Chip Prengaman had a sickness. It was a fever, according to his wife, and Chip had it bad.
“Dawg Fever is you eat, live, drink University of Georgia,” Pam Prengaman explains.
Pam knew from the start that her husband's Dawg Fever was incurable. It was something he would have his entire life. You may think that Pam, a graduate of the University of West Georgia, would be immune to Dawg Fever, but you would be wrong.
Because here's the thing about Dawg Fever:
Chip and Pam had season tickets and traveled to road games. Pam developed a low-grade Dawg Fever herself, one that grew in intensity as her love for Chip deepened. The pair surrendered their season tickets when they had children, opting for family tailgates instead. On those days, Chip tossed the ball around with his children, but always with a radio within earshot so as not to miss a single play. There were rituals and superstitions to give the Dawgs a little luck. Game day was always a big deal because, for Chip, every game was a big deal.
It didn't matter if the team was good or bad, they were his Dawgs. But there's no doubt, Chip wanted the national championship trophy back in Georgia. The team's last national title was in 1980, one year after Chip graduated from UGA. “The year I die, the Dawgs are going to win the national championship, just to make me mad,” he joked.
Chip taught and coached football for eight years at a Gwinnett County high school. “It was probably one of the best times of his life,” Pam says. “He got to live out his entire life, his entire dream, meaning he got married, he had children, he got to coach football.”
But back surgery kept him out of the classroom and off the football field. The chronic pain forced Chip to give up his career as teacher and coach. Nerve damage prevented Chip from attending Georgia football games, both at home and away.
Despite the pain, Chip's Dawg Fever raged on. In the 18 years following the surgery, Chip found refuge in the red and black. He studied the players, coaching staff and recruitment classes. He taped games and analyzed schematics. He provided color commentary while watching the games at home. He was more than a Georgia Bulldog super fan. He was an expert. Although Chip couldn't physically coach the sport anymore, he could be part of it through his alma mater.
Pam says Chip didn't complain much about the pain, but she still hurt for her husband. “I told him, 'Hey, I'll spend my last dime to get help for you.' But he didn't do it,” she says. “He felt there was nothing that could be done, and this was how he was going to live the rest of his life.”
This past March, Chip had a heart attack. He died at 59. The family arranged a funeral, visitation and tailgate.
“One of the things he always said was, 'When you die and go to heaven, you go to Athens,” Pam says. With the tailgate, they could bring a little bit of Athens to Chip. They requested guests wear Bulldog colors. They put a Georgia G on Chip's urn. Chip's Dawg Fever was shared with friends and family that day, and is now part of his legacy.
Then, something happened.
The Bulldogs started winning… and kept winning. Pam remembered a familiar quote from her late husband:
“The year I die, the Dawgs are going to win the national championship, just to make me mad.”
It's a prophetic statement, but a bittersweet one for his family. “Watching the games, it's like, 'Why are you not here, Chip? Why are you not enjoying this?' But a lot of people kept saying, 'But he is there. He knows what's happening,'” Pam says.
Now, the Dawgs are one win from a title. Chip's family believes their top Dawg will be in Atlanta on Monday night and in Athens forever.