Athens reacts to Georgia national title: ‘I can die right now a happy man’

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

The hopes, prayers and barks of Georgia fans were answered Monday night. Their hard-luck football team ended its 14,984-day wait and became national champions again, beating the juggernaut that is the University of Alabama.

Georgia’s dominant defensive squad held the Crimson Tide to 18 points, the fewest Bama has scored all season.

When the game ended and the unreal became reality, Georgia fans were running through the streets of downtown Athens as fireworks lit up the sky.

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

Soon there was seemingly no open inch of pavement on the sidewalks, and the crowd chanted “UGA! UGA!” Some students scaled trees and mounted light posts.

When asked to describe how he felt, 22-year-old Clay Britton had a simple answer — “I would say it all in one sentence: I can die right now a happy man.”

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

Jay Wright — a 19-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee — was spraying bottles at Woodford, a bar in downtown Athens.

He said he is the first person in his family to go to Georgia. When he enrolled, Wright said, he was still a diehard University of Tennessee fan.

“But I came here and it switched my mind,” he said.

Credit: Holland Mowry

Credit: Holland Mowry

He declared the scene indescribable. “It’s something that’s once-in-a-lifetime,” Wright said. Many hope he’s wrong.

Because even recent history is still old when you’re young: For instance, Wright was just starting his teens in 2017 when Georgia was last battling for a national championship.

Maggie Austin, a human development major from Kennesaw, cried after the game. Austin, whose mother attended Georgia, has been a fan her whole life.

Tears had smudged the UGA tattoo on her cheek as kept saying: “We won. We actually freaking won.” She embraced her friend, who looked shell-shocked.

It was an entirely different situation at halftime, when Alabama led 9-6 in a game comprised entirely of field goals. At the time, Austin was worried about Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, a fifth-year senior who grew up in Blackshear about 50 miles north of the Florida border.

“My poor baby boy Stetson was lookin’ nervous out there,” Austin said at the half. “But I know Kirby (Smart) is in that locker room and he will get them ready for the second half.”

The game had an explosive ending, with 29 of the game’s 51 points scored in the fourth quarter alone.

Before kickoff, Chris McDonald was seen sporting red denim overalls outside The Office Sports Bar & Grill in downtown Athens.

While talking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McDonald took a brief break to chant “Goooo Dawgs!” to a group of jersey-wearing Georgia fans, to which they replied: “Sic ‘em!”

He currently lives on Long Island, but his SEC sense of humor hasn’t left him — McDonald bent over to reveal a University of Alabama patch sewed onto the bottom of his overalls.

Fans — some of whom were taken to their first Florida-Georgia game at 3 weeks old — filled bars downtown.

But about 430 miles away from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, thousands of Georgia students attended a watch party at Stegeman Coliseum.

The crowd at Stegeman exploded with excitement when football analyst Lee Corso on the pre-show picked Georgia, prompting much barking. Things got even louder and more exciting when Uga, the mascot, was revealed.

Credit: James Boyle

Credit: James Boyle

After the segment, the different sides of the stadium went back and forth, with one side screaming “GEORGIA!” and the other screaming “BULLDOGS!”

Upon entering the stadium, a group of students were jeering the Tide loudly. One of them was Angel Crawford from Atlanta.

She mentioned “how hard the Dawgs have worked this year and how they deserve to be here at this stage.”

She has been a committed fan herself since 6th grade, when she decided that she wanted to attend the University of Georgia. She got her fandom from her late mother. Crawford said before the game that she wanted to see the team win but wishes her mother could be here to see it.

Credit: Trevyn Gray

Credit: Trevyn Gray

Pablo Maliver, a political science major from Roswell, said while waiting to get into Stegeman that he and his family have been Georgia fans for a decade.

He said the team’s notorious struggle against Alabama coach Nick Saban was on his mind.

Because of course Georgia had to beat Bama to win the big game. Of course it was against an arch rival that had hung seven straight wins on the Dawgs. Of course they had to face the greatest college football coach ever.

Maliver said winning would be “getting the monkey off our back” and “worth the bragging rights.”

He wasn’t alone.

People buzzing around Stegeman talked about how the Braves winning the World Series in November hopefully ended the “Georgia Curse.”

Arizona Igwe, a fourth-year pharmaceutical sciences major from Snellville, talked about what a win would mean.

“It would be major. We’ve spent many years here taking losses,” he said. “Following the win in the MLB World Series by the Atlanta Braves, bringing another (championship) back to Georgia would be great. It would be a sigh of relief of get it done. It would feel gratifying to finally get it done after so many close losses over the past few years.”

Because those who love the Dawgs must master cautious optimism, and for good reason.

After 41 years, why now? Why should they have believed when facing a Heisman-winning quarterback with plenty of weapons all led by the greatest to ever coach college football?

It’s all about hope, which is the most precious human resource but also the only pre-requisite to disappointment.

But fans are just happy the streak is over. They’re happy their team did it. Eternal or not, hope sprang for Georgia fans Monday night.