ATHENS — I’m talking to Mark Bradley and Claude Felton in the press box after Saturday night’s game between Georgia and Tennessee and neither of them had seen anything like the contest they’d just witnessed.
Neither have I.
Bradley and Felton have been involved in college football coverage since the 1970s and I have since the 1980s and none of us had seen the likes of 10-second mini-drama that unfolded before our eyes between in hedges Saturday. We all saw it, a game-winning bomb followed by a game-winning bomb. Only a skinny little kickoff — little being an operative word here — in between separated the back-to-back heroics. It was beautiful and horrific, all in one.
Oct. 1, 2016: Tennessee 34, Georgia 31. We’ll all remember it.
It’s after games like this that you’ll hear coaches on both the winning and losing sides quickly stand up and say that it only counts as one. And it does. But it doesn’t feel like that for anybody that played witness to it.
Felton is Georgia’s longtime director of sports communications. He has been in that post since 1979, and lesser ones in the years before that, and he couldn’t point to a comparable contest the Bulldogs had participated in. Certainly not a loss at least. Florida, for instance, could say it felt the way Georgia felt Saturday when it harkens back to Belue-to-Scott in 1980.
Of course, Georgia has felt its pwn share of devastating drama before this. Recently even.
Both the Bulldogs and Auburn are still talking about “The Prayer at Jordan Hare.” Georgia had taken a late lead only to see Nick Marshall throw over its head to Ricardo and a game-winning, 73-yard TD with 36 seconds remaining.
In 2014, the Bulldogs looked like they had Georgia Tech beaten. Only, Mark Richt elected to squib kick and Georgia lost 30-24 in overtime after Hutson Mason’s game-ending interception.
Of course, a lot of Dogs’ fans are still having a hard time getting over that 2012 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game, when they chose not to “clock the ball” and ended up a 32-28 loser.
But that’s all relatively recent history. The one that comes as close to matching the Dogs’ devastation for me was Georgia’s home game against Alabama to open the 1985 season. The Bulldogs’ got a blocked punt and touchdown from linebacker Terrie Webster with a minute left to play only to see quarterback Mike Shula led the Crimson Tide all the way back down the field for a 20-16 victory.
Here’s what’s common in all those cases: The Bulldogs had to play other games afterward. And that, now, is the key for Georgia.
There’s nothing the Bulldogs can do to undo what’s been done. They are bound for South Carolina next week and will likely be favored against the Gamecocks. What will their mindset be then?
“Well, you get up because you have to,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who was defensive coordinator at Alabama when they fell victim to the “Kick Six” against Auburn. “It’s who you are. It defines you. This team had to get up for this game after the horrible game we had at Missouri. So you have to get up in the SEC. I always say, humility is a week away when you play good teams. But it’s definitely heart-wrenching to lose a game like that.”
A 50-yard, game-winning pass followed by a 43-yard, game-winning pass. Unbelievable.
So how has Georgia responded in the past?
In 1985, the Bulldogs played Baylor the next week and won 17-14. They’d go 7-3-2 that season.
In 2012, Georgia rebounded from the SEC title-game loss and whipped Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl. It finished the year 12-2.
After Auburn’s prayer at Jordan-Hare, Georgia beat Kentucky and Georgia Tech to close out the regular season. They’d go 8-5 overall.
And in 2014, the Bulldogs beat Louisville big in the Belk Bowl to cap a 10-3 season.
What does this season hold for Georgia? For me, the way the Bulldogs competed against a pretty powerful Tennessee team was impressive. The Vols had them outclassed pretty much across-the-board in personnel, yet the Bulldogs led 17-0 at one point and, let’s face, should have won after freshman Jacob Eason hit freshman Riley Ridley with 10 seconds to go.
Sloppy special teams and undisciplined play ultimately did them in. But once they get over the heartbreak of this thing, Georgia might look back at it and see some things it liked.
But it’s gonna take a while.
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