Wow. It’s been one heck of a week, hasn’t it? In just one week you’ve somehow managed to defeat one of your rivals (Georgia Tech), get fired from one job, and then accept another one. That’s quite the feat; I’m not sure many people can say they’ve done that. I’ll go ahead and own up to it. Yes, I called for your job after the Alabama game. And yes, I was hoping this would be your last season at Georgia (as head coach) all along. Then it happened. I woke up Sunday morning to the news you had actually been fired (Something I had begun to think was impossible). I, along with thousands of other UGA fans, finally got what (I thought) I wanted. I should’ve been ecstatic and optimistic about our football program’s future. But, I wasn’t. Instead, I was surprisingly disheartened and depressed. As the old saying goes: "Be careful what you wish for, because it might actually come true." Well Mark, that phrase took on a whole new meaning for Georgia fans on Sunday. Often times in relationships, one person can be taken for granted, mistreated, and sometimes even dumped by their spouse. And more often than not, once it actually happens, the one who dumped the other realizes that it was a mistake. They wish that they could take them back, but often times it’s too late. Well Mark, you’re that girlfriend/boyfriend, and I never thought that I would say this, but I wish we could take you back. Unfortunately, both you and Georgia appear to have moved on though (Not gonna lie, that was pretty quick). So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a trip down memory lane, stir up some old recollections, and reminisce on the good times.
I’ll be honest; I have absolutely no recollection of your hiring (I was only eight at the time), so unfortunately I can’t start there.
I do however remember that Tennessee game in 2001. That "Hobnail Boot" play was the first of many special memories in the "Mark Richt Era." I can still imagine that play in my head. David Greene fakes the handoff, drops back, gently tosses the ball to Verron Haynes in the middle of the end zone, and then Larry Munson does his thing. I didn’t know what a hobnail boot was back then, and I’m still not quite sure. But, thanks to you and Larry, I’ve got a pretty dang good idea of what it looks like to break someone’s nose with one. That play, that game, put Georgia back on the map. That day in Knoxville, you gave our program hope. Little did we know it back then, but that was just the beginning of one hell of a ride.
I remember attending "Mark Richt Football Camp" in the summer of 2002. That first day, after we checked in, I got to meet you. My brother and I each got to shake your hand, get an autograph, and pose for a picture with you. You most likely don’t remember this, but I do. That encounter was something I would brag about with friends for months, even years to come. To this day that picture and autograph still hang in my bedroom, and that is one memory I won’t ever forget. I enjoyed that experience so much that I came back the next year, and then the next, shaking your hand each time. Summers at that camp are definitely some of my fondest childhood memories. Thank you, Mark.
I remember that 2002 season with the Davids (Greene & Pollack), Boss Bailey, Thomas Davis, and Fred Gibson. Those guys were heroes to me back then. I’ll never forget that Auburn game that season, and more importantly that last touchdown play in it. I can still hear Ole Larry Munson saying, "Boy, We’ve had some shots haven’t we," before the snap, indicating that even he, the ultimate UGA fan, had given up. Then moments later hearing, "TOUCHDOWN! OH GOD! A TOUCHDOWN! WAS IT WATSON OR GIBSON? MICHAEL JOHNSON!" That was truly a team of destiny. That was the team that finally broke the drought and brought an SEC championship back to Athens. Man, that was one, ‘special’ season.
I remember that 2005 SEC championship game. We were heavy underdogs against Nick Saban’s LSU Tigers, and beat the "you-know-what" out of them. That post-game celebration with you and D.J. was one for the ages. After patiently waiting for 4 years behind an SEC legend (David Greene), D.J.’s loyalty had finally paid off. After being your very first recruit in 2001, four years later he epitomized your motto of "Finishing The Drill." It was the ending that you often only find in fairy-tales and storybooks.
I remember that "magical" 2007 season like it was yesterday. That’s probably my favorite season of all. The play of Stafford and Moreno would have been memorable enough, but that season provided so much more. That end zone celebration after Knowshon’s first TD against Florida was awesome! Mark, that was a bold move, a legendary move. Nobody will ever forget that game (I know Urban Meyer definitely hasn’t). Then there was the "Blackout" game against Auburn. What a night. I can still hear the roar of that crowd after seeing the players run onto the field wearing those Black uni’s. The combination of those beautiful black jerseys along with a little Soulja Boy, produced one of the most electric atmospheres I have ever seen. To this day that’s my favorite game and memory in Sanford stadium. That season provided some great, great memories. Thanks, Mark.
I remember that 2012 season. No doubt, you do as well. That SEC championship game was the best game that I have EVER seen or been too. A true heavyweight fight, that came down to the bitter end. You were SO close. I’m sure there aren’t many days that have gone by since, where you haven’t played the "what if game" on that final play in your mind. Five yards kept you from winning a national championship and arguably cost you your job. It’s pretty amazing how much five yards can change things, isn’t it? (Five Frickin Yards) That post-game press conference was the only time I’ve ever seen you get heated. It was completely called for, in my opinion, by the way.
I remember that 2013 LSU game in Athens. Emotions were running pretty high that day. Mettenberger versus Murray turned out to be quite the show. That was a huge home victory and capped off a ridiculous month, in which we had played three top ten teams. But, what stood out to me most was your postgame interview. I can still see you hugging Aaron and then, as tears filled your eyes, telling Tracy Wolfson, "I told him I was proud of him. Both those QB’s played their tails off. I told Zach the same thing. I love this team. I’m proud of them. Nobody does it better than Georgia." That postgame interview was one of my favorite memories of your time at Georgia. You were emotional, energetic, and most importantly REAL. You came across as a proud father talking about his sons. That was yet another ‘special’, ‘special’ memory.
Finally, I’ll never forget this past Sunday and Monday either. I’d say that Sunday I was more stunned than anything else. Monday is when the real emotions hit. Watching that press conference was one of the saddest things that I’ve ever seen. I’m not gonna lie, I teared up a little bit. I think most Georgia fans did. I don’t know you on a personal level at all, but I feel like I do. I feel like I’ve lost a father in a sense. You are the only coach Georgia has had in my lifetime so-to-speak, and it’s going to be weird without you. You went out just like you coached. With class and dignity. You did things the right way, "The Georgia Way", and that will be your legacy in my mind. Unfortunately in life, "All good things eventually come to an end." I just wish it didn’t have to end this way for you. You deserved to be carried off that Sanford stadium field into the sunset one final time.
After thinking it over for a couple months, I’ve decided I owe you something. An apology. I regret writing that article, calling for your job. That being said, I wish you the best of luck at the U, and am sure we’ll (Georgia) cross paths again soon. I’ve got a funny feeling that things are going to work out for you, Mark. Good things usually happen to good guys. Thanks for the memories.
Stay Classy, Mark.