"People don't recognize you do they?" I asked.
"Not with my sunglasses on, no," he responded.
Visual recognition can always be a little tricky, but say the name D.J. Shockley and most people remember him as a hero – not the goat many made him out to be the three years before his championship season. Shockley was seen by many as intruding on David Greene's time as quarterback. Mark Richt broke up the rhythm of the game when Shockley subbed in for Greene they argued.
All too often Shockley was made the villain – even though he never really was. The passion surrounding college football often makes matters much more dramatic than they really are. Organically going into the 2005 season doubts surrounded the College Park native. Critics – and there were tons of critics… anyone who says there were not vocal critics of D.J. Shockley before 2005 are liars – didn't think Shockley could get the job done. Stereotypically, they thought Shockley was a "running" quarterback – ignoring his ability to deliver the ball from the pocket.
The fact was Shockley, who was very well liked universally in the program, just had never been the starter. He had one year to make it work, and he did. But we didn't know that beforehand. The handwringing before the 2005 season was at pretty high levels – even for Georgia fans who have learned how to "handwring" from the best… Larry Munson.
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society of the SEC, Shockley had struggled in Georgia's season-ending 2004 win over Georgia Tech when Greene went out with a thumb injury. The dye was cast amongst the red and black natives. Although Shockley had provided game-winning plays in the past (think about Georgia's 2002 win over Clemson and the dazzling touchdown he scored on the Tigers) people assumed he couldn't get the job done… probably because they had never seen him do it before (and don't we assume that too often in sports?)
Shockley heard the criticism, but keep confident in the press and amongst his friends. DeMario Minter, perhaps Shockley's closest ally at the time, was always confident in his abilities – as was his center Russ Tanner… who eventually had Shockley as one of his best men in his wedding a few years later.
As we walked, and really any time I see Shockley, I think about the time before he the word "Shockley" was a good thing. I remember what it was like for him as he got closer to the season. The game with Boise State, one many national pundits thought Georgia would trip up and lose, was critical to the season. Shockley had to perform, and he did – blistering the Broncos on the way to getting national player of the week honors.
A week later Shockley dove over South Carolina defenders during Georgia's tight 17-15 win over the Gamecocks to give Georgia control of the SEC East they wouldn't give back all year.
From that moment until he hurt his leg against Arkansas and all the way to the 2005 SEC Championship Game upset of LSU, Shockley was the darling of the Bulldog Nation. Just remember it wasn't always like that – not at all.
Shockley knows better than anyone else what its like to be a quarterback with the pressure on him to win. In Athens, the quarterback of the Georgia Bulldogs is the biggest of many big men on campus, and in the end, Shockley said, only one thing matters.
"They just want you to win Dean," he said as we walked down the stairways of the Tate Student Center. "They just want you to win."
And win he did.