Little by little, I've been piecing together the 25 most important days in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
After the first 15 fell into place, helpful suggestions by The Highland Road Blog's Ryan and Georgia Sports Blog's Paul Westerdawg helped me round out the top 20.
Now Ryan has taken a crack at the last five.
He offers three---really four---specific dates: November 9, 1899 (the start of Sewanee's run of five wins in six days); December 2, 1989 (Alabama's first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium); and a two-way tie between September 30, 1967, and September 4, 2004 (the debuts of the league's first black player and first black coach, respectively).
The truly intriguing parts of Ryan's suggested additions to the list are his last two choices, though. Rather than picking particular dates, he opts instead for a pair of open-ended categories: "Various Individual Performances" and "Various Team Performances."
Best team performance of the 1980s not involving Herschel Walker.
These options allow the reader to pick his own favorites; for instance, in Ryan's case, he (being an L.S.U. fan) prefers Billy Cannon's 1959 punt return against Ole Miss and the Fighting Tigers' 1997 upset of top-ranked Florida, respectively. This is an interesting idea and I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.
For my part, I have trouble narrowing it down to a single selection, so, in keeping with the theme, I will compile a list . . . in fact, I will compile several, beginning with The Five Best Team Performances in Games I Attended:
September 3, 1988: Georgia 28, Tennessee 17---This game holds a special place in my heart because it was the Red and Black's season opener in my first year as a student in Athens. The Bulldogs turned in a dominant performance on a day that was memorable partly because an endless stream of T.V. time-outs so lengthened the contest that, before the game was over, the rain that had held off all afternoon would wait no longer and we left Sanford Stadium soaked by a downpour. As we were walking back afterwards, a Tennessee fan came over to Dad and me, handed Dad an orange and white pom-pom, and said, "Here; y'all won everything else today." The last time I checked, Dad still had that captured shaker from a conquered conference rival, plucked from the hand of a fallen color-bearer as his vanquished brethren turned tail and ran from the certainty of their defeat.
Fall 1988. Better for some than for others.
November 1, 1997: Georgia 37, Florida 17---You have to understand where I'm coming from on this one. I had to make that long ride back from Jacksonville after a Red and Black squad that should have run the Gators out of the stadium, if not the state, lost to the Evil Genius in 1992. After that game, a Florida fan came up to me, stuck his finger in my face, and barked mockingly. I sat there in the rain and the cold for the infamous "time out" game in the Gator Bowl in 1993. We were walking back to the camper afterwards when a Florida fan leaned out of a passing car and shouted, "Gators for Goff! Four more years for Ray Goff!" I was in the Sanford Stadium student section during the 1995 debacle against the Orange and Blue, during which I got into an argument with a trio of Gator fans wearing Elvis outfits and carrying branches they had ripped from the hedges. Two days after being sworn into the practice of law in Georgia, I was seated in Alltel Stadium for the 1997 Cocktail Party with a Florida fan sitting in front of me. As the 'Dawgs built a 14-3 halftime lead, he got an earful. He began giving it back---and then some---during the third quarter, as the Gators stormed back and pulled ahead, 17-14. Then Georgia reclaimed the lead, 21-17 . . . then extended it to 24-17 . . . then made it 30-17 . . . then iced the game with a closing touchdown to make it 37-17. The gentleman sitting in front of me wearing orange and blue did not have a good fourth quarter. By the time the Georgia fans left the stadium, there wasn't a Gator fan within 50 miles of Jacksonville.
November 30, 2002: Georgia 51, Georgia Tech 7---The beauty of this performance was the completely businesslike way the Bulldogs methodically went about destroying the Yellow Jackets in a game that was expected to be at least somewhat competitive. There was no running it up or rubbing it in; like Tessio's decision to betray Michael to Don Barzini in "The Godfather," it was just business. The Red and Black ran 82 offensive plays, held the ball for nearly 37 minutes, tallied 24 first downs, amassed 552 total yards, committed no turnovers, and scored the most points the 'Dawgs have ever scored against the Ramblin' Wreck. Five minutes into the second quarter, this one was done.
November 15, 2003: Georgia 26, Auburn 7---Much like the Tigers' 24-6 win over the 'Dawgs on the Plains the following year, this one was nowhere near as close as the score indicated. No single play that I have ever witnessed in person was more exhilarating or more exhausting than Odell Thurman's 99-yard interception return, which felt like it took 20 minutes to unfold. I was jumping up and down while hollaring, "Go Odell! Go Odell!" every step of the way.
Killing me softly with Odell. (Honestly, I think I made up that line on my own, but if I stole it from Hey Jenny Slater and just don't remember it, I apologize to Doug Gillett.)
October 2, 2004: Georgia 45, Louisiana State 16---Mark Richt is not a vengeful man, but, years hence, I believe we will look back on the 2003 S.E.C. championship game as a turning point in the Georgia-L.S.U. series the way we look back on the 1966 Cocktail Party as a turning point in the Georgia-Florida rivalry. The Gators' loss to Georgia in Steve Spurrier's senior season sparked Darth Visor's desire to take out his frustrations on the Bulldogs every chance he got; likewise, the embarrassment suffered by the Bulldogs beneath the Georgia Dome on the night of December 6, 2003, will fuel Coach Richt's insistence upon always being prepared for the Bayou Bengals. This game remains as complete a dismantling as L.S.U. has received in the 21st century.
What are the best total team performances you have seen in person? While you're answering that question in the comments below, I'll be compiling my next list in response to Ryan's intriguing notion.
To be continued. . . .