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Smith: Letter has value for sports’ Gloers

If you earn a letter for competing in college football, you are a member of an exclusive club. It is not as exclusive as being a U.S. Senator, for example, but think of how few people earn a college football letter.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, center, shares a laugh with senior Chad Gloer (47) and his mother, Kathy, during the Bulldogs’ senior day festivities before their game against Georgia Tech.
David Manning

Winning a letter in any college sport puts one in an exceptional category.

Earning a letter in football should be an honor, but we have reached the point that this accomplishment is taken for granted by many kids. A letter sweater is something nice to wear when it’s cold, while they plan for a career in the National Football League.

Georgia has the prettiest letter jacket there is. A red vest with black leather sleeves and that block "G" on the front. The first time I put mine on, I was overwhelmed with pride. I couldn’t wait for the winter, so I could wear it to class.

I had put in several hundred miles on the track to earn that letter jacket. It meant something. Even today on some winter mornings, I go to the attic and slip it on and wear it for a while. I wouldn’t wear it downtown to lunch, but just putting it on stimulates warm feelings.

While I haven’t talked to Chad Gloer of Fayetteville, my guess is that he feels the same way about his letter jacket.

Players come and go on all campuses, and alumni pride swells when the "Touchdown Heroes" do their thing and go on to greater success in the NFL. You are always grateful for the Fran Tarkentons, the Herschel Walkers, the Richard Seymours and the Matthew Staffords. As they make headlines in the NFL, we keep hearing about their affiliation with the University of Georgia.

We may not hear Chad Gloer’s name mentioned on an NFL broadcast (but don’t bet on it). For sure he won’t be touchdown maker. He is not likely to lead a press conference after a team earns a big victory.

He will be heard from, however. Good citizen. Good family man and contributor to his community.

Chad didn’t enroll in Athens to prepare for a long career in pro football. He came to earn a degree and to enjoy being a member of the Georgia team. He played because he loved the game and, not insignificantly, he loved his school.

The humility of his attitude makes one appreciate college football – the greatest of games. While I am, as a Georgia graduate, proud of those who bring great honor to the institution with their ability to excel among the NFL’s best, I will always have a warm place in my heart for the Chad Gloers, and those who walk on and play because of their affection for the game and for love of alma mater. He didn’t make All-America, but will be remembered as an all-American boy.

Football has always been a family affair with the Gloers. When Chad and his older brother Ryan played at Starr’s Mill in Fayette County, their father, Jon, was a member of the coaching staff. Jon had walked on at Georgia and played with the 1980 national championship team. He brought his sons to games at Sanford Stadium and talked about his experience, hoping that one of them would do the same.

Kathy, the boys’ pretty mother, found her way on the sideline eventually. She became a serious photographer, but like a walk-on earning his stripes by scrimmaging with the scout team, she began her career from the stands with a long-lens camera. She managed to find vantage points that prevented her from being positioned in front of any fans, which was her biggest challenge.

Like Chad, she was patient, hard-working and determined. Eventually she qualified for sideline photo passes. Her photos are not all about Chad, but the Georgia team. Just like her son, she works to improve every game.

Even with college football’s many problems, the game, in its purest sense, is still important to some kids. Like Chad Gloer.

• Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald. E-mail: