Jacob Still had a lot of reasons to forget his September visit to Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. His Arkansas State team had just been shut out 55-0, but the Rimington Award watch list center walked away with a memory more lasting than lights on a scoreboard.
Before leaving the famous hedges behind, he said, "I'll be a Georgia fan the rest of my life."
Still had witnessed a simple act of human kindness on an enormous scale. Thousands of Georgia fans, perhaps a third of the 90,000-plus in attendance, wore pink that day to honor the late wife of Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson and raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer. Wendy Anderson had passed away in August after a two-year battle with that terrible disease.
Coach Anderson himself said he was "overwhelmed" by the gesture conceived and carried out by Georgia fans themselves. His players were moved as well.
"It just puts everything in perspective," Still said. "This is bigger than football."
Such heartening reminders happen every year, but the first month of the 2019 season has provided an abundance of feel-good moments that demonstrate the unique ability of SEC football to move people in a powerful way. When the conference says "It Just Means More," this is what it really means.
It means 9-year-old LSU superfan Colton Moore of Odenville, Ala., a courageous spina bifida patient who says "Geaux Tigers" in a family of Auburn fans, asking his mother to take a picture of him with his collection of LSU backpacks on the first day of school - and please, Mom, send it to LSU coach Ed Orgeron.
Jennifer Moore took the photo, put it on her Facebook page, and suddenly Derek Ponamsky, the special assistant to Orgeron, was flooded with copies.
The next thing Colton knew, arrangements were being made for him and his family to travel to the Oct. 5th LSU-Utah State game in Baton Rouge. A crowdsourcing campaign has helped to cover the costs of the trip, including a wheelchair-accessible van.
If you thought Colton was thrilled when he got to visit with some LSU baseball players after their 2017 SEC Tournament title at the Hoover Met, wait until he meets Coach O.
Combine the push of social media and the pull of SEC football, and these personal moments can go viral in the most positive way. Witness the fourth-grader in Florida who's become the most impactful Tennessee fan this season.
He didn't have a UT T-shirt to wear to school on College Colors Day so his teacher told him any orange shirt would do. He got creative, drew a unique UT logo on a sheet of paper and attached it to his orange shirt. Some classmates laughed at his homemade creation, moving him to tears and his teacher to action.
Laura Snyder took the teachable moment to Facebook. The university and its fans took it from there.
Tennessee officials sent a care package full of Vols gear to the young man and his class; offered him a full four-year scholarship to join the class of 2032; and turned his design into an actual t-shirt, which the Pride of the Southland band members wore for the Chattanooga game. The official VolShop has sold more than 70,000 of the shirts, with the proceeds going to STOMP Out Bullying. The week of the Florida-Tennessee game, former Gator defensive end Thaddeus Bullard, a WWE wrestler whose stage name is Titus O'Neil, wore one of the shirts at a Monday Night Raw event in Knoxville.
Out of respect for the privacy of the young man and his family, his teacher hasn't publicized his name, but his example and the Vol Nation's reaction have become a national phenomenon. The heartwarming story's been told everywhere from College GameDay to The Today Show.
"The Vols fan base has really impressed this (Florida State) Noles fan with their kindness," Snyder wrote on Facebook. "This experience is uniting my class even more than I could have imagined, and it was truly amazing to witness."
If you want to witness the unifying power of SEC football, watch the Cat Walk before a Kentucky home game in Lexington. At the front of the line of players and coaches, near head coach Mark Stoops, you'll see a young girl or boy riding in a unique push cart vehicle.
"The Kid of the Game," a patient at Kentucky Children's Hospital, helps lead the procession to Kroger Field from a position of honor thanks to a collaboration among UK Healthcare, the UK College of Engineering, UK football, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky and other agencies.
Kentucky junior offensive lineman Luke Fortner, an engineering student, was part of the team that designed, manufactured and tested the special vehicle as part of a project perfectly named "Lift Them Up."
The project helps honor the memory of 4-year-old Kentucky fan Marco Shemwell. His life ended far too soon last year after getting hit by a car outside Kroger Field. His handprints are captured on the side of the special vehicle, and his brother, 8-year-old Maximo, rode in the cart at this season's first Cat Walk.
Kim Shelton, president of UK Sports and Campus Marketing for JMI Sports, captured that project and the "It Just Means More" spirit perfectly. In her words, "You just hope you get the chance to be a part of something this meaningful."
Sources: Associated Press, ABC 33/40, The Baton Rouge Advocate, Sports Business Journal, ESPN.com, Knoxnews.com, UKAthletics.com, WKYT.