As Bulldawg Illustrated colleague Greg Poole and I boarded a plane out of Orlando, Florida the week leading up to the January 1, 2018 Rose Bowl featuring the Georgia Bulldogs and Oklahoma Sooners, my mind was already racing ahead to this somewhat historic match-up which would have the University of Georgia playing in Pasadena, California for the first time in 75 years.
Not only were the Bulldogs at the famous venue for the first time since January 1, 1943 when a freshman named Charley Trippi led Georgia’s 1942 team to a 9-0 win over UCLA, but with the Bulldogs-Sooners clash being one of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games, the stakes in the 2018 Rose Bowl were at an all-time high for Kirby Smart’s second Georgia football team … with the winner of course punching a ticket to the National Championship Game back in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.wl setting itself would be as picturesque — with those San Gabriel Mountains framing the stadium — as the TV network analysts talked about every time the game was beamed to the nation each New Year’s Day.
Having watched the Rose Bowl game down through the years via television, I wondered, as we headed west to Los Angeles, if the oval-shaped, 100,000-seat stadium (no upper and lower decks like the stadiums of today) would look just as it did on the day more than seven decades ago when Trippi, Sinkwich and those ‘42 Dawgs ran up and down the field against the UCLA defense. And I wondered if the Rose Bowl.
The morning of the game kind of gave me a good indication that this first day of 2018 was going to be pretty special. I say that because for the first time in all my years covering the Georgia Bulldogs, the working media was given a police escort from the media hotel, the LA Grand Hotel Downtown, to Rose Bowl Stadium, which was some 12 miles away in Pasadena. As we boarded our buses, several of Los Angeles’ finest on motorcycles led the way out front of the motorcade with another couple of cops riding alongside the buses.
And here’s the funny part of that police escort. When the police CHIPS “bikes” and media buses pulled into the stadium parking lot, there were a number of Georgia fans lined up and waving to us. With the motorcycles and buses rolling into the lot, those people in Red and Black actually thought they were seeing the Bulldogs’ team buses arriving for the game. “Go Dawgs” they yelled loud and clear while shaking their pom-poms. So you have to know it was a disappointment for them when a bunch of old, and young men too, stepped off the buses … when they were expecting to see the Georgia Bulldogs themselves.
And what about the stadium itself? Was it everything I had expected it to be? … I think it was! Let my column I filed, when I reached my seat in the press box that morning, paint the scenic picture once again.
“Here we are and I can tell you as I sit in the Rose Bowl press box with the playing field below me at kind of a slant from our high perch, around the 10-yard line near the Georgia logo painted in the South end zone, that this stadium is even more beautiful, more picturesque than I even imagined it was.”
“There, right behind the northeast corner of the stadium are the somewhat towering San Gabriel Mountains, a perfect complement to what makes this setting unlike any other in college football.”
“The East and West stands, running from goal line to goal line, glisten in the sunshine in a sparkling light red color with the end zone seats all in gray with the exception of a bank of seats in the southeast corner that is also adorned with the sparkling red design. But as you may have seen in pictures going back to the last time the Georgia Bulldogs graced this field — 75 years ago to the day in the January 1, 1943 Rose Bowl game against UCLA — this stadium has the same perfect bowl design it’s always had. There are no separate upper decks hanging over the field a la Sanford Stadium or Jordan-Hare Stadium, just a sidewalk-like passage dividing the lower and upper seating.”
“But yes, the Georgia Bulldogs — pinch yourselves, please — are now in the famous Rose Bowl, just a few hours away from battling the Oklahoma Sooners in the College Football Playoff semifinals, with a berth in the national championship game in Atlanta next Monday squarely on the line.”
And then, came the football game itself. As all Bulldog Nation will forever remember and cherish, Georgia walked out of Pasadena with a classic, nerve-wracking 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma. And if there’s ever been a better college football game — at least from a Red and Black standpoint — I’ve yet to see it!
The opening half, of course, it seemed that Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the crimson-clad Sooners were going to run the Bulldogs out of the stadium as Oklahoma built a 31-14 lead in the second quarter. But the Sooners must have forgotten there are two halves(and OTs) in a football game. Indeed, when the Bulldogs pulled within 31-17 on Rod Blankenship’s career-long 55-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer (following a questionable OU squib kick that backfired), it was Georgia going to the dressing room with some needed momentum.
And the rest of this story is all Glory, Glory to Ol’ Georgia! With Sony Michel and Nick Chubb running berserk, the Bulldogs tied the Sooners 45-45 at the end of regulation play. Then after both teams matched field goals in the first overtime period, came the dramatic plays of the second overtime that would send the 13-1 Dawgs on to Atlanta and the national title shootout with Alabama.
When the Sooners, who had the first possession in the second OT, were stoned by the Roquan Smith-led Georgia defense, Oklahoma called on Austin Seibert again for a 27-yard field goal that would have lifted the Sooners up by 51-48. But when Seibert struck the ball this time, there was the hand of Georgia’s senior outside linebacker, Lorenzo Carter, soaring up to block the kick, a play that sent the Bulldog fans of some 50,000 or so into mass celebration.
For the UGA faithful knew that the Bulldogs now only needed another Blankenship field goal in their turn on offense to punch their ticket to the national title game back in their home state. But as things turned out, a field goal by the Georgia placekicker wasn’t needed. After freshman tailback D’Andre Swift lost two yards on the Bulldogs’ first play, Michel took a direct snap, bounced out to the left sidelines and raced into the end zone corner for a 27-yard touchdown that made Georgia a 54-48 winner and simultaneously brought every member of the team pouring onto the field to celebrate one of the grandest comeback victories in the program’s long and successful history.
When I was trying to formulate my story order for this series, My 15 Favorite Sports Assignments, I debated for quite a while on whether to put Georgia’s 1980 classic win over Florida (Belue-to-Scott) or this stirring Rose Bowl victory in the No. 2 slot. After all, both enabled the Bulldogs to make the national championship game. But in the end, because of the setting and everything I’ve described above, the dramatic comeback and triumph over Oklahoma had to take the runnerup spot in this series.
Next Week in SEC Championship Issue, No. 1, Unbeaten, Untied and No. 1 All Becomes Reality in Ol’ New Orleans.