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The Georgia Bulldogs' national championship hopes were shattered in Saturday's SEC Championship Game, which has left Bulldog Nation feeling dejected. How long will it take the Red and Black faithful to recover?
In 1941, as Frank Sinkwich was leading the Red and Black to their first Orange Bowl berth, Georgia found itself knotted in a scoreless tie with the Auburn Tigers as the final seconds ticked away in Columbus. On the game’s final play, Sinkwich lofted a 65-yard touchdown pass to Lamar “Racehorse” Davis, earning the Bulldogs a 7-0 victory that left the Plainsmen smarting for a year. The following season, as Georgia plowed toward its first SEC championship and its only Rose Bowl bid, the highly motivated Tigers upset the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs, spoiling the Classic City Canines’ perfect season because of a Sinkwich “tell” spotted by Auburn assistant coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. The ‘Dawgs finished 11-1.
On New Year’s Day 1982, Georgia held a 20-17 lead on the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Sugar Bowl. Pitt was facing fourth and five on the Bulldogs’ 33 yard line with 42 seconds remaining. The Red and Black blitzed, and quarterback Dan Marino found tight end John Brown for the game-winning touchdown to drop the defending national champion Bulldogs to 10-2.
Despite turning the ball over six times in the course of the day, the Athenians led the Tennessee Volunteers, 31-27, with two minutes remaining in the 1992 meeting between the newly-minted division rivals. Facing fourth and 14 with the clock ticking down toward the final two minutes, Big Orange signal caller Heath Shuler went 25 yards on a quarterback draw to sustain a drive that would end in a game-winning Vol touchdown with 50 seconds showing on the clock. After losing to Tennessee by three, Georgia would fall to the Florida Gators by two to finish 10-2 and tied for first place in the Eastern Division yet left out of the SEC Championship Game due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been pretty grouchy since Saturday night. I’ve been in a funk, I’ve been irritable, and, on more than one occasion, I’ve even snapped at my fellow members of the Dawg Sports site staff, who were just as wounded as I was by the outcome of the Georgia Bulldogs’ game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
After last year’s SEC Championship Game, I am proud of the way this year’s Bulldogs competed, proving that they belonged on the largest of stages. Even so, though, the virtue of being beaten, 42-10, is that you know there is nothing you could have done; change this play, or that, or even these, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing would have been enough to overcome a deficit of that magnitude. When a game is this close, though, you can’t get the plays that might have made the difference out of your mind.
What if Aaron Murray’s last pass had not been tipped, or if Chris Conley had knocked it down, or if he had caught it and darted out of bounds? . . . What if the Bulldogs had converted on third and one? . . . What if Georgia had stopped Alabama’s two-point conversion attempt? Change any of those plays, and maybe, just maybe, the ‘Dawgs are headed to Miami instead of Orlando.
I am still second-guessing that Tennessee game from 20 years ago, and that Pitt game from more than a decade before that, and that Auburn game from 70 years ago, before my father had even been born. I now am able to look back fondly on those 1942 and 1981 and 1992 seasons, but I am always aware of what was allowed to slip away in those campaigns, in which glory that was great might have been epic.
Because of that, I know this: I will accept this loss, I will make my peace with it, and I will learn to live with it, but I will never get over it. Maybe I will be able to find a silver lining, and I know the sun one day will shine through once more, but the day will never come when this ceases to be a cloud, fixed permanently in the skies above Bulldog Nation. The pain will subside, but the scar will remain. The memory of what might have been will never cease to linger, and we will look back on this loss with regret forever.