It is one of those bad memories, I’ll never forget. It was the first time I remembered the Bulldogs being in a critical play that didn’t matter. If he made it we lose, if he missed it, we tie Vanderbilt. We lose. I think it was a 36-yarder, the kicker may or may not have been named Ricky or Rickey Anderson. That all rings a cruel bell, but I’m sure as hell not going to waste any time dredging up this awful day from 1985.
History would show that the field goal was missed, but Georgia lost to Vanderbilt 13-13.
That would be my first experience with the Bulldogs not beating the Commodores. Georgia had last lost to Vanderbilt in 1973. I had just turned one.
But here in 1985, the bloom was being put back on the season that had begun with a tragic 20-16 last second loss to Alabama. Well that all got derailed.
There had been a couple of close calls of late. In 1982, an outstanding Vanderbilt squad which would finish with an 8-3 regular season mark, quarterbacked by Whit Taylor, runner-up for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, led 13-10 in the third quarter. All-American kicker Kevin Butler would tie it on the final play of the period. Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who, yes, was the SEC Player of the Year, had an explosive fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and setting up another in a 27-13 victory for a great Georgia team that won a third straight league crown with an 11-0 regular season mark.
A year later, Vandy had another outstanding quarterback, Kurt Page. The Commodores fullback Keith Edwards caught 17 passes, still the most ever for a Georgia foe. The 4-0-1, seventh-ranked Bulldogs were hanging on 20-13 in the final minutes. A Vandy receiver had broken open in the back right corner of the end zone, and a Page aerial was floating his way. But Terry Hoage got up and knocked it away on one of the signature plays of his magnificent Hall of Fame career, and the mighty Larry Munson delivered one of his most magical calls.
There would be no magic on this day in 1985 though.
My freshman year of 1991, I rode up to Nashville with my buddies Jay and Ty. The Dogs, having only lost once … a tough one 10-0, at, yep, Alabama. Georgia got on to a 14-0 lead, but the Commodores got a couple of bounces and made some big plays. Georgia would then miss two field goals that would have won the game, a second chance after a penalty, also no good. Vandy-27, Georgia-25. Ouch.
The most embarrassing loss by Georgia came in 1994, when Vanderbilt rolled into Sanford Stadium and pummeled the Bulldogs 43-30 with over 400 yards rushing, led by a quarterback from Albany and running back from Carrollton. The ‘Dores also had two touchdowns called back. Change would soon be coming.
Georgia would win the next 11 meetings. Vanderbilt would come back with a last second field goal to beat the Bulldogs in 2006, derailing a season that had begun 5-0, but had become 5-2. There were two fumbles, and a Brandon Coutu game-winner that saved the night in Music City in 2007. Georgia nearly lost two straight to Vandy, which would have dropped the Bulldogs to 4-3. Instead, a 20-17 (exhale) survival was vital, as the Bulldogs would run the table, go 11-2 and finish No. 2 nationally. All-American punter likely extended Mark Richt’s career another four years with a game-saving tackle on a jail break block in the closing minutes. The Bulldogs hung on.
Vanderbilt would cash in on a series of embarrassing special teams blunders and upset the injury plagued Bulldogs in 2013. A season that had Georgia in the top ten for all of September was ruined. Just like that, the Bulldogs had three losses after falling in back to back weeks to Missouri and the Commodores.
As those Dogs of 2013 got healthy, most significantly Todd Gurley returned, Georgia beat Florida for a third straight year. Auburn was once-beaten and trending towards a memorable season. My esteemed co-host on 960 The Ref Chris Brame, a superb handicapper, predicted a Georgia upset victory on the plains.
No way I told him. The football gods wouldn’t allow Georgia to beat Florida and Auburn in a year that we lost to Vandy.
The Prayer at Jordan Hare.
On Vanderbilt’s last visit to Athens, the Bulldogs fell in a 17-16 heartbreaker, as the Commodores All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham made the big stop. That would be one of those three devastating losses at home. Those crushers though would be the organic filaments that would help fuel the remarkable season of 2017. That Georgia squad crushed Vanderbilt 45-14 in Nashville a week after winning 41-0 at Neyland Stadium over Tennessee.
There would be no trap games for that great Georgia team.
Now, one year later, as this Georgia team strives for greatness, avoiding the trap and handling Vanderbilt is this week’s challenge. It’s plain and simple, Georgia can’t lose to Vanderbilt and have a great season.