It was a somewhat surreal night in a strangely subdued Sanford Stadium. Perhaps it was the cold; perhaps it was the unfamiliar spectacle of a late evening kickoff between the hedges in November; perhaps it was the quiet confidence that we were sure to get almost exactly the game we got; perhaps it was the unexplained presence of Samuel L. Jackson, clad in a red shirt with an oval "G" logo, leaning against the east end zone goalpost as the Georgia Bulldogs headed back into the locker room after their pregame warm-ups; in any case, though, it was a curious night in the Classic City.
The oddness of the experience was underscored by the fact that I was accompanied by kleph, a colleague from SB Nation’s Alabama Crimson Tide weblog, Roll ‘Bama Roll. He had arranged to be in Tuscaloosa for Friday afternoon’s Iron Bowl, so he sent me an e-mail to inquire how he might secure a ticket to Saturday evening’s contest between the Red and Black and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. I, of course, wrote back to ask whether he would be rooting for Georgia, rooting for Georgia Tech, or attending as a disinterested observer.
When kleph gave the B answer ("disinterested observer," which is not as good as the A answer "for Georgia," but which is much more acceptable than the F answer "for Georgia Tech"), I wrote him back and said I’d be happy to have him use my other season ticket to the game. (He wore his Alabama gear, and, fortunately, only one person told him he was "at the wrong game.") It’s been a long time since I entered Sanford Stadium with someone who was making his initial trip to our arena, and it was interesting hearing the impressions of a first-time visitor to that venue. (For instance, he found our barking after kickoffs to be unusual.)
All in all, it was a most atypical edition of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, even though everything (apart from the turnovers) went exactly according to the predetermined script. At no time was I seriously concerned that Georgia might lose; at no time did the Georgia Tech fans in the vicinity seem confident that the Yellow Jackets might win; aside from the jackass in the west end zone who stupidly threw a water bottle at the visiting band, the hatred appeared to be largely cosmetic (as with the faux fight prior to kickoff, which consisted exclusively of players jumping up and down near one another) rather than heartfelt. For everyone involved, it seemed like it was just business, but nothing personal.
That remained the case throughout the game and during the drive home, lasting right up through church this morning. I am a big believer in Winston Churchill’s dictum about being magnanimous in victory and defiant in defeat; I am content with my team winning, and I feel no need to rub anyone else’s nose in it. Consequently, I didn’t seek out any of the Ramblin’ Wreck fans in the congregation or say anything other than a perfectly ordinary "good morning" to any of them, but two of them came looking for me.
The first simply pointed and said, "You got lucky." (It was not the first time a Georgia Tech fan said that to me following a Georgia victory.) The second suggested that, had Joshua Nesbitt been healthy, the Yellow Jackets would have scored 50 points on the Bulldogs. I respectfully disagree with both contentions.
I have a hard time believing that Georgia got lucky when a couple of debatable spots went against the Red and Black, and I have a tough time seeing how the absence of Nesbitt hampered the Engineers. For one thing, having Nesbitt didn’t help a demonstrably better Georgia Tech team defeat a statistically worse Georgia team in Atlanta last year; for another, the Golden Tornado held the ball for over 38 minutes, ran 92 plays, amassed 512 yards of total offense, picked up 32 first downs, converted seven third downs in a dozen tries, and passed for 101 yards thanks to Tevin Washington’s completion of eight of his 15 aerial attempts. It’s hard to imagine the Yellow Jackets could have been markedly better with Nesbitt, particularly since the Ramblin’ Wreck never led and Washington is the more efficient passer.
In 2008, when Paul Johnson’s first Georgia Tech team defeated Georgia between the hedges, I admitted that the better team had won, even though subsequent series meetings make that outcome appear increasingly like a fumble-fueled fluke. I regret it if some rival fans are unwilling to make similar concessions in the wake of last night’s outing, but the facts speak for themselves, and these are they:
Aaron Murray completed 15 of his 19 passes for 271 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. A.J. Green’s final game in Sanford Stadium featured an eight-reception, 97-yard performance. The Bulldogs finished with four takeaways to offset a pair of giveaways, tallied 425 yards of total offense, matched exactly Georgia Tech’s rushing average of 5.3 yards per carry, committed half as many penalties for roughly a third as many yards, and scored more than 30 points for the seventh straight game. (In 2010, Georgia is 6-0 when scoring at least 32 points and 0-6 when scoring 31 or fewer points.)
Frankly, though, I don’t care if the North Avenue naysayers are right. I don’t think we were lucky, but, after a season full of improvement on the stat sheet yet regression in the record, the Red and Black are due to catch a break. I don’t think Georgia won because Joshua Nesbitt didn’t play, but, at the end of an autumn in which the Bulldogs would have beaten Florida if Chris Rainey hadn’t played and would have beaten Auburn if Cameron Newton hadn’t played, I’ll take a win against a rival at less than full strength, even though I regret the fact that Nesbitt was injured and I hope he recovers in time for the Yellow Jackets’ bowl game, because he is a fine athlete and a stellar competitor.
I am not naive about the significance of this victory. All this win really proves is that a mediocre SEC team is better than a mediocre ACC team, and everyone knew that already. None of the problems that existed before this triumph were solved by this triumph. Nevertheless, a 5-7 season was avoided, bowl eligibility was attained, and a win over a rival was secured. Winning this game isn’t everything, but it certainly is something, and, right now, I’ll take it for what it’s worth, even if it is worth only a little.