History in the Making: Reflections on the Georgia Bulldogs' Victory Over the Clemson Tigers

Scott Cunningham

For me, as for most of you, a visit to Sanford Stadium is a trip down memory lane; for obvious reasons, this is especially true for me when the Georgia Bulldogs are there to face the Clemson Tigers, and it was trebly true last night: The last time I was in Athens to see Georgia take on Clemson, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Last night, that first child (who went with me to Fort Hill last year) was sitting next to me in the stands. Together, we enjoyed the game, cheered on the ‘Dawgs, sang along with one another (he with me on the Outfield’s "Your Love" during scoreboard karaoke cam; me with him on DJ Snake’s and Lil Jon’s "Turn Down For What" while it was blaring from the speakers), and celebrated.

I didn’t even mind when he asked me a Bulldog history question to which I didn’t know the answer. (He wanted to know why our goalposts are white when everyone else’s are yellow. I admitted I didn’t know, but I theorized that it had something to do with our not wanting the signature color of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in our stadium.) I don’t mind admitting my ignorance upon that particular point because I am fortunate enough to be aware of the extent to which it was an historic night, not just for the impressiveness of the Red and Black’s second-half domination, but due to the echoes of the past that reverberated throughout Sanford Stadium at each twist and turn of the game.

The repetition of patterns from yesteryear actually began a week before the game; last Saturday, Bulldog legend Dan Magill passed away. That sad happening mirrored one that occurred two generations earlier, as Bulldog legend Steadman Vincent Sanford passed away seven days before the start of the 1945 football season. In that autumn, as in this one, the Red and Black faced the Orange and Purple in an early test at home. In 1945, as in 2014, the Bulldogs passed that test by shutting out the Tigers in the second half to win by a double-digit margin in which the tens digit was a two.

The contest had other attributes reminiscent of that 1945 showdown, as well. In a series that has featured more than a few special teams touchdowns---from Buster Mott’s 95-yard kickoff return in 1932 to Fred Gibson’s 91-yard kickoff return in 2002; from Gene Washington’s 97-yard kickoff return in 1973 to Scott Woerner’s 67-yard punt return in 1980---it came as no surprise when Breezy Reid took the opening kickoff of the 1945 Clemson game 89 yards up the middle for the touchdown that sparked a Red and Black run of unanswered scoring. When Todd Gurley scampered 100 yards to paydirt last night, therefore, he was just following in the footsteps of his Georgia forebears, albeit a bit more swiftly than most.

The scoring followed last year’s pattern: Clemson went up, 7-0, then Georgia tied it up, 7-7. The home team took the lead, 14-7, then the visitors snarled the score at 14 all. The visitors made it 21-14, then the home team knotted the tally at 21 apiece and went on to win the game. In the process of getting there, the Tigers borrowed a page from the Bulldogs’ book, inserting freshman backup quarterback Deshaun Watson in the first half to spell starter Cole Stoudt after his guidance of the offense stalled; Mark Richt had adopted that selfsame strategy a dozen years earlier when he sent freshman second-string signal caller D.J. Shockley onto the field in relief of ineffectual starter David Greene.

One blast from the past I could’ve done without? The oppressive heat and humidity, accompanied by the concession stands running out of ice, which came straight out of the 2003 game in Death Valley.

As had been the case between these two teams two-thirds of a century earlier, it was a tale of two halves. On Halloween night in 1947, the Classic City Canines hosted the Fort Hill Felines for a Friday evening tilt featuring firecrackers being set off in the stands. The first half saw the Bulldogs dominate, taking a 21-point lead after an opening 30 minutes of play in which the Red and Black tallied four takeaways, held the Orange and Purple to negative rushing yardage, and allowed only two first downs. After intermission, however, the Jungaleers attacked the weakest point in the Georgia defensive front, won the second-half turnover battle (2-0), and cut the deficit to 21-6.

A similar pattern was evident in Athens on Saturday night, albeit in reverse, as the Tigers won the first-half time of possession battle, covered 65 yards or more on four of their first eight drives, and did a good job of holding the host squad in check before being gashed on the ground in the second half and limited to 15 yards and one first down in the final 30 minutes of play. At halftime, it looked very much like we were in for a 13th game in 19 meetings settled by a touchdown or less and a fourth game in four meetings decided by a field goal or less, but the contest took a decided turn for the better for the Bulldogs. As for the second-half shutout, how often have we seen that in Athens since the heyday of Brian VanGorder?

Last year, Clemson nearly made history by scoring the second-most points the Tigers ever have tallied against the Bulldogs; this year, Georgia nearly made history by scoring the second-most points the Red and Black ever have tallied against the Orange and Purple. Only once before have the Athenians scored as many as 45 points against the Jungaleers, in the 55-0 Thanksgiving Day thrashing of 1920.

On a day when Kevin Butler, Herschel Walker, and Scott Woerner all were on the field in Sanford Stadium, it felt like old times, and provided a reminder of something that has been missing in this program in recent years. For the first eight seasons of Mark Richt’s tenure in the Classic City, his teams fared consistently better in campaigns that began with tough openers (Clemson in 2002 and 2003, Boise State in 2005, and Oklahoma State in 2007) than in years that did not (Arkansas State in 2001, Georgia Southern in 2004 and 2008, and Western Kentucky in 2006). That trend then shifted, as Georgia dropped high-profile openers against Oklahoma State in 2009, Boise State in 2011, and Clemson in 2013. It is difficult to overstate the positive vibe that accompanies this reversal of fortunes and this restoration of the norm for the Mark Richt era, but these data should suffice:

Four times in University of Georgia history, the Bulldogs have opened the season with a win over Clemson in a night game between the hedges. It happened for the first time in 1946, when the Red and Black went 11-0, won the SEC championship, and finished ranked third in the AP poll. It happened for the second time in 1982, when the Athenians went 11-1, won the SEC championship, and finished ranked fourth in the AP poll. It happened for the third time in 2002, when the Classic City Canines went 13-1, won the SEC championship, and finished ranked third in the AP poll.

It happened for the fourth time last night.

It’s early, there is a lot of football left to be played (including the entirety of the conference schedule), and there still are many areas in need of marked improvement, but the signs are positive, the trends are upward, and the sky is the limit. Two things, at least, are certain: If the Red and Black do not end the 2014 season as the Southeastern Conference champions and one of the top four teams in the country, it will be absolutely unprecedented for a season that began as this one did; and it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.

Go ‘Dawgs!

Purchase the print edition of Fighting Like Cats and Dogs (covering 1977 to 2003)

Download the online supplement to Fighting Like Cats and Dogs (covering 1897 to 1976)

Like Fighting Like Cats and Dogs on Facebook

FanPosts are generated by Dawg Sports readers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dawg Sports staff or SB Nation.