The night began as an occasion to praise Aaron Murray, and toward that end the Georgia Bulldogs even flouted the ABC’s. Seniors were introduced in alphabetical order, all save one. The quarterback was summoned last, a privilege reserved on Broadway for the star of the show.
On Broadway, though, the star takes his/her turn after the final curtain. Murray still had one home game to play. For him, it ended too soon. It ended with him being led to the locker room 2:17 before halftime, his left knee unable to bear weight.
It was a deflating end to a festive occasion. Five years a Bulldog, four years a starting quarterback, Aaron Murray will leave with a bushel of school and conference records, two SEC East championships and nearly a trip to the BCS title game. He will leave as one of three Georgia quarterbacks — John Rauch and Buck Belue being the others — to preside over three consecutive defeats of Florida. He also will leave as one of the unluckiest great players in the history of college football.
(If you quibble with the adjective, be advised that you’re quibbling with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who said of Murray after the quarterback led one majestic comeback and nearly a second: “He’s a great player. He’s been a great, great player in our league.”)
In Year 1 as a starter, Murray was part of the first losing Georgia team since 1996. In Year 2, he helped engineer the rise from 0-2 to the SEC Championship game, where the Bulldogs led LSU 10-0 only to lose 42-10. In Year 3, he led a last-gasp drive to the Alabama 8 with 15 seconds remaining, whereupon C.J. Mosley batted Murray’s pass into the hands of a falling Chris Conley. Time expired with Georgia 5 yards short of a BCS title date with Notre Dame.
A month into Year 4 — a season for which Murray, surprising many, chose to return despite having long since graduated — it appeared he had overcome many of the failings his critics loved to lay at his feet. He beat top-10 opponents in South Carolina and LSU and led a successful winning rally in the latter game. Then, with Bulldogs being injured by the moment, he engineered a tying drive to force overtime in Knoxville.
Then it came apart. Georgia lost at home to Missouri, with a second-quarter Murray fumble (off a blindside sack) and two fourth-quarter interceptions abetting the undoing. A loss at Vanderbilt followed, and now the Bulldogs were fighting to salvage something from a season going wrong.
They beat Florida, which always is nice if you’re a Bulldog, and darn near beat Auburn after trailing by 20 points inside the final 10 minutes. That epic comeback was Murray’s finest hour, and his head-knocking scramble yielded the hairbreadth go-ahead score. And then, unbelievably, it came apart again. Fourth-and-18, ball in the air … Georgia loses, somehow.
It was possible last week to feel sorry for Murray, a great player whose lot it has been to be the losing quarterback in two of the greatest games in SEC history. Senior Night arrived as the chance for Bulldog Nation to say thanks for the many good memories he had made, and the pregame tribute was such that this tenacious quarterback had tears in his eyes. He would, alas, exit the same way.
It was later revealed that Murray had hurt his knee on a 28-yard run but waved off Georgia’s attempt to substitute Hutson Mason and later convinced coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to let him keep playing. “That’s the kind of player he is,” Bobo said. “I’ve never coached one like him. All he does every day is try to make Georgia the best in the country.”
On third-and-goal at the Kentucky 8, the Bulldogs ahead 28-10 and Murray having already thrown four touchdown passes, he delivered a tipped ball that wound up being the 41st interception — against 121 touchdowns — of his careeer. But that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was that the man who was battered by Auburn’s Nick Fairley in 2010 and blindsided by Alabama’s Quinton Dial in December wasn’t getting up
Defensive tackle Za’Darius Smith had reached Murray a tad late but spun him to the turf. Murray’s left leg buckled in mid-spin. He stayed down for a while before being led to the locker room.
He was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center for an MRI, and Richt said afterward “it would be tough” for Murray to play against Georgia Tech on Saturday. So the quarterback who hadn’t missed a start in four seasons might miss the last one. Aaron Murray has been a darn good Dawg — just not a lucky one.