Every week, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason carries a symbol to remember one of his closest friends, former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
From a blue "43" lapel pin that he's worn for each of Georgia's weekly media days, to a hat he wears on the sidelines every game with “Lutz 43” stitched on it. The "43" stands for the number Lutzenkirchen wore at Auburn and for the St. Louis Rams in the NFL before his tragic death this summer.
A childhood friend and a former high school teammate at Lassiter High in Marietta, Georgia, Lutzenkirchen was a passenger in a fatal alcohol-related crash in Troup County outside of LaGrange, Georgia, on June 30. Lutzenkirchen, 23, was one of two people who died at the scene after he was ejected from the backseat of a 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe.
“The guy would have definitely been in my wedding," said Mason, who actually spoke to Lutzenkirchen the night before the crash.
Mason has taken time each week to pay visible respects to one of his best friends, but with Auburn in town this weekend, this week has a more special meaning for Mason. In the past, Mason said he always looked forward to the Auburn game because it gave the two a chance to catch up. Usually, there are texts and phone calls between the two and laughs here and there to lighten the mood before the game.
This year, those laughs didn't come, and the phone calls and texts never went through.
But Mason makes sure his dear friend is still a part of his life. It's more spiritual than physical, but Mason proudly shows his friendship for the world to see. On Saturday, Mason plans to wear wristbands with "43" on them, similar to the ones he wore during Georgia's opener against Clemson.
“I’m just trying to honor Philip and everything he meant to me," Mason said.
You could tell the impact Lutzenkirchen had on people by the several thousand who attended a public memorial for him at Lassiter's football stadium. He was more than just a record-setting tight end at Auburn. He was someone Mason called "super witty" and who could recall movie lines or jokes “on the drop of a dime” that were so relative to what you were talking about that it made everything he said so funny.
“Philip obviously had that innate gift from God inside of him that he could make people smile," Mason said.
“A lot of people don’t have that gift, and he was definitely one of them [who had it]. People tend to flock and gather around people like that, and that’s why Philip had so many friends.”
His humor could bring tears to your eyes, and his caring personality made you feel warm inside. People loved Philip Lutzenkirchen, and Mason won't forget how special he was and, really, still is.
“You just try to remember Philip for the legacy that he left outside of football," Mason said. "He had an impact on people from Auburn to Georgia to wherever.”