When you expect the worst, your only options are to be proven correct or pleasantly surprised.
I have typed those words many times in the last two years, to the point that my pessimism has attained historic proportions. We have witnessed the worst losses imaginable in football, as well as the worst seasons imaginable both in gymnastics and in baseball. It’s enough to make a fellow just want to go lie down and bleed for a while.
The question, of course, isn’t just, "When will it end?"---indications are that positive thoughts serve only as a prelude to epic failure---but also, "Why did this happen?" Not so very long ago at all, Georgia was on top, but the bottom has fallen out, and we have been forced to consider every alternative.
Recently, Bud Elliott’s posting on why Mark Richt’s tenure in Athens was good for Florida State prompted a response from me, in which I linked to a December 2007 piece in which I explained why I thought Coach Richt would be in Athens for the long haul. I cited that posting strictly to make the point that persistent rumors once maintained that Mark Richt would leave for Tallahassee when Bobby Bowden stepped down; obviously, that did not happen.
Deeper down in that posting, though, I found the real reason for the Bulldogs’ steep decline. It is, in short, my fault, and the flaw I exhibited was that which appears in the opening acts of Greek plays whose final acts end unhappily: hubris. What I wrote was this:
On January 1, the Bulldogs will play in their third Sugar Bowl in a six-year period. The Classic City Canines, who came into this season as the only S.E.C. team to have won at least nine games in each of the previous five years, have one game remaining in their fifth ten-win season in a six-year period, in which they finished no worse than tied for first place in the Eastern Division for the fourth time in a six-season span.
These are Georgia's glory days and, having come from a program that won at least ten games in each of the fourteen seasons immediately preceding his departure for Athens, Mark Richt knows that the lid has been knocked off, has fallen to the floor, and has rolled behind the refrigerator, never to be clamped down atop the jar again.
Let me state it plainly: Georgia is about to go on a run that will demonstrate to every college football fan in the country that the 'Dawgs are Southern Cal with a Southern accent. Yes, even mythical Montanans soon will recognize the Red and Black's elite status. . . .
We've got a Sugar Bowl to go win. Let's get to it.
Well, get to it we did, but it’s been downhill ever since, and there is no mistaking why. Hubris. Folly. Sin. I erred, and there must be atonement ere there is redemption. How, though?
Fortunately, Dr. Saturday has shown us the way. Matt Hinton writes:
[T]he Gators and Tide are 31-1 against the rest of the conference over the last two years, with no end to their dominance in sight: Alabama remains the overwhelming favorite to repeat as BCS champion in January, while Florida is emerging again as the likely frontrunner for the third year in a row in a meh-looking East Division.
This is the duopoly to which MaconDawg referred and with which we became familiar from 1992 to 1994, when the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators faced off in the SEC championship game three years in a row . . . much as those two teams are expected to meet in the Georgia Dome for a third straight season in 2010.
Then it hit me. Arrogance in response to achievement brought us low; humility in the face of hope will result in our renewed rise. Accordingly, it is time to make the most dire of predictions:
The signs are there. The Crimson Tide and the Gators dominate their respective divisions. Auburn recently made a hire from a smaller school that left many observers scratching their heads, yet the new coach outperformed expectations in his first season. Steve Spurrier is grousing about his quarterbacks and threatening to bench his starter. There’s a Democrat in the White House who succeeded George Bush as president and placed Hillary Clinton in a position of responsibility. American soldiers are in Baghdad. If that doesn’t let you know we’re trapped in a recursive loop that’s re-running the ‘90s, just take a look at what’s happening in Athens.
The Bulldogs are getting beaten in Jacksonville by blowout margins in games against Florida outfits led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and national championship-winning coaches. We’re experiencing four- and five-loss regular seasons. Georgia is taking the field wearing uniforms with black in all the wrong places, including on the helmets. Finally, the ‘Dawgs are changing defensive coordinators, and---shades of Marion Campbell!---we’ve settled on one with NFL experience who’s installing a 3-4 scheme.
Buckle up, boys; it’s about to get bad around here.
We’re talking about the sorts of seasons that will make us look back wistfully at an eight-win campaign capped off by an Independence Bowl victory. We’re talking about hovering around .500 for a half-decade. We’re talking about ten-win seasons becoming strictly occasional senior-laden aberrations followed quickly by reversions to the mean after commencement. The worst is yet to come.
Believe that with all your might, my friends. Our ultimate hope lies in our utter hopelessness. Recite the litany the Bene Gesserit would have recited, had their initials been reversed and served as the abbreviation for our favorite football team:
I must not hope.
Hope is the mind-killer.
Hope is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my hope.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the hope has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Be true to your Bulldog heritage of unremitting pessimism and the perennial certainty of inevitable defeat. Wally Butts retired as Georgia’s all-time winningest coach after a 22-year run of incessant poor-mouthing that earned him the sobriquet "Weeping Wally." Vince Dooley overtook Coach Butts as the Classic City Canines’ winningest skipper by finding the dark cloud behind every silver lining. Larry Munson became one of the most beloved broadcasters in the business by retaining and voicing his unwavering faith in the dire and the dour until victory became an accomplished fact that no longer could be denied or dashed.
We are Georgia. Uncompromising negativity is ingrained in us as a fan base. Our proudest moments have come out of our darkest depths; lest we forget, the greatest single play in Bulldog football history occurred on third and long, while Lewis Grizzard was halfway across the parking lot after having left early once defeat was assured. Munson’s famous play call described the event in terms of broken chairs, collapsing stadiums, destroyed property, and the reality he made no effort to deny: "We were gone. I gave up. You did, too. We were out of it and gone."
Accept it. Embrace it. It is who we are. We are gone. I give up. You do, too. We are out of it and gone. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. It is only after we have convinced ourselves of the worst that we will have the chance once again to be the best.