Last August, when I was writing about Greg McGarity becoming UGA’s athletic director, I noted that he had a group of longtime Athens friends who dubbed themselves the Aisle 10 Crew at Georgia football games back in the 1970s, and that the Crew, many of them lifelong pals, still spent time together each summer at a North Georgia lake.
I also noted that my main childhood memory of Greg was him hanging out at the UGA tennis courts with one of my neighbors, a kid called “Chipper” Jones long before the baseball player made that name famous. I also mentioned that on the day the news broke that Greg would be the new AD, he talked on the phone with one of the Aisle 10 Crew, but the primary subject wasn’t his new job; it was their former Athens High/Clarke Central tennis teammate Chipper, who was hospitalized in Atlanta.
Well, the Aisle 10 Crew is getting together again today in Athens, but not for a happy occasion. They’re acting as pallbearers at the funeral of one of their own.
The “original” Chipper Jones died Tuesday.
Although I was a couple of years older than Chipper, I hung out with him quite a bit when we were young. I hadn’t seen him in decades, but from what his Aisle 10 Crew buddies tell me, he had not changed much from the funny, gregarious, fun-loving kid I grew up with.
In later years he officially went by Otis (a name he shared with his dad, a longtime UGA employee and fixture in the press box at athletic events) or by “Chip.” But his friends still called him Chipper or the Big O.
One of them, Bill McDougald, told me Chipper “was without doubt the Godfather of the whole Crew thing” and another, Lawton Stephens, agreed. In a nutshell, Bill said, the Aisle 10 Crew was spawned “by all of us wanting to sit together at football games, but not having adjacent tickets. A few had some up on North, Upper Aisle 10 (maybe it’s 310 now?) and so the rest just piled in, bargaining, squeezing, or otherwise kind of taking over the better part of several rows on a good day.
“We had all known each other in grade school, at Athens High, at the Y (under the great Cobern Kelley), on summer visits to the mountains, or across Coach [Dan] Magill’s tennis courts for years. … Most of the core members graduated from Clarke Central in the class of ’72 or so. And most had UGA faculty or staff parents. All were rabid Dawg fans. Aisle 10 was no place for the wayward Clemson, Auburn or Tech visitor to enter — and if they did, they never stayed long!”
McDougald said the bond they formed “kept us in touch as we scattered across Georgia, the South and the country, and you could always count on getting together with the Crew somewhere at a road game or when back in Athens.”
Among the Crew besides Chipper, McDougald and Stephens were Bill McDonald, Dirk Howell, Don Beacham, Jamie Hudson, Buster Inman (son of former assistant football coach Frank), David Long, Doug Shelnutt, Ralph Harris, Louis German, Johnny McWilliams and Perry Strickland.
Recalls crew member Bill McDonald: “We chartered buses, made up our own game programs, jackets, T-shirts, caps, you name it, and went all over the conference to games. Even got Munson to mention us on air a few times.”
And always at the forefront of the Crew was Chipper, who McDougald said didn’t have a malicious bone in his body but “would defend the Dawgs (and possibly his Aisle 10 buddies) to the death.”
Stephens, now a Superior Court judge in Athens, recalled Chipper was a “larger than life character, which is why he always wore Sansabelt slacks.”
The friends spent many a night hanging out in the wee hours at the Five Points Waffle House in Athens, where Chipper provided the entertainment. Said Stephens, “He drew people to him like a magnet with his wit and his unique way of expressing himself” in folksy, colorful sayings they took to calling “Chipisms.”
Most aren’t printable here, but Stephens provided a couple: Whenever Chipper saw a pretty girl he would say, “She’s as strong as green onions” or “She can he’p you.” And Chipper, who was known to strip to his shorts to try to hit his golf ball out of the water, would never consider walking the links. According to Chipper, if you didn’t have a cart and a cooler, “That ain’t golf!”
They had a lot of laughs together through the years, these friends, and shared a lot of Bulldog memories.
And now, McDougald said, “here we are, as our idol Munson would probably say: 20, 30, 40, oh my God, some 50 years later, still sharing memories, fun and football, and now the passing of the legendary Big O.”
“The folks in heaven better get ready,” he added. “They’re in for the time of their lives!”
Now, feel free to get back to discussing Isaiah Crowell’s progress and how often Branden Smith will need to change jerseys in the first game. Chipper would enjoy that.
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