There was, it turns out, a message on those bottles.
I had never noticed until now.
Yet there it is, an unintended wink in lowercase white letters, hiding in plain sight, mocking University of Georgia devotees down the decades. Leaving us, as it were, thirsting.
For years, one of those Coca-Cola bottles, a souvenir from early 1981, stayed buried in a desk drawer, wrapped for safe keeping in an old blue hat. Somehow the glass relic survived moves from my childhood home to college dormitories to newspaper newsrooms, its contents sealed tight by a metal cap.
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The thing has endured for nearly 37 years, a carbonated time capsule from around the date of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration.
The history that this 10-ounce soda harkens to is UGA’s 1980 football season, memories of which Bulldogs fans cherish and to this day revel in. It is the last time the Dawgs were national champs. Those old enough to remember are still drinking it in.
Coca-Cola, as it has done for countless other championship teams over the years, sold tens of thousands of the commemorative bottles. The ones that mark Georgia’s run to glory bear a cartoon drawing of a grinning bulldog in cleats, shoulder pads and a No. 1 jersey. The bottles are slim and just shy of 10 inches tall. They can still be found at flea markets and yard sales. You or someone you know probably has one. Or three.
On the side of the bottles opposite the bulldog is a list of the teams Georgia beat that year, all dozen of them in a perfect 12-0 campaign.
(Not to jinx anything, but the Bulldogs topped Notre Dame and TCU that season. As chance would have it, though Georgia rarely play those schools, their current 10-game winning streak, which spans the past calendar year, includes victories over both the Fighting Irish and the Horned Frogs.)
Printed below the last entry, Georgia’s 17-10 triumph in the January 1981 Sugar Bowl, are two words.
Words that any UGA diehard can relate to after three-plus parched decades in the postseason desert.
Words that you will scoff at if you are not one of them.
Words that, situated 3 inches beneath “Championship Season,” read like an edict: “no refill.”
But that may be about to change.
The Dawgs are unbeaten and top-ranked in the playoff race.
Their followers are itching to pop the cork on more than a keepsake bottle of Coke.
Speaking of which, when I shook mine just now, something surprising happened. It still had fizz.