Kirby Smart wore headphones and moved around the field as if his shoes were on fire, shouting directions with limbs flailing, blood pressure rising. It was as if this game actually meant something, which should not be confused with anything Vince Dooley ever thought about a spring scrimmage.
“The spring game is the greatest thing in the world. Because you can’t lose!” Dooley said Saturday.
In his coaching days, Dooley watched the spring game from the press box, not the field. Why? Two reasons: 1) He didn’t care enough to be on the field; 2) Georgia hired “honorary” celebrity coaches for the two teams because otherwise nobody else would care, either.
“Ted Turner, Lewis Grizzard, Jesse Outlar,” he said running down former coaches. “One year we had Allen Paulson. He’s the guy who started Gulfstream, and he was giving us a half-million dollars one year. So we stacked his team to make sure he won.
“Another time we had “Slick” (Simon) Selig. He give us $1 million one year. Oh, he could call any play he wanted.”
Smart is making $3.75 million. He can call any plays he wants, too.
He watched the G-Day game as the Black team beat the Red team 34-14. At least, that’s what the scoreboard said. Given new open-records laws for Georgia athletics, official statistics may not be available for at least 90 days.
The game didn’t count. But count Smart as 1-0.
He has been a carnival barker for several weeks, pushing fans to fill Sanford Stadium with the promotion “93K.” Damn if he didn’t succeed. A lot of folks may have left at halftime, but getting that many people to show up for a scrimmage, even if it was free, illustrates the extent to which Smart’s hiring has ignited Georgia’s fan base.
The final spring game in the Mark Richt era drew 46,000. That was an all-time high — and Smart more than doubled it at an estimated 93,000.
“Wow,” Smart said. “Fan for the fan base to support our program and support our kids the way they did, it touches my heart. There were a lot of doubters out there who said it couldn’t be done … But they came, and they came in droves, and I appreciate that more than they know.”
Smart and freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, not surprisingly, have been the focus of spring, and it follows they drew the most attention Saturday. When video clips from Smart’s introductory news conference played on the Sanford Stadium scoreboard, fans screamed. Words flashed on the screen between clips:
“EXPERIENCE THE RE-BIRTH…”
“OF AN ENTIRE NATION”
Smart’s honorary coach could’ve been D.W. Griffith. (Old pop-culture reference. Kids: Google.)
“JOIN THE MOVEMENT”
“JOIN THE NEW ERA”
It really is a new era. Before kickoff, Ludacris rapped a few of his favorites, including that family-friendly classic, “Move B***h.”
The tune included lyrics that I’m fairly certain were never uttered in the Mark Richt era … unless you go through the Todd Grantham transcripts.
Smart kept the quarterback tease going after the scrimmage. He said Eason, Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey all did some good things and some bad things and all have “different traits.” And then we laughed.
He’s right, to this degree: Eason has the traits of a starting SEC quarterback, and the other two have the traits of something else.
The freshman clearly was best of the three on the field, completing 19 of 29 attempts for 244 yards and a touchdown. He dropped a 35-yard completion into the hands of Riley Ridley that might’ve been more impressive than any pass thrown by any Georgia quarterback last season. He completed a 37-yarder to Reggie Davis, and led two touchdown drives (including a 7-yard pass to Isaac Nauta).
The only thing more impressive about Eason than his size (6-foot-5, 211) and his arm (cannon) was his cool.
“I don’t think he knew there were 93,000 people out there because he sure didn’t seem to care,” Smart said. “He executed the offense and did what he had to do.”
Smart would not make any of the quarterbacks available to the media. The last quarterback made available to the media — Eason, on signing day. I’m guessing the next time he speaks will be after he starts a game — possibly against North Carolina in the season opener in the Georgia Dome.
But the biggest story Saturday was Smart’s ability to get people excited and fill a stadium for a scrimmage.
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