Bulldogs' Geathers thankful for family

Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

If you were young and a Geathers growing up in the South Carolina low country, Thanksgiving was the sweetest of times.

One set of grandparents lived at the end of your street. At the other end was a matching set of grandparents. You could eat a little warm-up meal at home, then work the neighborhood for Parts II and III, giving you the same number of sequels as The Godfather, only all these were delicious.

You would pause to give special thanks for the crab salad.

And every house would be full of family and laughter and football. Eventually, a gathering would spill out into the yard and then into the neighboring woods, where the kids shared rides on an overworked ATV.

“I miss that a lot,” said Kwame Geathers, the youngest of Debra and Robert Geathers’ three boys, the one playing defensive line at Georgia. “Not just the eating. I miss being with family, seeing the little cousins, the aunts, uncles. We all have such a good time together.”

“He was always the one who kept the family laughing,” Debra Geathers said of her son Kwame.

Football is the official sport of this holiday week, drawing relatives with nothing else in common around the glowing electric hearth of the television. It also fractures the families of those who play it.

And there are few other families who have been pulled in so many directions by football as clan Geathers. Perhaps the closest would be the Matthews guys Clay Sr., Bruce, Clay Jr., Clay III, three generations in the NFL. Or the many Mannings, whose family crest is a quarterback changing the play at the line.

This particular line of large-boned men begins with Robert Geathers Sr. and his brother, known to the four NFL teams for which he played (including the Falcons from 1993-95) as Jumpy. Robert was a Buffalo Bills third-rounder in 1981.

Robert begat Robert Jr., another former Bulldog d-lineman now in his ninth NFL season with Cincinnati. Realizing that the world still didn’t have sufficient run-stoppers, Senior begat a couple more. Clifton, who is hanging on with the Indianapolis Colts. And Kwame, the 6-6, 350-pound junior at Georgia who plays the necessary but unheralded role of guy who takes up space.

They all have in common a couple obvious traits.

“They have a great legacy,” said Rodney Garner, the Bulldogs defensive line coach who recruited both Robert and Kwame. “They got a lot of (football) history, a lot of tradition. Ain’t many people can say that.”

And, added Garner, “Geathers men are biiiig men.”

Robert, 6-3 and just south of 300, is the runt of the litter. Clifton is four inches taller and several meals heavier. Put all the brothers together for Thanksgiving – it has been a dozen years since that’s happened – and surely woe be to the turkey population of South Carolina.

It had to be epic dining. “You’d be surprised,” said their mother. “My boys were never big eaters, they ate regular.”

Size was not a function of eating habits, she insisted. Her father on the Grimmage side of the family was a large man, with hands like catcher’s mitts. Robert’s father was huge. Created was a perfect genetic recipe for a line of linemen (various other cousins have been scattered around college ball as well).

Uncle Jumpy was known for his raw strength, evidenced by his patented move — the forklift — in which he lifted an offensive lineman and drove him back into the quarterback. “Yeah, yeah, he is trying to teach (her boys) the forklift,” said Debra. “He keeps saying, ‘I’m going to teach Kwame the forklift,’ and I just say, whatever, OK, hurry up with it then.”

When he was young, Kwame said he pictured himself as a running back, but soon enough grew out of that notion. There were just too many role models around not to eventually pick up the family business on the other side of the ball.

At Georgia, Kwame runs in and out with 360-pound John Jenkins and homesteads a significant chunk of prime real estate in the middle of the field.

Of all the football-playing brothers, Kwame was the “real lover of the sport,” said his mother.

The youngest of the crew — Kwame is 21, Clifton 24, Robert 29 — would be the loudest critic. “He would always criticize and critique (his oldest brother) as far as what he wasn’t doing right,” Debra said. “He’d always give both of them a hard time. They grew up close together, they loved being together. And when one made it, the next would think, ‘OK, let me give it a shot.’”

“We still joke around, telling each other who’s the best,” Kwame said. And he leaves little doubt where he lies on the subject. “I’ll say I’m the best lineman of the group,” he said, grinning widely.

Football has been very, very good to the family.

But the holiday gathering of Geathers has suffered lately because of it. All three brothers are preparing for games this weekend and can’t make it home.

“The first time I didn’t have any of my boys home, I was going to eat with a niece and it got to me so bad,” said Debra. “I had to call all three of them right there and say I was missing them so much. That was a cruel one for me.

“I realize that every time we had (a Thanksgiving) all together, it was special.”