The joy of the 2021 national championship for the Georgia Bulldogs conjured up a lot of memories from the glory days of the early 1980s. In 1980, the Bulldogs won the national championship. I was eight. And I was in love. A love that still burns strong.
A year later, the reigning national champion Bulldogs demolished Tennessee 44-0 in the season-opener Between the Hedges. Heading into this season’s kickoff against Oregon, the reflections went back to 1981, the last time the Bulldogs entered a season as the defending national champions.
It would be mighty greedy to dream of a 44-0 season opener again. Not against the 11th-raked Ducks. Well, history gloriously repeated itself for defending national champion Georgia. 49-3. Amazing. A joyful time warp. I had just turned nine years old for that victory over Tennessee. Just turned 50 for this one over Oregon.
High times indeed. Again.
Georgia is in another Golden Era of football. From 1980-1983, beginning with the 1980 National Championship, the Bulldogs went 43-4-1, finished in the top five every year and won three straight Southeastern Conference titles under the watch of Hall of Fame Head Coach Vince Dooley.
Kirby Smart, who is well on his way to the Hall of Fame, has guided the Bulldogs to five straight top ten seasons since 2017. Last season of course, the pinnacle. Through two weeks, early, early, into the 2022 campaign, Georgia has the look once again of one of the country’s very best teams. Dating back to Smart’s 2017 Bulldogs that won the SEC title and Rose Bowl and played for the national title, Georgia is 60-10.
So now it’s week three of the season. Back in 1981, in the Bulldogs third game – for the record, after shutting out Tennessee 44-0, the Bulldogs bested the Cal Golden Bears 27-13 – was against the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley.
It was the first Georgia game I ever attended.
Several of my great aunts and uncles were die hard Clemson fans. One of my great uncles, Bogey Bryant, played center for Clemson under Frank Howard’s watch back in the 1950s.
My mom, dad and I were surrounded by Orange and White. I had my red Georgia jersey and hat. I remember vividly the drive in. The Tigers paws on the road. There was a sign, one of those sheets hanging from a fraternity house balcony written in shoe polish, that read “Kick the Mutt in the Butt.”
It was loud. It was sad.
Georgia lost 13-3. I was inconsolable. I told my mom, next time I want to go to a game with more Georgia fans. My dad did point out it wasn’t a conference game. My uncles teased me, but not too badly.
It was the lone regular season loss for the Bulldogs in the Herschel Walker era from 1980-1982. The Bulldogs turned the football over a staggering nine times! Cue the Ferris Bueller … Nine Times. And only lost 13-3 to the eventual national champions on the road. That’s a pretty good indicator just how great the Bulldogs of 1981 were. Georgia went on to go 10-1, capture a second straight SEC championship and went to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 2. Then dastardly Dan Marino and Pitt ripped our hearts out.
With so much history being made in the Smart era, and the parallels to the early 1980s, I sure hope that a trip to the Palmetto State in the third game of the year as the reigning national champions doesn’t turn out the way it did the last time.
Smart and the Bulldogs will certainly be focused and ready for a classic slobber knocker in boiling hot Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina has a rich history of handing the Bulldogs upset losses in what turn out to be great Georgia seasons. The 1959 SEC champion Bulldogs went 10-1 and won the Orange Bowl, losing only to South Carolina. The 1978 Wonderdogs had a 9-1-1 regular season, with the loss coming to the Gamecocks. Georgia finished second in the nation and won the Sugar Bowl in 2007, but lost in Athens to South Carolina. That one was a dagger to Georgia’s national and SEC Championship dreams. In 2012, Georgia had an 11-1 regular season before losing an all-time heartbreaker to Alabama. The Bulldogs got destroyed 35-7 in Columbia that October. Then there was three years ago. Georgia went 11-1 in the 2019 regular season. Will Muschamp, now back home at his alma mater as the Bulldogs defensive coordinator, led South Carolina to a 20 -17 overtime upset Between the Hedges. It felt like Georgia was the hunted that day.
Smart has vowed that the defending national champions will not be hunted, that the Bulldogs will be the hunters. So far, that’s a box with a big check mark in it.
These are such high times for the Bulldogs. These last five years, and the early going here in 2022. For the Georgia faithful who got to experience those glory days of 1980-1983, history is repeating itself. During that Golden Era, the national championship came first, followed by the heartbreaking near misses in seasons filled with glory. This Golden Era of Georgia Football has been a year longer, and these Bulldogs of 2022 are hungry to make their own history and extend this era of Red and Black greatness.
The losses unify us. Those tears from that Saturday in Death Valley back in 1981, and all the ones from heartbreak since, sure made those tears of joy back on January 10 all the more wonderful and fulfilling. Championships last forever. These are the good old days. Enjoy the journey Sons and Daughters of Georgia. Every Bulldog deserves it.
And I sure hope there’s not a nine year old diehard Bulldog at his first Georgia game, walking out of Williams Brice Stadium sobbing this Saturday.