A look back at the Georgia-Tennessee series shows a trio of Bulldogs triumphs in Neyland Stadium that set the stage
As Georgia heads to Tennessee for a critical battle in the Bulldogs chase for the dream season, let’s take a look back at three vital victories over the Volunteers through the years. This trio of Georgia triumphs in Knoxville set the stage for championship seasons and eras in three different decades for three different Bulldog coaches.
September the 6th, 1980, Georgia trailed Tennessee 15-0. If somebody would have said at that point …
Not one college football fan, follower, player or coach would have ever predicted what would happen next. The emergence of Herschel Walker, following a safety on a fumbled punt when the Bulldogs should have scored a touchdown, delivered a 16-15 Georgia victory.
You know the rest. The Bulldogs delivered the dream season, posting a perfect 12-0 and the national championship. It was the beginning of the greatest golden era of Georgia football. Over the next four years, from 1980 through 1983, Georgia posted a cumulative 43-4-1 record and finished No. 1, No. 5, No. 4 and No. 4 nationally. Along with the 1980 national championship, Georgia won three straight Southeastern Conference titles from 1980 through 1982. It was so close to another national title or two. It was an era that transformed Georgia football and took Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley’s program to another level.
Over those four years, the Georgia Bulldogs were college football’s premier program. It was sparked that night in Knoxville.
Following Georgia’s third straight SEC title in 1982, it would be 20 years until the Bulldogs would capture another conference crown. There were many near misses, including that next year of 1983. So close from 1985-1988, 1992 and 1997.
But that next SEC championship came in 2002.
The stage was set the year prior in Knoxville.
It was Mark Richt’s first season at the helm in Athens. Underdog Georgia had lost five straight times at Neyland stadium since that epic victory to christen the 1980 national championship season. In 2000, Jim Donnan’s Bulldogs beat Tennessee in Athens, ending a nine game losing streak to the Volunteers. The Dogs led 20-17 with the game in the home stretch. Tennessee tailback Travis Stephens took a screen pass, though, and raced 62 yards for a touchdown with just 0:57 remaining. It was a dagger. The Vols had taken the lead 24-20.
But a head’s up play by Damien Gary, and the smooth operation of David Greene got the Bulldogs going. Randy McMichael made two tremendous catches, and the stage was set. Greene found the outstanding running back Verron Haynes for a six yard touchdown with just five seconds to go. The Dogs had done it. “P-44 Haynes,” “The Hobnail Boot,” Georgia-26, Tennessee-24. It was the signature victory the Bulldogs had been looking for.
There would be no championship in 2001, but the stage was set for the Bulldogs title run of 2002.
Georgia went 13-1, beat Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game and defeated Florida State 26-13 in the Sugar to earn the nation’s No. 3 ranking. There’s no way to know for sure, but 2002 probably doesn’t happen without that win in 2001.
There are a lot of similarities to the famed “flea-flicker,” in Georgia’s 18-17 comeback win over Alabama in 1965 for a young Vince Dooley. The Dogs didn’t win the title that year, but in 1966, Georgia won the SEC championship and the Cotton Bowl to finish 10-1 and No. 4.
As time connects so many fans with memories of great days through the ages, “P-44 Haynes,” “The Hobnail Boot,” was 20 years ago. Verron Haynes son Justice is a blue-chip, five-star, state championship junior running back at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School.
Kirby Smart was a terrific football player at Georgia, an All-SEC and Academic All-SEC selection. As a redshirt freshman in 1995, he intercepted Peyton Manning and Georgia was on the verge of an upset in Knoxville. Alas, things went Tennessee’s way. As a player, Smart never tasted victory against the Volunteers.
As a first year head coach at his alma mater, the Bulldogs were gutted on a Hail Mary by the Volunteers. Tennessee stunned Georgia in a 34-31 thriller between the hedges.
Things would turn quickly though.
In 2017, Smart’s Bulldogs had recorded a signature victory at Notre Dame and rolled undefeated Mississippi State 31-3 at Sanford Stadium.
Tennessee awaited. There was the Hail Mary the year before, a game that the Bulldogs led 17-0 in the first half. In 2015, the Bulldogs had a 24-3 first half lead at Tennessee, but lost 38-31.
The meeting with the Volunteers was a key indicator as to whether Smart’s Bulldogs had turned the corner in 2017.
Georgia led 24-0 at halftime, and there would be no blown lead. The Bulldogs dominated at Neyland Stadium, posting a 41-0 win, the Bulldogs largest margin of victory over the Vols since a 44-0 triumph Between the Hedges to open the 1981 season.
Things were different. Georgia went on to capture the SEC title, win the Rose Bowl and play for the national title.
That win started a four game winning streak in the series for Georgia.
Now the Bulldogs head back to Knoxville with big dreams, and history has shown that if Georgia can beat the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium, the stage can be set for something special.