Ralph Clark could be getting a haircut next week.
Or he might have to wait another year to schedule his next appointment.
If you believe the oddsmakers, there’s only a 1-in-3 chance Ralph will be in the vicinity of a barber shop any time soon. That’s because prognosticators have issued only a 35.3 percent degree of probability that Georgia will defeat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday Dec. 1.
Ralph, a former UGA football player from Macon, vowed 10 months ago not to cut his hair until his beloved Bulldogs prevail over the Crimson Tide, college football’s most dominant program over the past decade.
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Over the past 321 days, he has become one Hairy Dawg.
For most of his 66 years, Ralph has been a clean-cut guy. His hair might have crept over the top of his ears on occasion, but he never let it tumble to his shoulders. He made up for the money he spent on haircuts by saving on shampoo.
The no-haircut declaration came after he joined others at 20’s Pub & Subs on Riverside Drive on Jan. 8 and watched Bama thwart Georgia, 26-23, in a thrilling overtime game.
Swearing off the scissors was a bold pledge. After all, there was no guarantee the two teams would meet again this year — or any other year for that matter, unless it’s in the SEC title game or college football playoffs. They play in different divisions of the SEC, so they rotate on and off the schedule. They have met five times in the last 12 years, and Alabama has won four straight.
Ralph’s long-time friends did double takes when they ran into him at the Fish N’ Pig restaurant and the Macon Touchdown Club.
“What’s with the hair?’’ they ask. “Are you having a mid-life crisis? Did you run off and join a rock band?’’
A few of his high school classmates now call him “Reba.’’ His golfing buddies refer to him as Tommy Fleetwood, the long-haired British golfer.
And those who say he looks like Ben Franklin … well, they can go fly a kite.
Some folks approve of the Rapunzel look. Others have had to bite their tongues. His 17-pound cat is neutral on this hippie in the house. Smokey Joe is careful not to bite the hand that feeds him.
Ralph was a promising athlete coming out of Lanier High in Macon, where he was in the last graduating class (1970) before it became Central High School. Former Georgia Coach Vince Dooley recruited and signed him as a wide receiver in a program that rarely threw a forward pass.
(There’s a bit of irony here. A former player who helped recruit Ralph was the quarterback who threw one of the most famous passes in UGA history — to beat Alabama. Another Kirby, Moore, not Smart, grew up in Alabama and came off the bench to engineer a 73-yard touchdown pass on flea-flicker late in the 1965 season opener. It led the Dogs to an improbable 18-17 come-from-behind win over the defending national champion Tide. The trick play was highly controversial, but there was no “instant replay” rule back in those days.)
Ralph lettered for the Dogs in 1974. He was working as a sales manager in Norcross when he suffered a stroke at his home in June 1985. He had been training to run in his fifth Peachtree Road Race. He spent his 33rd birthday at a rehab hospital in Atlanta. The stroke left him disabled.
He toyed with the idea of growing out his hair last year, when he turned 65. His younger brother, David, a musician and folklorist who lives in Cochran, has sported long hair for years. (David once published an alternative newspaper in Macon called “Out of the Sky.”)
Last month, Ralph had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. His hair now helps cover the Y-shaped scar on the right side of his face.
If the Dogs do manage to pull the upset, Ralph plans to donate his hair to “Locks of Love” a non-profit charity that provides wigs for children who have lost their hair to cancer and other medical conditions.
And, if the Dogs don’t beat Bama … well, check back same time next year. By then, this tale will have really grown.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.