It's a small thing. One of the smallest of things. It is a constant annoyance in southeastern Georgia during times of warm weather (which is pretty much all the time). You eventually just learn how to deal with it, but to the uninitiated it can be absolute torture.
It is the gnat.
Lewis Grizzard once described gnats thus:
Gnats, tiny bugs, are the cause of a number of deaths in South Georgia each year. Some of these deaths have been attributed to swallowing a large number of gnats while talking or eating. Some also think the reason a lot of South Georgians disappear and are never heard from again is they are carried off by giant swarms of gnats and drowned in the Okefenokee Swamp.
On December 1st 1990 I learned something else about the southeast Georgia gnat. It loves the color yellow.
If you're new to football, too young to remember old uniforms, or just clueless about the University of Idaho, then you may wonder where I'm going with this. When Idaho comes to town on Saturday night, their uniforms will be heavy with the color black.
(Photo Credit: Melina Vastola, USAToday http://usatodaysportsimages.com/preview/7573144)
This wasn't the case in 1990. Idaho's current uniforms are black and gold, but in 1990 the gold was a bright yellow. Their helmets were the same color as the helmets worn by the LSU Tigers.
And that yellow? The gnats loved that yellow.
Legendary Georgia Southern head coach Erk Russell did not like playing night games. He felt the heat, humidity, and yes the gnats, were a huge home field advantage. By December 1st two of those advantages are typically gone.
In 1990 Tim Stowers was in his first season as Georgia Southern's head coach after Erk's retirement following the 1989 season, and permanent light fixtures had still not been added to Paulson Stadium. The quarterfinal playoff game between the Idaho Vandals and defending 1-AA Champions Georgia Southern was held in the early afternoon, as all games were at that time to ensure there were no issues with the late Fall early sunsets.
The Farmer's Almanac's historic data says that the high temperature in Savannah (the closest station to Statesboro) on December 1st was 66 degrees. There was very little humidity in the air, and the winds were blowing at 8-10mph. All of these conditions seem perfect for football and negated Georgia Southern's best home field advantages. Even the wind should have kept the gnats down.
I remember the day being bright and sunny with very few clouds in the sky. I remember a tough, hard-fought football game that came down to the wire. It was one of the biggest fights Georgia Southern had to put up with that season.
It's amazing the things one remembers. I was 8 years old in 1990, but I remember standing at the top of the stands near to tears looking at the old incarnation of Georgia Southern's mascot "Gus" (before he even had a name) and saying "we can't lose!" as the clock ticked close to zero and Eastern Kentucky ended Georgia Southern's 38 game home winning streak in the 3rd game of the 1990 season. That's a game that should almost have put the nail in the coffin for Georgia Southern's hopes of repeating as champions since it put their record at 1-3, but the Eagles never lost another game.
I remember the first round of those playoffs and the 31-0 beating of The Citadel. There was someone selling signs outside the stadium with the score printed on them and I just had to have one. Anything new with Georgia Southern on it was a treat for 8 year old Walt.
I remember that during that epic struggle between the Vandals and the Eagles on December 1st, someone in our little group noticed something funny. I can't say with absolute certainty what it was, but I believe one of our number - Mr Chip Mulford - had a Wayne County High School seat cushion. I only say this because Wayne County's colors are the same bright yellow that the Idaho Vandals used to wear. Swarming around that seat cushion were a large number of those pesky little southeast Georgia gnats.
We looked at that cushion. We looked at the helmets being worn by the Idaho players. We looked at the gnats swarming the cushion.
We may not have had the heat and the humidity, but on that day the Eagles were not going to be denied. And I believe it was that scourge of every outdoor event in the southeast that helped us do it. While the Eagles were used to the little creatures and knew how to ignore them, they must have been a novel experience for Idaho. There were some small mental mistakes made that could possibly be attributed to to being distracted by swarms of tiny insects.
On that crisp Fall day in Statesboro, Ga - the gnat capital of America - the gnats and the Eagles prevailed with a final score of 28-27.
When the Idaho Vandals come to town on Saturday night, they won't be wearing that same bright yellow. The game will be played under the lights of newly expanded Paulson Stadium. The high for Saturday is 87 degrees with a low of 64, so it will probably be in the low 80s by the game's start. It will have all the elements of a game played in a mid-October southeast Georgia evening.
And maybe - just maybe - we can get the gnats out for this one, too.