This Saturday in Athens is Senior Day, a bittersweet commemoration of the collegiate careers of the Georgia Bulldog players who will be playing their last home game between the hedges.
This year seems to have a special flavor to it because of all the things this 2013 group of seniors has gone through, and all the things they have done for Bulldog Nation.
Remember, this is the group signed as part of the signing classes of 2009 and 2010. They did not choose to come to Georgia because the Bulldogs had just played in the Sugar Bowl (we hadn't for 2 years), won the SEC (we hadn't for 4 years) or come within a whisper of playing for a national championship (we wouldn't for some time, and not without their help). This year's crop of redshirt seniors are the guys who came in after watching the 2008 season which began with so much promise then ended with a whimper and an exodus. The true seniors frame of reference when they signed on the dotted line included that season and the thoroughly mediocre effort which followed in 2009. These guys did not come to the Classic City to sit behind a loaded roster, get a free education, and some bowl swag. They came in with the expectation that they would play soon and often.
Which they did. And it was tough. 2010 brought a new defensive coordinator, one of their number taking the reins at quarterback and learning on the job. It was just ugly at times. They lost to teams which Georgia fans simply don't accept losing to. Mississippi State, Colorado, Arkansas. Central Florida in a crapulent Liberty Bowl. Florida in a gut-wrenching overtime at the World's Largest Cocktail Party. It was seriously suggested on this very site that Mark Richt might not be the man to helm the Red and Black football ship. That we needed to find out what Will Muschamp or Kirby Smart would want in order to come home and start building anew. This group of seniors very well could have packed it in, deeming "finishing The Drill" to be itself finished.
But they didn't.That 2010 season was the last time this group of seniors lost to Florida. The only time they ever will lose to Florida. They then made two consecutive appearances in the SEC Championship game, a feat which had not been accomplished since the days of Greene and Pollack in 2002 and 2003. In one of those they played an Alabama squad which many believe to be perhaps the best college football team of the decade within an inch of its life, not so much being defeated as simply running 10 seconds short on time.
Then a number of them left. You can't blame them. Jarvis Jones didn't come in with that original class, but he was in the Classic City long enough to go down in history as a Damned Good Dawg of the highest order. Kwame Geathers is also out in "The League." I don't blame either of them for not being in Sanford Stadium tomorrow, though I wonder what this season would have looked like if they were. What that young defensive roster would have looked like with the SacMan showing them the way every day in practice, pushing them to get better. We'll never know. That's how life on and off the gridiron works, you see. It's a bird's nest of potentialities which never come to pass. You can dwell on them or you can make other potentialities real. The latter's probably your best bet from a mental health standpoint.
2013 will likely go down in history as the most star-crossed season in Bulldog football history. This group of seniors led a young squad against the fourth toughest schedule in the country. By the midpoint of the season the list of players out for extended periods of time would have been a top ten recruiting class according to most services. They could have quit when they lost to Clemson by 3 points on the road in a game they might have won with a healthy Gurley and Mitchell. They didn't. They could have quit after watching more offensive firepower than most football teams have on the entire damned roster get carted off the field in Knoxville. They didn't.
They could have quit when they trailed big at halftime against Missouri. Or when the single stupidest recent rule in the long tradition of screwing up college football with dumb rules seemed to be aimed directly at them in Nashville. They didn't. Now they've had victory literally plucked from the air in front of them, right when it seemed their oldest rival, ranked in the top 10 and clinging to an outside shot at a national title berth, was about to go down in a glorious defeat.
But they won't quit. They haven't so far, and they won't start now. It's just not in this group to quit, and I'm proud of them for that. Anyone who's ever coached sports, or quiz bowl, or tiddlywinks knows that you have favorites. Favorite players, favorite teams. When you work with young people some of them just capture your heart in a way that others don't. Everyone loves the star quarterback, at least most of the time. And there's a star quarterback in this group, one who should probably never have to buy a drink in Athens ever again. But thereare other guys, less well known who have contributed to making this my favorite group of Bulldog seniors in the Richt era, and likely since I've followed Bulldog football.
They haven't quit. They haven't always won. They haven't always played well. But they haven't quit. And as someone who doesn't always win in life, and who has his good days and bad days, that means something to me, damn it. It means a lot. It's the most important thing in sports and in life and it's right there for us all to see when this group of seniors take the field.
I wish I could come up with a Thursday cocktail for each one of them, and that you'd each promise to drink one of each this weekend. But then I'd be out of cocktail ideas for the rest of the season and you'd all be too drunk to cheer before or during the game. So let's go with just one.
Among the seniors who stand out to me is one Arthur "Artie" Lynch, a tight end from Dartmouth, Massachusetts. I'm pretty sure Arthur Lynch is the only Bulldog football player of recent vintage to come off the mean streets of Dartmouth, Mass. He came to town as an Under Armour All-American, the top prep prospect in Massachusetts and the #2 tight end prospect in all the land.
He hasn't always been a big star. To be honest I don't think we've used him as much in the receiving game as we could have. But he's a great blocker, his hands have gotten better every year, and he has blossomed during this his senior campaign. Lynch was a first team All-SEC selection this summer at SEC Media Days, and there's a good reason for that. He's the best all around player at his position in the toughest league in college football. He'll play in the NFL if he wants to, because he is exactly what NFL GMs want. He has the size, speed and attitude to get the job done at the highest level.
But that's not all there is tho Arthur Lynch. He's a history major rather than a basketweaving scholar. He was senior class president at his high school, and has been similarly engaged in the Athens community. As Seth Emerson noted recently in an excellent piece on Lynch, he could have transferred out of Georgia and gone back home, to some place more familiar, but he stuck it out. He'll leave now as a two year starter with a Senior Bowl invite and a good chance of playing on Sundays. That's the spirit of this senior class. God bless them.
So this weekend while you're cheering on this year's seniors and the teammates they're leading, step out of your comfort zone and enjoy a Smarty Lynch. Start by mixing two ounces each of cherry and lemon syrup with two ounces of rye whiskey. Add an ounce and a half of aged rum (there are several out there) and 3 ounces of hot hibiscus tea. Believe me, they have it at your local grocery store. Squeeze in a dash of fresh lime juice then add a cinnamon stick. Let steep for 5 minutes then enjoy. Hibiscus tea supposedly helps with memory and concentration. And if you have a sore throat from cheering or the odd winter cold, this mixture certainly won't make it worse.
Heck, you could go ahead and mix one up tonight while you're watching Thursday night college football action, including Rutgers playing at #18 Central Florida on ESPN, and UNLV traveling to Air Force on ESPNU.
Cheers to you, seniors. Let's make this last one in Sanford Stadium one to remember. Until later . . .