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Jan. 10: The night that fear died

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

By nature, I’m a pessimist when it comes to sports in this state.

It’s hard not to.

In the 1990s, the WLOCP usually meant being bludgeoned by the Head Ball Coach, and then seeing Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and even Clemson join Alabama as neighboring rivals celebrating national titles, making the wonder set in of, ‘when our time is coming?’

Heck, even the Trade School got a share of a national title in 1990, for those who choose to celebrate such things.

One thing I stood by when it came to Mark Richt at Georgia was that he was a championship-caliber coach of championship-worthy teams, but no trophy to show for it, while Larry Coker and Gene Chizik may have had championships, but not the level of coaches that Richt was.

In 2002, Georgia probably does not get into the title game in front of either Miami or Ohio State, but it would have had a case. The 2004 team, one that on paper should have been more successful than 2002 or 2003, faceplanted after a revenge win against LSU by losing against Tennessee. In 2007, of course, an early loss to South Carolina was nearly undone by an incredible late-season run, only for the losing quarterback of the 1992 Citrus Bowl to change the rules of how worthy a team is to play for a title and influence voters.

Of course, there was five yards short in 2012. That one sticks out to me the most for personal reasons.

Sure, the 2018 title game was a heart-ripper outer, but 2012 stung worse for me in the aftermath because on what seemed like a ride back home similar to a retreating army after a long way, the thought crossed my mind, ‘I don’t know if this program will be this close again.’

In 2018, it was the opposite. Sure, it stung, but there was no doubt Georgia will be back on this stage or close to it again. Sure, future setbacks stung...the botched fake punt, Hot Rod missing a field goal against USC...

But you had no doubt this team would still be in place to win it.

I liken this program coming into this year to NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt pre-1998.

As the year began, the sentiment was that the program was at a place beyond the fan base’s wildest dreams. A CFP title game appearance wins in the Sugar, Rose and Peach Bowls, an SEC title. Yeah, but....

For Earnhardt, he was a seven-time champion having won everything but the Daytona 500. In some ways his career was not complete without that trophy.

I think it’s the same for this Georgia program. For it to truly arrive, there was one thing left, and that came against Alabama. And much like Earnhardt’s memorable post-race celebration, what we all felt was years in the making.

One of many things that Kirby Smart said post-game Monday was that there was ‘scars’ still there from the past few years against Alabama, and those obviously go back not just to 2018, but to 2008 when frankly, the Crimson Tide took a piece of this fan base’s heart out and never got it back.

Think of how many times since then fans would grimace about the ‘blackout,’ fearing that the littlest thing could cause a bad outcome in a big game.

Since, with so many stumbles on big stage, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about it happening again. For me personally, I almost got to a point where I’d expect bad results so that if things go bad, it won’t be a big letdown. It’s almost as if you were afraid to be confident.

But Monday night changed that.

The Tennessee hail mary was the last moment of relevance for a team that hasn’t won a national title since 1998.

Kids born in 2009 have never seen Florida win a national title.

It’s been 32 years since Georgia Tech claimed a share of a title.

The Prayer at Jordan-Hare is a sidenote, expect me personally, as it is also the day that I was told we were having our first child.

This is the greatest era of Georgia football, without question. Enjoy every darn bit of it.

This fan base for far too long has been gripped by fear and timidity.

That spirit died on Monday night in Indy.

Go Dawgs!