With Kentucky coming to town, memories were sparked of a pair of tremendous performances against the Wildcats by the outstanding safety from the 1990s, Kirby Smart. Prior to leading his alma mater to top-flight success as Georgia’s head coach, Smart first made his mark on the field while wearing the jersey No. 16.
Shortly after Smart’s stellar plays days in Athens, sharp-shooting Mary Beth Lycett was an ultra-popular standout on the hardwood for Georgia’s women’s basketball team, wearing the jersey No. 3, in honor of her favorite athlete, Atlanta Braves legend Dale Murphy.
We all know the rest of the story, these two became sweethearts, were married, and now are back home in Athens, parents to Weston, Julia, and Andrew (Boogie), the First Family of Georgia Football.
With red and black flowing through their veins, the love for their alma mater, and the authenticity that comes with that has created something very special here at Georgia.
It all began for Smart, back in 1994 when the multi-sport star from Bainbridge, Georgia, who played for his father, the iconic football coach, and studied for his mother, the longtime teacher, signed on with the Bulldogs.
Though he would redshirt as a freshman that 1994 season, it didn’t take him long to make a mark on the gridiron. In the team’s first scrimmage of “Fall Camp” in the blazing hot August sun, Smart took the opening kickoff with his back to Rutherford Street, Foley Field and the old gray wall parallel to the Butts-Mehre Building, and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown.
Whoa! As heads turned. This freshman can move!
Smart would quickly deliver between the hedges the following year. In the 1995 season-opener, Smart sacked the long-haired South Carolina signal-caller Steve Tanneyhill three times in Georgia’s come-from-behind 45-23 victory. A redshirt freshman defensive back with three sacks? That certainly caught a lot of eyes. The biggest of those sacks came with Georgia trailing 14-7 and South Carolina inside the Bulldogs ten. The Gamecocks were held to a field goal, and then Robert Edwards ran wild for five second-half touchdowns.
In his next game, a heart-breaking 30-27 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville, Smart intercepted a sophomore quarterback who would go on to great fame as a professional passer, comedian and insurance pitchman, Peyton Manning. The pick came with just under four minutes to go in a 27-27 tie. Just two games into his Georgia career, Smart displayed a nose for the football and was proving to be one of those hard-to-find big-play guys.
Mary Beth didn’t have quite the instant splash. Signing on with the Hall of Fame Coach Andy Landers as a freshman in 1999-2000, the state’s player of the year from Morrow High School, joined a roster that included three of the greatest guards and wing players in school annals – Kelly Miller, Coco Miller and Deanna “Tweety” Nolan, plus point guard Keisha Brown. She waited her turn, improving day by day.
When her time came, Lycett started as Georgia’s “two-guard” as a junior and senior and emerged as one of the top shooters and all-around players in the SEC.
In a rebuilding year of 2001-2002, Lycett shot 78.9 percent from the foul line, and 35.7 percent on three-pointers. Her senior season was stellar. En route to the Sweet 16 and an undefeated record at home, she averaged nearly 10 points per game, led Georgia in three-point shooting, was second in assists, and shot a staggering 90 percent from the foul line. Much like her future husband, she was dead solid clutch. Amongst her many great games, a near triple-double with 17 points – including a rare five-point play – 13 rebounds and seven in a thrilling win over UCLA in Athens. Later that season, with Georgia and Alabama tied, Lycett stroked in three consecutive three-pointers in a 90-second stretch to blow the game wide open. In fact, one of her most clutch baskets came in a heartbreaking loss.
Down 66-60 to Duke with under a minute to play in the Sweet 16 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lycett hit a three-pointer at the top of the key to cut the lead to three and give Georgia hope. It would be her final shot as a Georgia player, with Duke prevailing 66-63.
Smart, like Lycett, starred as a junior and senior, leading the SEC in interceptions and earning All-Conference honors. Amongst his many heroics, Smart had two of his greatest games against Kentucky.
In 1997, the once-beaten Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats on a rainy Athens Saturday 23-13. Smart recorded two interceptions against eventual 1999 No. 1 over NFL Draft choice Tim Couch. The next week, he would intercept a Florida pass in Georgia’s 37-17 win in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs first over the Gators since 1989.
The following season in Lexington, Georgia prevailed in a 28-26 thriller with Smart again intercepting Couch twice.
Big games, big moments.
These two Bulldogs delivered.
They also came through in the classroom and off the field.
Smart was a four-time member of the SEC’s Academic Honor Roll. Lycett was a three-time recipient of the SEC’s Academic Honor Roll and was also on the league’s Community Service Team. Both are distinguished graduates of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and have made a generous contribution to the department.
A classroom at the Business School is named in honor of the Smart family. Strengthening home through giving has been a top priority. The Kirby Smart Family Foundation has raised nearly $620,000 for 50 charities in three years of existence.
Authenticity leads to altruism.
And it sure is sweet to have two Bulldog favorites back home in these great days for Georgia.