister, Stephanie, a junior at the University of Georgia, who purchased student tickets even though her brother is the star quarterback on the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
Murray, like other Georgia players, is allotted game tickets, but there’s more demand from the Murray family than supply for his fourth and final season as the Bulldogs’ starting signal caller.
Murray’s decision to come back and chase the Southeastern Conference and national championships that have eluded him meant another season for “Team Murray,” as mother Lauren calls it, to be there to back Aaron all the way.
Brother Josh, 29, is roommates with Aaron in Josh’s three-bedroom, three-bathroom rental off Barnett Shoals Road. Stephanie, who turns 21 next month, lived with her brothers this summer until moving into her own apartment. She’s a psychology major, a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and Aaron says “a little genius.” He said she “freaked out” when she got her first B in college when her course load included organic chemisty, biology, calculus and Spanish.
Parents Lauren and Denny make the frequent trip from back home in Tampa, Fla., to Athens, or wherever Georgia’s schedule takes them.
“It’s a great support system,” Aaron said. “We’ve always been a close-knit family. That’s why it’s so nice to have them up here.”
Murray lives and breathes football. He studies game-film for any edge. He is the face of the program. And he takes aim this season at SEC career passing records that are within reach.
Josh, a former walk-on safety for Georgia after a minor league baseball career, views his role as keeping Aaron, six years younger, focused on what’s on his plate.
“It’s just a perfect situation for these last four months and him just kind of chilling at my place and us living together,” said Josh, now a financial advisor. “This is probably the last four months that our whole family, or at least me and him, will be able to be this close. He’ll be out doing his thing and my older-brother responsibilities won’t be as much anymore because then he’ll kind of be a grown man.”
Aaron’s already viewed that way in most circles, organizing Georgia’s offseason training and beginning work in a doctoral program after completing his undergraduate degree in less than four years.
“This guy is everything that is right about college football,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “He’s got a look in his eye and he is a guy that I really believe is more concerned about the team and the success of the team than any individual accolade he might receive.”
Murray has scaled back his academic workload — enrolled in some broadcasting classes this fall — after he learned last season the demands of chasing championships and carrying a rigorous class schedule.
“Everyone knows how much time I enjoy spending up here and how much I feel like I need to prepare each week,” he said. “I just couldn’t do that when I had class and research hours and reading 40 page papers a night. I loved it. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the program, but my head was about to blow off.”
Underneath Murray’s No. 11 jersey are splotches of ink that largely go unseen by the world — tattoos symbolizing of the importance of his family and his faith.
There’s a cross (his father is Catholic). There’s a Star of David (his mother was born Jewish). And the initials of his father on top, his mother on the bottom and his brother and sister on either side of the cross.
“I didn’t feel like tatting my whole body up,” Aaron said. “I just wanted something that means something to me. It’s my past. It’s how I grew up. It’s my family.”
Murray got the tattoo near his rib cage when he went home for the Fourth of July before his redshirt season in 2009.
“It’s so funny because he wouldn’t even tell us,” Aaron’s mother said. “He had Josh tell us.”
That’s the protective older brother. Lauren calls him more of a parent figure.
One that wants to kick his brother’s tail in everything they do, whether a free-throw shooting contest or a game of checkers.
“He’s more of the fiery, competitive type,” Aaron said. “I’m competitive but I’m not nearly as competitive as he is. Anything he plays, it turns into life or death.”
Said Josh: “I’m trying to get him to learn how to play some golf, but he’s too focused on football right now to really get into that. That’s the only sport I may have a little notch up.”
Josh played baseball, and played it well at Jesuit High in Tampa.
So much so that the Milwaukee Brewers drafted the shortstop in the second round in 2002 in the same draft that it took Prince Fielder a round earlier.
From 2002-07, Josh toiled in the lower levels of the minor leagues, playing in places such as Ogden, Utah., Beloit, Wisc., and Brevard (Fla.) County.
“I remember Beloit,” Aaron said. “My dad and I went up to visit and watch him. It was probably 35 degrees and it was raining and him and I were the only ones in the stands bundled up under a blanket.”
Josh said he gave up his baseball dreams because the lifestyle wasn’t for him and he missed being a part of his younger brother’s and sister’s lives.
Denny, now a civil engineer and founding partner of a consulting group, was no stranger to the life. He was a pitcher in the Blue Jays’ organization.
“I often tease my boys that the two of them together are not the athletes their father was,” said Lauren, who was a college cheerleader at Florida International.
Denny also was on the football team at Cornell and played basketball.
Aaron played some baseball, but found it to be boring.
Football got his juices flowing. Still does.
Murray was composed when facing the music from reporters after the 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game in December at the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs’ final drive ended at the 5-yard line, keeping them out of the BCS national title game.
Later that night, he took it out on his iPhone.
“There was a point in the night where I just kind of melted a little bit,” he said. “I remember we were all just chilling in our house, all of our roommates, and all of a sudden I just lost it for a quick second.”
Murray said he was wrestling with tight end Arthur Lynch, threw the phone and it shattered.
“He was really pissed,” Lynch said. “He wanted to drive to the Butts-Mehre [building] to go watch the film that night like at midnight. We were like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to calm down. Just relax.’ It’s the type of competitor he is.”
Murray’s decision to return for his senior season was about made when the clock ticked off in the Dome that night.
Where he might go in the next NFL draft remains to be seen.
Josh was the No. 48 overall pick in the baseball draft. Aaron doesn’t have a guess as to where he could be taken in the draft.
“I don’t know,” Aaron said. “It’s another competitive thing one of us can brag about at the end of the day.”
Denny and Lauren Murray did something in July they had not done for nearly 30 years.
They took a vacation. All by themselves. Without the kids.
Such is the price for always having a child with a game to play somewhere. Besides the boys, Stephanie played softball and flag football.
“Vacations were always tournaments of some sort,” Lauren said. “We’ve traveled all over the country as a family [for sports]. … We wouldn’t trade it.”
Their vacation took them to visit her family in Boston and Maine and his family in upstate New York.
“They were very dedicated to us,” Aaron said. “It was all about us, which was nice.”
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo quickly learned just how much Murray and his family were intertwined.
“From the first time I recruited him you could tell he was very close to his family,” Bobo said. “Every decision he makes is a family decision — his mom, dad, brother and sister. They’re the All-American family that’s going to have a movie night once a week together. They’re going to make sure they eat dinner once a week together. They come up here, they’re going to dinner together. They’re really close. I think that’s why he’s been successful.”
About those dinners.
Aaron, Josh and Stephanie usually get together on Thursday nights during the season.
When they lived together this summer, Aaron and Stephanie cooked dinner about every night.
Shrimp pasta. Salmon. Rice. Broccoli.
“He would do the meats and I would do the side items,” she said.
They did the grocery shopping together.
On game days when Georgia is at home, the family will hang out afterwards and share a meal.
Aaron considers that the one time during the week to get away from football.
“It’s all week long,” he said. “The game and then depending when the game is, I get four hours of freedom because on Sunday morning we go eat brunch and I go straight to [Butts-Mehre] and get back to work.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the Murrays: “There’s not as many close-knit families that are intact like his family is. Mom and Dad — very intentional in the lives of all their kids. Brother — a professional athlete like his dad. Kind of following in the footsteps. They are very competitive people. All of them. Momma just as much or more than any of them. I think they’re all highly competitive people, highly motivated people to wake up every day and have a plan.”
Sometimes the best-laid plans are interrupted by what life brings.
Murray’s weekend from hell last season was well-documented when Georgia got rocked by South Carolina, the home he shared with teammates got rolled with toilet paper and Murray learned that his father needed to undergo surgery for thyroid cancer.
Denny told Aaron and Josh they didn’t need to return home during the Bulldogs’ bye week, but they did.
“He was glad we were there,” Aaron said.
“That’s kind of what makes that family special,” said Lynch, a close friend of Aaron’s. “They’re a close-knit family and stick together through tough times obviously with his dad. No matter what happens in life, he’s always got his family. That’s kind of what he leans on at all times.”
Lauren said her husband is “doing great.” He had a second surgery, this time on his lung, after some dark spots were found. But a follow-up earlier this month showed he “is completely cancer free right now. We’re very blessed that his health is good.”
It was the second serious health issue that Aaron, Josh and Stephanie lived through with a parent.
When Aaron and Stephanie were in grade school, Lauren was treated with chemotherapy for a brain tumor that she said she had for about seven years. She opted against surgery and the treatment turned out to be successful.
Aaron said his mother didn’t tell the kids about her health for a few years.
“We’ve had it tough with my parents, but they are the strongest people I know,” Josh said.
That’s a different type of strong than people questioning an ability to win the big game.
If Georgia had won the SEC championship game instead of finding heartbreak, Aaron would probably be an NFL rookie this season.
“That game against Alabama was the national championship game,” Josh said. “If we would have won that game, there’s really not a lot left to accomplish. He’s done everything we set out to do, we would have won the national championship (over what he said was a “pretty overrated” Notre Dame team) and I think he would have gone. The second he did not win that game, he just knew he had to try one more time.”
So here he is trying one more time, leading what’s expected to be one of top offenses in the country.
And here the Murrays are, supporting Aaron.
Like they’ve always been there for each other.
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