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The Georgia Bulldogs' Journey from Athens to Anathoth: A Jeremiad (Literally) in Defense of Mark Richt

Jeremiah said, "The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, 'Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.'

"Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, 'Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.'

"I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy—and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

"In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'"

Jeremiah 32:6-15

I’ve been an insomniac for as long as I can remember, and, on the list of events that are not conducive to my getting a good night’s sleep, watching the Georgia Bulldogs lose a night game against an opponent I fully expected them to beat ranks right up there. Accordingly, I wasn’t feeling my best when I awoke this morning, and I allowed the thought of skipping church to cross my mind, but I couldn’t really justify the notion of keeping my family home from Sunday morning worship because I was more bothered than I ought to have been by my having watched a Mark Richt-coached team lose a football game. Consequently, my family and I went to church this morning, as though this was any other Sunday.

The passage of Scripture quoted above was read by the liturgist and formed the foundation for the sermon. While the pastor properly was concerned with matters much more pressing than intercollegiate athletics, the fact that my alma mater’s fading football fortunes very nearly kept me away from this morning’s service caused this reading to resonate with me not just as a Christian, but also as a sports fan; that the two are tied together in my mind is attested to by the fact that my support for Mark Richt as a coach unquestionably is influenced by my high regard for him as a man of faith, even if it is open to debate whether God wants Mike Bobo calling the offensive plays for the ‘Dawgs. (Perhaps He once did, but He also told us to be fruitful and multiply when the human population of the planet was two; as a Protestant, though, I allow for the possibility that this edict may have ceased to be applicable when that population came to be numbered in the billions. God can make new covenants; He doesn’t lock us in eternally on offensive coordinators.)

It will not surprise regular readers of this weblog to learn that I have a fondness for Jeremiah, who prophesied doom and gloom in the longest book of the Bible; I have a natural affinity for longwinded pessimists, particularly when they describe legal proceedings in such exacting detail. What is noteworthy about the Scripture from this morning’s sermon, however, is that Jeremiah found himself in circumstances that ought to have made him more dour even than usual---he was imprisoned; Jerusalem was then under the siege that ultimately would lead to the disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant, which has not been seen since; his kinsman was trying to prevail upon him to purchase at full market value a piece of property that likely was about to become worthless, as the existing order was imperiled---and yet, in the midst of all that darkness, the prophet who saw only doom perceived the earliest inklings of the dawn.

When he arrived in Athens, Mark Richt spoke of knocking the lid off of the Georgia program, and he did it with an SEC championship in his second season at the helm, then again with another in his fifth, and once more with a national second-place finish in his seventh. Jeremiah, however, reminds us that, sometimes, lids need to be tightened, "so they will last a long time." Lids, regrettably, are not the only things to have been loosened in the Classic City of late, and perhaps what is needed now is a clamping down. There are encouraging signs that this is starting to happen.

Bulldog Nation’s frustration is justified. Change was slow to come, the changes that have been made are taking time to implement, and more change is needed, though reasonable fans may differ over the nature and extent of what else is required.

There is, however, cause for faith. In his first nine years at the Georgia helm, Wally Butts captured two SEC championships, which earned him patience through a lengthy dry spell in the 1950s; that patience paid off when Coach Butts broke "The Drought," finished his career with a four-game winning streak over Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and brought home the 1959 SEC title. In his first nine years at the Georgia helm, Vince Dooley capture two SEC championships, which earned him patience through a lengthy dry spell between 1969 and 1974; that patience paid off when Coach Dooley guided the Red and Black to four SEC titles and a national crown between 1976 and 1982. In his first nine years at the Georgia helm, Mark Richt captured two SEC championships, which ought to earn him patience through the present dry spell; that patience will pay off in the end.

Whatever else you may also believe in good faith about the changes that need to be made, believe that. As awful as matters now appear, understand that the gloom looming over Athens pales in comparison to that which hung above Anathoth. Write this down, and seal it in a jar made with red clay from the Georgia hills, so it will last a long time: honors, glory, and championships will again be brought to this land.

I’ll see y’all next Saturday at the Blind Pig Tavern.

Go ‘Dawgs.