On October 6, 2017, the number one dual threat quarterback in the country committed to play for the home state Georgia Bulldogs at a closed high school pep rally where intrepid reporters resorted to climbing trees in the woods for the opportunity to be the first to send the most anticipated tweet in Bulldawg Nation history. Deemed a generational talent, destined to bring the Dawgs their first national title since another generational talent by the name of Herschel did so in 1980. The Dawgs were on the cusp of winning their first National Championship in 38 years and Fields was the final piece of the puzzle.
The Dawgs road a wave of momentum after the announcement by Fields landing 5-stars Jamaree Salyer, Tyson Campbell, Adam Anderson, Cade Mays and Brenton Cox along with 4-stars Quay Walker, James Cook, Trey Hill, Otis Reese, Channing Tindall, Tommy Bush and Divaad Wilson who all jumped on board sensing something special was brewing in Athens. Fields was the catalyst for the Dawgs unseating the mighty Crimson Tide from the top of the 247Sports Composite Rankings for the first time since Florida in 2010.
On April 21, 2018, approximately 82,000 Dawg fans packed an under renovation Sanford Stadium, in part to see their beloved Dawgs coming off their most successful season in 35 years, but mainly to see the Fields. Several students wore custom printed t-shirts with “B.F. Before Fields” with a frown emoji printed on the front and on the back “A.F. After Fields” with a smile emoji. The excitement to see Fields was palpable and the roar from the fans as he took the field was louder than most ACC stadiums on a Saturday in October. Fields flashed his dynamic athleticism, drawing ooh’s and aah’s from the crowd, and displayed that live right arm launching passes downfield. Meanwhile, Jake Fromm was not sharp and the national narrative of a quarterback controversy in Athens was alive and well.
All summer and throughout fall camp, the debate raged on TV with The Paul Finebaum Show, on the radio with The First Team, Off Campus with Mark Packer and all sports talk throughout the state of Georgia. Everyone pushed the narrative of a quarterback controversy and opinions were abound, twenty-four hours a day for four months. The same spirited debate was also taking place amongst an enthusiastic Georgia supporters on social media; chomping at the bit to see what Fields was capable of under the bright lights on the first Saturday of September. The general consensus was Fromm had earned the right to be the starter based on his performance in 2017, but a vocal minority believed it was Fields or bust.
Fromm was steady, but far from spectacular, through the first six games of the season with the Dawgs starting 6-0 while Fields flashed playmaking ability in limited opportunities. Then, came the October 13 collapse at LSU. The #2 Georgia Bulldogs went to Death Valley; Fromm looked rattled, the game plan appeared disjointed and Fields wasn’t given an opportunity to change the outcome. The Dawgs had lost their identity and the Bulldog Nation became divided.
The off-week following the LSU debacle was brutal. The previously vocal minority supporting Fields grew larger and louder while Fromm was mercilessly bashed on every outlet. The sense amongst many was Fromm, 19 – 3 as a starter, could only take the Dawgs so far and if Georgia was to reach their ceiling it was time for change. On St. Simons Island leading up the game there were rumors abound Fields would be under center against the Gators, instead it was Fromm who took every snap and Fields who never left the bench. Fromm was flawless passing for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. Meanwhile, it was the first time Fields was a “DNP – Coaches Decision”. All talk of Fields supplanting Fromm was lowered to a dull whisper.
Over the remainder of the regular season Fromm continued his stellar play while Fields once again flashed his talents; with his leg’s against Kentucky and several spectacular plays against UMass including a 57-yard touchdown throw that brought back memories of a Matthew Stafford rocket. That one throw, once again, had the Bulldawg Nation salivating about what the future would look like once Justin Fields took the reigns at quarterback.
On December 1, the Dawgs arrived at the Mercedes Benz stadium for a showdown against the Crimson Tide who dominated all opponents in the regular season. Nearly all national experts were predicting a double digit victory by the Tide, lauding Tua Tagovailoa and identifying Fields as the wildcard for Georgia to have a chance to victory. How did Jake Fromm respond? He thoroughly outplayed Tua making NFL throw after NFL throw and was unfazed by everything Alabama threw his way.
Fromm emphatically announced that the debate was over and as long as he donned the silver britches, “I am QB1”.
As the days, weeks and months pass some will identify the statement Fromm made with his play during SEC Championship as the beginning of the end of Field’s time in Athens. Others will argue that Fields had checked out the moment Fromm was announced as the starter for Week 1 – as evidenced in the video shared by Zach Klein after the Dawgs dominant Week 2 victory over the Gamecocks where a clearly frustrated Fields was videotaped saying, “I handed the ball off good as f$*k…I didn’t do s$*t bro!”.
Unfortunately, we will NEVER know the full story. Coach Smart and staff are going to say all of the right things, wishing Justin nothing but the best and say they are here “to talk about players who are still a part of this team”. The coaches will also limit access to the media for the players leading up to the Sugar Bowl and those allowed to speak will be well prepared with talking points.
Meanwhile, Fields and his camp have one mission in mind with any statements made over the upcoming days, weeks and months. Build the case for the NCAA to deem him eligible to play immediately at his school of choice in 2019.
There are no more debates to be had. The story of Justin Fields and the University of Georgia is over before it ever had a chance to begin. The only question that remains is if any bridges be burned by Fields & Family on the way out of town. For all parties involved, hopefully the answer will be none.
The Justin Field’s era henceforth, will forever be known as “The Greatest Era of Georgia Football that NEVER WAS”.