As I stood on the field in Indianapolis waiting for the gates to open and the teams to arrive, the relative quiet of an empty stadium took me back to early December and a similar scene inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Remembering the confidence that I felt that December day in Atlanta gave me pause. Obviously, my feeling of confidence was misplaced that day, but as much as I wanted to avoid another postgame let-down, nothing had changed. “Georgia is the better team,” I told myself. The SEC Championship was the outlier, I whispered to myself. The Orange Bowl showcased the real Georgia. I had almost convinced myself when the doors opened and all those Red and Black clad fans began streaming into the venue. Crimson faded in the red sea. Then the Bulldogs arrived – stone-face, no joking around, serious – ready.
Forty-one years! Much has changed during the intervening four decades, but the passion of the Georgia fan base has not wavered. Yes, defeatist memes have sprung to life in the last few years. The idea that somehow the Bulldogs were cursed with a fatal flaw and would forever bring disappointment to the faithful had flourished. No longer!
Amazingly, Georgia navigated the wilderness between championships with only three head coaches between Vince Dooley and Kirby Smart. Contending for another national title was always the goal; it seemed achievable in advance of a season, yet the dream evaporated year after year – decade after decade – finally taking on an almost mocking tone as rivals took turns collecting national honors. Georgia must have been the victim of some voodoo curse, right?
Fan ego defense mechanisms, hard-learned lessons from years in the college football wilderness, die hard. Sure, some seasons brought rays of hope to those of us who witnessed January 01, 1981. Still, tragedies like Aaron Murray’s tipped pass in the SEC Championship and Bama’s miracle throw in the same venue after the Dawgs walk-off victory in the Rose Bowl reinforced the widespread belief in a Georgia curse. What else could explain such continued misery?
Kirby Smart returned to Athens to confront history with tools learned while serving his Alabama apprenticeship. The close-but-no-cigar Georgia narrative began to change, slowly.
UGA opened its wallet to implement Coach Smart’s plan for getting his alma mater to the summit of college football. His method starts with recruiting infrastructure, moves on to recruiting staff, and proceeds to face-to-face recruiting. The best X and O coach who ever lived will only be as successful as the talent level of his players allows him to be. Day-to-day coaching matters, of course, but it all comes down to the Jimmys and Joes. It only took six years to transition from a postseason trip to soulful Memphis to the Indianapolis artic and the pinnacle of the sport. Six years from a program in disarray to a machine-like dismantling of Alabama on college football’s ultimate stage.
The Crimson Tide faced by the Bulldogs in Indy may have been affected by injuries, youth, the phase of the moon, or any of the myriad excuses offered by disconsolate Bama fans and face-saving pundits but not one bit of that revisionist history matters. There is but one bottom line in every athletic contest – the scoreboard! Everything else is for the losers.
Now, look who’s chanting, “Wait until next year!”
The Georgia Bulldogs are national champions for the second time in my life, and number three will follow – soon. Wait until next year has a whole new meaning.