Five Games That Worked Out Better for the Losers Than for the Winners

Losing stinks. There’s just no getting around that fact. However, not all losses are created equal; some losses, in fact, ultimately turn out to be worth it, as they produce positive long-term consequences.

For instance, the Bulldogs’ loss to Georgia Tech in 2000 was a good loss, because it got Jim Donnan fired and Mark Richt hired. Likewise, Georgia’s 2007 loss to Tennessee proved, in the end, to be beneficial to the program.

In the hope that Black Saturday may have similarly salutary side effects, I hereby present a list which, while it is by no means exhaustive, nevertheless serves as a reminder of . . .

Five of the Best Losses Ever

Georgia 27, Florida 10 (November 5, 1966): Let’s get this one out of the way first. Senior quarterback Steve Spurrier was well on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy and the Gators only needed a win in Jacksonville to ensure themselves of at least a share of the first conference championship in school history. Instead, a Bulldog D led by tackles George Patton and Bill Stanfill contained the future Evil Genius, whose alma mater would not win its first official S.E.C. title until Spurrier was the head ball coach. Once Darth Visor took over the helm of the Florida program, he took his revenge on the ‘Dawgs for that indignity every chance he got, winning eleven of twelve Cocktail Parties between 1990 and 2001.

Eventually, Steve Superior decided he had beaten Georgia enough, at which point he became the head coach at South Carolina.

Ohio State 50, Michigan 14 (November 23, 1968): The Buckeyes’ "Super Sophomores" capped off an unbeaten regular season en route to a national title with a thorough throttling of the hated Wolverines. After his team scored the touchdown that made it 50-14, Woody Hayes called for a two-point conversion. The attempt failed, and, when he was asked afterwards why he had gone for it, the O.S.U. coach replied, "Because they wouldn’t let me go for three." The result marked the end of the line for U.M.’s Bump Elliott, who was replaced by one of Woody’s former assistants, Bo Schembechler. The following fall, the Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor sporting a 22-game winning streak and a No. 1 ranking. Ohio State had not trailed in any game of that 1969 campaign, but the Wolverines remembered the previous year’s drubbing---the members of the Michigan scout team all had worn the number 50 during the previous week’s practices---and the Maize and Blue earned their first Rose Bowl bid since 1964 with a 24-12 upset. The Wolverine victory not only launched the Schembechler era (which would not truly end until Lloyd Carr’s retirement) and avenged the previous year’s loss, but also demonstrated that turnabout was fair play: the 1950 contest between the two rivals had featured 45 punts in a gusty snowstorm. That game had been won by Michigan on a pair of blocked punts, resulting in the firing of Ohio State’s Wes Fesler and the hiring of Hayes to replace him.

Tennessee 24, Alabama 0 (October 17, 1970): These were tough times for the Tide, relatively speaking. Bear Bryant’s program had gone 60-5-1 between 1961 and 1966, but there were signs of decline as ‘Bama posted records of 8-2-1 in 1967, 8-3 in 1968, and 6-5 in 1969. The 1970 season began with an embarrassing three-touchdown loss to Southern California in Birmingham and the Red Elephants stood at 3-3 following a shutout setback suffered at the hands of Bill Battle’s first Volunteer team in Knoxville. The loss to the Sugar Bowl-bound Big Orange, in which the Vols picked off eight passes, marked the Crimson Tide’s fourth straight loss to U.T.; the third installment of that streak had caused the Bear to declare that he "wanted to puke." His disgust led Bryant to consider accepting an offer to coach the Miami Dolphins, but he opted instead to spend his summer in Austin being taught the Wishbone by Darrell Royal. Alabama proceeded to post double-digit win totals in nine of the next ten seasons.

They played a little bit of defense, too.

Georgia Tech 12, Georgia 0 (December 3, 1927): The Bulldogs arrived at historic Grant Field as the nation’s top team. At 9-0, the Red and Black needed only a win over the Yellow Jackets to receive a Rose Bowl bid. The Ramblin’ Wreck upset the visitors from the Classic City on a muddy field, spoiling Georgia’s season. Because the lack of an adequate facility in Athens necessitated that the ‘Dawgs annually face the Golden Tornado in Atlanta, University of Georgia president Steadman Vincent Sanford used his outrage over the loss as the impetus for a fundraising campaign. Less than two years later---on the eve of the Great Depression that likely would have delayed construction by a decade or more---Sanford Stadium was dedicated.

Auburn 40, Alabama 0 (November 30, 1957): Evidently, shutting out the Tide is a good way to build up bad karma. It worked out badly for Tennessee in 1970, but it really worked out badly for the Plainsmen 13 years earlier, although you couldn’t have told the A.U. faithful that at the time. Shug Jordan’s Tigers arrived in Birmingham with an undefeated record and the Iron Bowl would be their only bowl, because recruiting violations prevented Auburn from being eligible for postseason play. (I know; it’s shocking, isn’t it?) While the victory over ‘Bama guaranteed the Plainsmen the A.P. national championship, the loss to Auburn proved to be the final nail in the coffin for J.B. Whitworth, whose 4-24-2 three-year run was brought to a merciful end. To find a new coach, Alabama officials looked to College Station, where Texas A&M had been led to Southwest Conference prominence by a ‘Bama alum named Paul Bryant. In retrospect, it was a good hire.

Losing is bad, but some losses are mitigated by the changes for the better they produce. Here’s hoping last Saturday’s setback between the hedges turns out to be one of the ones with positive consequences.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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