Not trying to jinx anybody. Not trying to diminish anyone or anything that has come before. Just asking:
Should the Georgia Bulldogs, who represent the flagship university of a state that has Atlanta as its capital, win the national championship by beating Alabama, the program that has won half of the past eight national championships – and where Kirby Smart, now Georgia’s coach, helped secure those championships – in the first title game held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium; should that happen, where would it rank in Atlanta sports moments?
Top five? Top three?
(Pause for effect.)
For as much grief as we get as a Lousy Sports Town, we’ve had our kicks. Muhammad Ali made his comeback fight after a 3 1/2-year exile at the old Municipal Auditorium, now part of the Georgia State campus. The Braves won a World Series – and clinched many of those 14 consecutive division titles – here. The Falcons won an NFC title here, albeit in a blowout. Bill Elliott of Dawsonville sealed the 1988 Winston Cup championship in the Atlanta Journal 500 at AMS.
We’ve had Super Bowls: Rams-Titans photo finish on an icy weekend was a dandy. We’ve had Final Fours: The first featured Marquette’s Al McGuire weeping after winning a title in his final game; the most recent saw Kevin Ware of Conyers hopping around on his crutches. We had an Olympiad, which opened with the aforementioned Ali lighting the cauldron and led into Michael Johnson running fast and gimpy/gutty Kerri Strug sticking the landing.
Bobby Dodd coached here. Bobby Cremins coached here, and his Georgia Tech team took its first ACC tournament title against North Carolina in the old Omni. Michael Vick played here. Pistol Pete played here. Dominique Wilkins soared here. Evander Holyfield grew up here. Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz worked here. So did Chipper Jones, whose Hall of Fame election will be announced soon. Bobby Jones was born here. Furman Bisher wrote here. Otis Nixon climbed a wall here. Fred McGriff arrived here and the press box caught fire, literally.
As it stands, here’s my Atlanta podium:
No. 1: Hank Aaron’s 715th home run on April 8, 1974.
No. 2: Francisco Cabrera’s single to left and Sid Bream’s slide home on Oct. 14, 1992.
No. 3: The Braves beat the Astros on Oct. 5, 1991, and then stood in the infield to watch as the matrix board showed the Dodgers lose to the Giants, thereby clinching the National League West for the worst-to-firsters.
The first was awash in sports and societal history – an African-American broke the most famous record of baseball’s most famous player in a ballpark based in the Deep South. The second marked that first time in baseball history that a team trailing on the final pitch of a Game 7 won the series. The third was the culmination of the giddiest Atlanta season ever. (Two words: Foam tomahawks.)
I don’t count the Falcons’ overtime victory over the 15-1 Vikings for the NFC title because, duh, the game was played in Minneapolis. Nor were any of the four legs of Bobby Jones’ 1930 grand slam won in Atlanta. Nor did Holyfield ever stage a major fight in the A-T-L. For today’s exercise, I’m considering only things that happened to local entities playing locally. (Yes, I count Athens as local.)
I put the Cabrera/Bream game and the worst-to-first clincher a notch ahead of the climactic Game 6 of the 1995 World Series on sheer drama – even though Game 6 featured eight Glavine one-hit innings and David Justice’s home run and yielded the only championship any Atlanta team has won in a major sport. Still, the ’95 title felt more a logical conclusion than a bolt from the blue. It’s my No. 4.
You’ll note that Nos. 1-4 involve baseball. How would it be if the Georgia Bulldogs felled Alabama and the dark-lord Saban in Atlanta to claim the national championship of what was our city’s One True Sport long before any major-league franchise set up shop – and remains so to this day? What if the first Georgia title since Jan. 1, 1981, is claimed in the first collegiate title tilt staged in the A-T-L?
We can’t know how the game will go. The first SEC-on-SEC national championship saw Alabama and LSU combine for one touchdown, that coming with 99 seconds remaining. Were Georgia to win the title in such a snoozer, it would be a wonderful night for Bulldogs only.
But what if UGA-Bama is an epic on the order of the last UGA-Bama game in Atlanta, the 2012 SEC Championship game that ended on a tipped reception at the 5-yard line as time expired? (Also known as the greatest game in the partially demolished Georgia Dome.) What if another classic finish sees Georgia prevailing?
Not to sound all homer-ish, but Bama taking the national title is the sporting equivalent of the Pope being Catholic. (As is Nick Saban, FYI.) Georgia breaking through against the program it has modeled itself after and doing in the state of Georgia … well, there’s a story – as John le Carre’s fictional spy George Smiley said – that stands up and works.
As we speak, I’m thinking Georgia beating Bama in Atlanta for the national championship would crack my top three local moments. Your mileage may differ. And there is, it must be said, not quite the everybody-on-the-bandwagon civic furor for these Bulldogs that we saw for the Dirty Birds or the Braves of ’91. Georgia fans are giddy, but not every Atlantan is a Georgia fan.
We love our college football like nowhere else, but we love different teams. Alums of what Georgia folks like to call the North Avenue Trade School won’t be honking horns and banging on trash cans if Sony Michel authors another walk-off touchdown come Monday. But they might if Jalen Hurts does the deed.