Blake Anderson, head coach of the Arkansas State football team, was nearly in tears following a game against Georgia on Saturday after a large amount of the opposing Bulldog fans draped themselves in pink to honor his late wife Wendy — who died last month after a two-year battle against breast cancer.
Anderson had taken a leave of absence from the Red Wolves following Wendy’s death before returning last week in a 43-17 win against UNLV. Fans of Georgia, who normally wore red and black to support their team, changed their colors, with some painting their entire bodies in pink. Thirteen fans even had an individual letter painted on their back and, when standing side by side, the message spelled out: “REMEMBER WENDY”
“It has been a really emotional week,” Anderson told ESPN after the Arkansas State Red Wolves were defeated by the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs 55-0 in front of 92,746 people on Saturday. “I just want to say publicly: one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to truly prepare for something like that.”
“I would say thank you to all those who showed up today wearing pink or thinking pink,” Anderson said. “They don’t know my wife and they don’t know me and they didn’t have to do it. I’m very grateful and honored and obviously overwhelmed.”
The team may have lost big to the heavily favored Georgia team ranked No. 3 in the nation, but the efforts by fans and the Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer (BBBC) nonprofit group made the game an experience to remember for Anderson.
“I feel her presence out there,” Anderson told ESPN. “She’s as competitive as I am and supported what we did and all those kids. That’s the kind of legacy that keeps you going. I don’t want to let her down, either, and her legacy. I’ve never seen anybody fight as hard as she fought the last two years. If I’m feeling sorry for myself or being lazy, I’ve got to live up to her legacy.”
Buzz for the event was created thanks to a Twitter post by the BBBC on Sept. 10 telling fans to get behind the hashtag #WearPinkForWendy and spread the word to wear “a little pink” during the game on Saturday. The group was created after their founder, Teresa Abbot, survived Stage 3 breast cancer with the help of those around her — now she gives back to help others know they’re not fighting alone.
“Bulldog Nation, help us get the word out. Wendy Anderson, the wife of Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson, passed away on August 19th after a two year battle with breast cancer,” the post said. “We want to show Coach Anderson that, regardless of the score on Saturday, he and his family are in our thoughts in prayers. If you’re heading to Sanford Stadium on Saturday please consider wearing at least a little pink, in honor of Wendy Anderson.”
Anderson commented on the post four days before the game saying, “Beyond grateful… thank you,” while including two red hearts.
After the game, he was teary-eyed with emotion.
“Just caught me off guard, to be honest with you. Teared me up,” Anderson said after the game, according to CBS Sports. “I wasn’t expecting it, and extremely flattered and thankful for those folks and so many others that have stepped up in so many different ways.”
The energy and love were also felt by Arkansas State center, Jacob Still, who told ESPN that “I’ll be a Georgia fan the rest of my life.”
“Driving up to the game, seeing the fans walking into the stadium wearing pink, it really meant a lot to me,” Still said. “But people will probably never understand how much it meant to Coach Anderson. It just puts everything in perspective, college football and all the athletes, this is bigger than football. Georgia didn’t have to do that. It just shows that Georgia fans have big hearts and they care, and we’re all kind of in this thing together.”
No matter the score of the game, life was certainly bigger than football on Saturday in Athens, Georgia.