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On Dread

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Georgia Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The University of Georgia is very good at football but for some reason I am still panicking.

I can’t quite tell you why.

Let me start here: I have never known anything as deeply and as purely as I knew we were going to lose the 2017 National Championship Game when Tua entered the game. I had never seen the kid throw a pass. Not once. Hell, I had never even heard of him.

But I knew as deeply as I have ever known anything that the game was over the moment he stepped onto the field.

That, of course, Alabama would have a Jesus F. Christ of a backup stowed away on the bench.

That of course a defense that had blanked the greatest dynasty college football has perhaps ever known would fade down the stretch.

That of course Alabama would miss the game-winning field goal just to string us along for maximum heartbreak.

That of course we would have a great defensive play on first down just to give you that last little bit of hope that maybe this Santa-Claus-fell-down-the-chimeny-and-spilled-the-whole-damn-bag-of-toys-in-your-living-room of a quarterback would make one mistake on 2nd and 26.

Then it happens and you say, “of course.”

Of course.

“Of course” becomes less a prepositional phrase and more of a noun, a state of being. It is not as if you do not hope anymore. The hope is the problem. It is like you are trying to determine just how far the sinkhole goes and keep bumping into the walls and going “aha this is bottom!” Eventually you know you will hit bottom, but after it turning out to be just one more step down, do you ever have any real reason to think, ‘ah yes. this is it?” And yet you understand—and maybe this is the most painful part—you understand that theoretically there has to be a bottom. And maybe you even imagine that you are probably closer to bottom than to the surface. But the awful truth is that you are only closer to bottom compared to the last moment you asked the question. Your broader situation is not so certain, because there’s no way to know just how deep the sinkhole runs.

It might go deeper. Not to be too dramatic, but you could keep falling forever.

But just so you don’t stop reading at this point, I should say that these past few years a different sort of thing has been happening.

There is one other thing that I know today just about as strongly and as deeply as knowing Tua would be the end of us—it’s that at the end of the 2007 season, at a neutral site, you could have put just about any team, save maybe 01’ Miami, on the field and UGA in black jerseys would have beaten them. The day after the 2007 season they would have come back down to earth. But in January of 2008, wearing black jerseys, there was simply no team of living, breathing college-aged students that was going to beat that team.

The weird thing about Kirby’s era is that I’m starting to feel that way more often. I feel less and less like a loss is inevitably coming. I spend less and less time wondering which underling, which 7-5 team to whom we have no business losing, will upend what would otherwise be a perfect season.

The bottom feels less theoretical, like I can see the dark changing to indicate something new is coming.

So why am I still panicking?

One sportswriter, whose takes I mostly appreciate recently put it this way,

If you have suffered through my writing more than once I assume you know how difficult it is for me to ever imagine myself being even remotely convinced that Georgia is going to win a national championship. Be “good” every year? Sure. I don’t think every year is going to end in utter disaster. I just know that “good” has been our cursed state for about two decades now. Good, but never great.

But great has somehow become more thinkable to me here recently.

Like if you look at Alabama’s offensive line and you look at Clemson’s inexperienced and sure to be untested defense and you squint just so in order to block out Oklahoma and Ohio State, it begins to look like the University of Georgia secretly might be the best football team in the country.

But the other truth, the absolute and undeniable truth, is that no team in the top ten have more metaphysical, paranormal, or other-dimensional baggage to slough off in order to get there than the University of Georgia.

And all of that is real, right?

But this team feels like something…else.

And all of that is real too, right?

I see all of that.

And yet…

The University of Georgia is very good at football, but for some reason I am still panicking.