CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Cindy Duke’s father went to Georgia. She has a daughter currently at Georgia. She’s been a Georgia football fan for her entire life.
But when Georgia opens its season in Atlanta — where she lives — on Saturday, Duke won’t be there.
She’ll be at her first Miami game instead.
Mark Richt’s hiring at Miami, after his successful 15-year run at Georgia came to an end last fall, has already brought something that the Hurricanes weren’t necessarily expecting. There’s a slew of new Hurricane season-ticket-holders from the Peach State now, people who apparently decided that they can simultaneously be Richt fans and Bulldog fans.
“Since Mark Richt came to Georgia, I’ve been a fan of his,” Duke said. “We saw so many changes in the way the program was handled and just were really impressed with the way he straightened it out. Making things more about the players and the students as a whole person, not just football players. To watch him handle things the way he has, it’s been very impressive.”
For his part, Richt seemed flattered to hear that plenty of people from Georgia bought Miami tickets in the weeks and months after his hiring. His debut as the coach of his alma mater — Richt graduated in 1982 — is Saturday night, when the Hurricanes play host to Florida A&M.
He got plenty of calls and letters from Georgia fans wishing him well after his move back to Coral Gables, and was warmly received when he appeared at a team end-of-season event after his departure from Athens and subsequent hiring by the Hurricanes.
“It’s not impossible to be a Georgia Bulldog fan and a Hurricane fan,” Richt said. “It’s two different leagues. How many times has Miami played Georgia in the last 25 years?”
That would be none — and none for the 25 years before that, either. The last Miami-Georgia game was in 1966.
“There may come a day when we play each other and hopefully it’ll be a significant moment,” Richt said. “I think a lot of people appreciate how I went about my business at Georgia. You have a fan base, alumni, you get attached to your team, to your people. You take a personal interest in them.”
Duke said she chatted with Richt from time to time, and that they would sometimes attend the same church in Athens, Georgia.
“He’s the real deal,” Duke said. “It’s about more to us than just Georgia football. I wasn’t real happy about the way things ended at Georgia, but I’m happy for him … to be able to go back to his alma mater. So we just want to keep following him and be supportive of him.”
Richt isn’t just bringing in new fans. He’s bringing some old ones back as well.
Chris Novack held the school record in the 5,000-meter run for 27 years, from 1986 through 2013. He was a scholarship runner at Miami, graduating in 1988. He spent most of his life living in South Florida, though he now calls Savannah, Georgia home.
On Saturday, for the first time in years, he’s going to a Hurricanes game. He had season tickets when Miami played home games at the Orange Bowl and now has them again.
“I can’t underestimate how the loss of the Orange Bowl hurt so many people,” Novack said. “Mark coming in, and the new stadium, I think it’s rejuvenated the program. I can tell you there’s people in Georgia, my co-workers, who are now Miami fans because of Mark Richt.”