The Richt family is used to the puzzled looks.
That's what happens when you show up at Georgia football games wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a likeness of the Bulldog mascot with an ear of corn atop its head.
When the Richts explain that they're “CornDawgs” — followers of both the Nebraska and Georgia programs — the quizzical looks just keep coming.
The story starts with Georgia coach Mark Richt and roots dug into South Omaha turf that Richt still remembers, even though the 52-year-old left his old neighborhood and his cousins behind on his seventh birthday.
The connection has stayed so strong that Richt's CornDawg cousins will travel at least once a year, usually to a Bulldog road game, and unfurl their “Nebraskans for Georgia” banner for all to see. Because they almost always drive, Richt calls them “road warriors” when there's a brief reunion after games.
The bond is solid enough that many of the CornDawgs are torn as to which team to cheer for when NU plays Georgia in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. They never envisioned that they'd be put in this kind of spot.
“I've honestly been tossing and turning a little bit, but I have to go with Georgia simply because it's just blood,” said Bill Richt, the former Bellevue East basketball coach and retired teacher who even publishes a CornDawg newsletter that he distributes to almost 150 family and friends. “I've been a Nebraska fan for 30 years longer than I've been a Georgia fan, but I just have to go with that.”
Tim Richt feels the same way, even though he's way younger than Bill and his other siblings and wasn't part of those old days growing up playing with Mark and his brothers.
Tim and his wife, Julie, pick one Saturday every season to throw a CornDawg party, when Nebraska and Georgia games are both on TV but with staggered starts. They get a projector TV to show the games on their garage wall, pass out the next round of T-shirts and welcome 100 or more Husker/Bulldog fans into their home and backyard.
“As soon as the (bowl) matchups came out, people said, 'This must be the greatest thing in the world for you,'” said Tim Richt, who teaches at Millard North and is the Mustangs' JV baseball coach. “But I've never wanted Nebraska to play Georgia. I'm probably 75 percent Georgia fan and 25 percent Nebraska fan, and I don't even know why that is.”
The CornDawgs got a shout-out when Mark Richt mentioned them by name during a Dec. 2 teleconference for the Capital One Bowl. The 12th-year Georgia coach said the game was “kind of personal for me” because of his ties to Omaha and growing up an NU fan.
Richt relayed through Georgia media relations that he remembered his house on South 38th Street between Edna and Josephine (just off 36th and Harrison) and that he briefly went to St. Bernadette Catholic School before the family moved to Boulder, Colo. He recalled that one grandmother lived next door, the other across the street.
Mark Richt's father, Lou, told The World-Herald that he and his late wife were South High graduates. Lou Richt was a tool and dye maker at Western Electric, and the family relocated when he took a position with IBM.
Lou has one younger brother, Tony, who still lives in Omaha. Bill and Tim are among six children of Lou's older brother, Bill Sr., who died two years ago.
“When we lived there they would all visit, or when we'd visit Bill they'd all hang out,” said Lou Richt, who now lives in Watkinsville, Ga., just a mile or so from Mark. “They were mostly boys, and they would find some games or other to play.”
Mark Richt got a chance to see the old neighborhood when he came to watch Georgia in the College World Series finals in 2008. The people who bought the house from the Richts in 1967 still live there and allowed Mark to tour his boyhood home after he knocked on the door and introduced himself.
The Richt family went from Omaha to Boulder to Boca Raton, Fla., and Mark signed with the University of Miami and played under former Hurricane head coaches Lou Saban and Howard Schnellenberger from 1978 to '82. He was a backup quarterback to Jim Kelly for much of his career, but Bill Richt said some of the cousins saw one of his few starts when Mark Richt threw a touchdown pass in a 17-7 loss at Colorado his freshman season.
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Greg Richt, the brother of Bill and Tim, said another memorable trip came just before the CornDawg concept was born. With Mark in his later years as the offensive coordinator at Florida State, the crew drove to New Orleans for FSU-Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl after the 1997 season, then they hurried to Miami the next day to see Nebraska-Tennessee in the Orange Bowl in Tom Osborne's last game.
Along came the CornDawgs just a few seasons later.
They have seen games at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Colorado. The Missouri trip was a must back in September because of the short distance from Nebraska.
Mark Richt met with his team in the locker room, carried out his postgame commitments and then caught up with the CornDawgs on the field after the 41-20 victory.
“He had to do his TV show, but they waited around,” Lou Richt said. “I usually only go to home games now, but I made that trip because I knew they'd be there.”
In one of his early seasons at Georgia, Mark Richt set up some of the CornDawgs with sideline passes for a home game, which Tim Richt said happened to be against Eli Manning and Mississippi. After another home game, Mark and his wife, Katharyn, had the bunch over to their home.
“When he first got the job, we were all excited for him,” Tim Richt said. “We just wanted to make sure we supported him.”
The T-shirts and banner, of course, always lead to some head scratching.
“Everybody is always asking, 'How do people from Nebraska have a Georgia connection?'” Bill Richt said. “So we tell them and they're always like, 'We love Coach Richt.'”
Bill, Greg, Dave, Tracey, Kris and Tim Richt grew up a few blocks from where Mark Richt's family lived and attended Gilder Elementary and Bryan High School. The older boys' memories were of football and Wiffle ball games with their cousins at the nearby park, or sledding down the neighborhood hills.
Mark Richt said last week that he still recalls that one next-door neighbor on 38th Street was an Oklahoma fan, “so we had this neighborhood feud.” Even after the family moved to Colorado, he said, it was still “all Nebraska, all the way.”
Twice the Nebraska coaching job has opened in the last decade and twice Mark Richt's name has at least loosely come up, sometimes simply because of that Omaha connection. But Bill Richt believes Mark is too ingrained in the South now — and at Georgia — to want to be anywhere other than Athens.
So the CornDawgs stay together, with one small problem as many of them head to Orlando later this month.
“Our sisters are die-hard Nebraska fans and I think they're mad that we're going to root for Georgia,” said Greg Richt, who lives just a few minutes from the old neighborhood. “If it would be the national championship game it'd be tough, but I think I've got to root for blood, too, I guess.”
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