Identity Crisis: How Will We Remember the Richt Era?

As it happens, I'm a blogger by trade, and just yesterday wrote five posts for three different national political sites. But I've been as nervous and excited as a prom-night teenager about the invitation to do a guest post here at Dawg Sports.

The obvious thing to write about today is the Senate hearing on the BCS' alleged antitrust violations. But that's too much like the day job, and frankly, the whole subject bores me to death. I'm sure the Senator himself will cover that story with the requisite skill and skepticism. Just wake me up when the whole issue is resolved.

Instead, I'd like to ask everyone a question that's been on my mind as we look forward to this most unpredictable of Georgia football seasons: after eight seasons under Mark Richt, has the Georgia program formed a clear identity? And if so, what are the characteristics of the Richt Era, beyond the Ws and Ls and the individual stars?

I don't know when, exactly, the identity of Georgia football formed during the Dooley Era, but it was indelibly clear by the early 1980s. It was summed up by two phenomena that we saw over and over on the field: the long, fourth-quarter drive that ate the clock, clinched the game and broke the spirit of many an opponent; and the defensive stand deep in Bulldog territory. With that identity came three deeply reassuring features of the program that fans of less stable regimes had to envy: Georgia rarely lost to inferior teams, rarely blew leads, and rarely played poorly at home. Yes, there were rare exceptions. I was in Athens in 1977, and suffered through the previously unimaginable ignominy of a 31-0 loss to the snooty Cavaliers of Virginia at homecoming. But soon Herschel arrived, and all was forgiven.

That's why the South Carolina game of September 30, 1989, so shockingly marked the end of the Dooley Era. That day the Dawgs lost at home to a second-half Gamecock surge, and ended the game with Georgia QB Greg Talley being sacked three consecutive times. It was deeply confusing; it wasn't Georgia Football; and it was a sign of very bad things to come.

So tell me, ye grey-headed Boomers who remember the Dooley Era, and ye pups who grew up with the depressing formlessness of the Goff and Donnen tenures. What's at the core of the identity of Georgia football under Mark Richt? Is it the remarkable road record? The offensive innovation? The dominant defensive line play epitomized by Pollack that briefly seemed to reemerge late in 2007? Will we most remember the brilliant All-Americans and the stunning individual wins from the Hobnail Boot to Evil Richt and the First Blackout?

I'm sure I don't know. But I do think the program's identity may hang in the balance this coming year. Richt's brilliant road record will be burnished or tarnished at Okie State, Arkansas, Tennessee and Tech. We'll soon know if the inspiring defensive performances so common under Van Gorder are a thing of the past. We'll find out if the Dawgs can excel without established superstars at the skill positions. And by December, we should have a much better idea whether Mark Richt is building a perennial powerhouse or just a very good if somewhat erratic program whose low points (Tennessee in 2006 and 2007, and last year's three losses) are offset by moments of greatness that will nourish our memories for many off-seasons to come.

Go Dawgs!

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