The Georgia Bulldogs are headed to the Capital One Bowl to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and, ere I begin looking ahead to that New Year’s Day matchup, I first wish to take a look back at the Red and Black’s history with this opponent and in this setting. We began by examining the Athenians’ only prior series meeting with the Nebraskans in the 1969 Sun Bowl before moving along to the Classic City Canines’ first postseason tilt in Orlando in the 1974 Tangerine Bowl. This brings us to the 1984 Citrus Bowl.
After 37 years as the Tangerine Bowl, the postseason contest housed in the Theme Park Capital of the World changed names, becoming known as the Citrus Bowl beginning in the 1983 college football season. By that point, Orlando had ceased to be a destination for Mid-American Conference champions and instead begun regularly welcoming Southeastern Conference clubs to the Sunshine State. When Georgia was invited to the Citrus Bowl in 1984, the Bulldogs became the fifth SEC squad in a six-year span to spend Christmas at Disney World. (The lone exception came in 1981, when future SEC East member Missouri defeated Southern Miss.)
The Red and Black were coming off of a 43-4-1 run from 1980 to 1983, and the Bulldogs began the autumn well enough, leaping out to a 7-1 start that included an historic victory over second-ranked Clemson. However, “Hate Season” was not kind to the Athenians, who lost to the Gators by 27 (snapping a streak of six straight victories over the Sunshine State Saurians), the Plainsmen by nine (producing Georgia’s first back-to-back losses to Auburn since 1971 and ’72), and the Yellow Jackets by 17 (halting a winning stretch of six in a row over the Ramblin’ Wreck).
Awaiting the ‘Dawgs in Orlando were the Florida St. Seminoles, who had last played there in the 1977 Tangerine Bowl. Though the ‘Noles were not yet members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Tribe represented one of eight current or future ACC teams to have gone bowling in that venue in as many years. (The 1978 game matched N.C. State and Pitt, who soon will be playing conference games against one another as members of the ACC.)
Bobby Bowden’s FSU squad had won four straight games to start the campaign, including a decisive 38-3 triumph over defending national champion Miami (Florida) in the Orange Bowl. Following a curious tie with Memphis, the Seminoles fell to defending SEC champion Auburn, 42-41, before rebounding with wins over Tulane and Arizona State to improve to 6-1-1. Florida State dropped two of its last three regular-season decisions, falling to South Carolina by twelve and to Florida by ten.
In Orlando, a balanced Georgia attack picked up 189 yards on the ground and 178 through the air. Freshman tailback Lars Tate, who would go on to win offensive MVP honors for the game, opened the scoring with a pair of second-quarter touchdown runs to give the Bulldogs a 14-0 edge. The 15th-ranked Seminoles, who had averaged more than 35 points per game during the regular season, battled back, notching a field goal in the third quarter and a touchdown early in the final period. A failed FSU two-point conversion attempt left the Athenians leading, 14-9.
Two minutes later, senior placekicker Kevin Butler’s 36-yard field goal made it 17-9, and the Red and Black appeared bound for victory until Seminole nose guard Lenny Chavers blocked Chip Andrews’s punt attempt with four minutes remaining in the game. The Tribe returned the blocked ball 14 yards for a touchdown, and the ensuing two-point try was successful, knotting the score at 17 points per side.
Freshman quarterback James Jackson, who would connect on seven of 16 pass attempts for 159 yards, threw three straight incompletions on the Bulldogs’ final drive, so Vince Dooley elected to gamble by sending Butler out to try a 70-yard field goal. Yes, that’s right; I said 70 yards. On the final kick of his Hall of Fame career, Butler booted the ball straight and long, but the attempt fell a foot short of the crossbar, producing the Bulldogs’ first postseason tie since the 1948 Gator Bowl.