Happy first Sunday as The National Champions, err’body.
How many times have you re-watched the game in its entirety? I might have watched it twice, from start to finish. I’ve watched the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter about 5, probably more. The Kelee Ringo “pick-6?” I lost count at a billion. You probably have, too.
Off all the calls, ESPN Deportes is my favorite.
All of this really didn’t sink in fully until about Thursday. It really just BOOM! hit me as I sat there, enjoying my first cup of coffee after my first real solid sleep since the weekend before. I even got an email from my former co-worker who works in a different division now.
“As much as it pains me to say this, congratulations. I think I just threw up in my mouth :-p”
He’s a Florida Gator.
I thanked him, acknowledged how painful that must’ve been and said, “see you in Jacksonville.” Usually, he’d conclude anything Georgia-Florida related by lobbing the old “1980” barb my way with a wink or some smart-ass emoji. He can’t do that anymore. No one can. More on this in a bit.
I was thinking about how much (or little) luck played into the events of Monday night. Right out of the gate back on December 4th in the SEC Championship game during Georgia’s first possession, Georgia avoided disaster when, on 3rd and 10 from Alabama’s 46, Stetson Bennett threw a ball under duress that should been intercepted for a pick-6 by Jordan Battle. In that moment, I exhaled and quietly whispered to myself, “Lady Luck. Thank you.”
That would be the last time she smiled at us on that day.
Bama would go onto victory and the national narrative of “Kirby can’t win the big one,” or “Kirby can’t/won’t ever beat Alabama” just got another boost, providing content for the hundreds of football writers to our rival fanbases. That’s when I pretty much began to shut down for a few weeks and began to doubt some things.
On Monday night, Georgia won the toss and deferred. Alabama promptly marched down to the Georgia 19 yard line in 14 plays and kicked a 37 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. During this drive, Bryce Young appeared to have been sacked by Jordan Davis and you know the rest: Nakobe Dean scooped up the ball in a heady play when the other 21 players standing around thought the ball to be dead and scurried into the end zone in what appeared to be a gift scoop ‘n score 36-yard touchdown.
The play immediately was reviewed for several minutes by instant replay and it was determined to be an incomplete forward pass as Young’s arm was moving forward (more because of the inertia imparted on his body by Jordan Davis than an actual attempt at a pass). It could have been a fumble, but absolutely should have been grounding. At that moment, Lady Luck just frowned and tossed her hair back as if butter wouldn’t melt. And you know how I feel about butter.
Bama kicks off and we are immediately in a hole after a holding call, the first of about 7 first half penalties that had us behind the chains for virtually the entire first thirty minutes of play. The play where Stetson fumbled as he was apparently headed for a first down on a wild scramble could have ended the night right then and there for us. However, the ball bounced right back into his chest as two Bama players were collapsing on top of our diminutive hero.
That was really about the only luck we had all night and we all thank you, Lady.
We didn’t need you after that.
The point is: Any any season or any given moment in a season you have to have a bit of luck. Bama probably doesn’t score a touchdown in the game if Stetson Bennett doesn’t fumble on that bizarre play where Alabama’s Brian Branch “casually” recovers the ball while keeping his big toe a micro-millimeter in-bounds, holding onto the ball almost as an afterthought. They were incredibly lucky on that series and in the moment, we all hung our heads in the mist of sad familiarity as Bama scores 9 points in 2:45 to take the lead. We’ve seen this awful movie play out again and again and again.
Then, the last 10 minutes of the game played out. Our 5-play drive scoring drive that followed featured an 18-yard pass, a 10-yard juggling catch by Kenny McIntosh, a pass-interference call against George Pickens, a sack by their defense and a perfect 40-yard throw to Adonai Mitchell to put us in the lead. As it turned out, for good. Of course we didn’t know that at the time.
WHAT A CATCH— ESPN (@espn) January 11, 2022
ADONAI MITCHELL DELIVERED FOR A 40-YARD TD! pic.twitter.com/S86FwsqP1L
Bama’s #50 was not onside... ;-)
On Alabama’s next possession, William Poole III - the very player that was abused early and often on December 4th, made one of the biggest plays of the season, breaking up a pass on 3rd and 12 forcing Alabama to punt. During the ensuring drive, featuring a lot of Zamir White and incredible run blocking, Georgia did something that Alabama typically has done to us over recent history: We ground them down in 7 plays for 62 yards that culminated in the Bennett to Bowers score. Game not over, but close.
But we’ve been close. Close is never good enough. Close isn’t closure.
Kelee Ringo provided the closure along with his phalanx of blockers to end the scoring and set off the celebration throughout Dawg Nation. I don’t think things will ever be the same, either. We now have a “Natty” under Kirby Smart. His blueprint is essentially copied from Nick Saban’s, and why not? But Kirby is his own man and is evolving as the rapidly changing college football landscape does.
Georgia has ascended to the mountaintop and is in position to remain there for as long as Kirby remains our coach in Athens. Winning that first ‘ship is the hardest. Next season is going to be a real challenge to get back to the playoffs with the attrition we are presently seeing, but we’ve still got some dudes on this team going forward. Can we get another couple of guys to come back like Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt did? Christopher Smith says he’s returning. Who will join him? We got to have leaders in that locker room.
The rarely seen Crimson and White Surrender Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah rolltidemus).
Through the seasons, players come and go. We remember the great ones forever like Herschel, or Jimmy Payne, Scott Woerner, David Pollack, Todd Gurley, or Nick and Sony. We celebrate them all while they’re on campus and we hope they go on to live successful lives afterwards, and not just the outstanding ones. It’s hard to believe that guys like Nakobe Dean and Jamaree Salyer are already about to make the transition to pro football. It seems like they just got here. That’s the bittersweet aspect of the college game. But there’s always another cycle of newcomers. So, as we say goodbye to one group, we anxiously await the promise of the next.
The fans, however, remain. The older guard like myself - and perhaps you - probably remember when your fandom began or can recall your very first game. My first Georgia game was home opener in 1973 against Pitt and a promising young freshman running back named Tony Dorsett. There was nothing remarkable about that particular afternoon. The game was a 7-7 tie, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked from the moment I walked into Sanford Stadium. Fandom usually begins in our youth if we’re lucky enough. Some of us latch onto this crazy train a bit later in life. Through the good times and bad, that magical dopamine trigger that causes all of us to morph into this crazed, red and black attired barking human being never stops as the mystical brain synapses prompt us to travel across country, spend thousands of dollars on the hope of victory with no guarantees (unless we travel over to Tech) and either celebrate or suffer together depending on the outcome.
Many of you know that I was a freshman at Georgia in 1980. Barely survived my first few “quarters” (the system we were on back in the day) because the lure of cheap beer, hotdogs and video games at a particular bar when I should have been studying. But I survived academic probation, the wrath of my father and witnessed my favorite season ever. That isn’t to say that I’m enjoying what transpired last Monday any less. Far from it. But 1980 was a bit like your first love or car. In recent years because of our rivals, the term “1980” became a punchline or a meme. Today, we are 2021 National Champions and the honor of “1980” has been restored, not that it ever needed restoring. But you know what I mean.
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. This has been the greatest week ever. This team is going to be more than fine. We are ready for a run and I can’t wait. This is going to be the best off-season since...you got it...1980!
See y’all in Athens for G-Day.