UGA, Notre Dame finally get a rematch

If Vince Dooley would have had his way, Georgia and Notre Dame would have played again a long time ago. According to the Bulldogs’ long-retired football coach and athletic director, the Fighting Irish wanted to arrange a home-and-home series soon after Georgia beat them in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship.

“It was sometime after we’d played each other,” said Dooley, reached by phone while awaiting a flight to Greece on Wednesday. “I think they were pretty anxious to play us again at the time. If I had been them I would have wanted to. But there was a change in administration, so it just never materialized.”

Thirty-seven years later, the two teams will finally play again.

Georgia and Notre Dame announced on Wednesday they have struck a deal to play a home-and-home series that will begin in 2017. The Bulldogs will travel to South Bend, Ind., to play in Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 9, 2017, and the Fighting Irish will return the game by playing Georgia at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 21, 2019.

The teams have not met on the football field since Georgia defeated Notre Dame 17-10 on Jan. 1, 1981, to complete an undefeated season and be named consensus national champions.

“It presents opportunities that the institution has never experienced before,” UGA athletic director Greg McGarity said Wednesday. “It’s an opportunity for our fans and student-athletes to play in one of the most storied, traditional venues in college football. That presents a level of excitement. On the flipside in 2019, having Notre Dame between the hedges is something that’s never happened before. So for fans it creates exciting trips and exciting games.”

The schools have been trying to hammer out details since Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly first mentioned a desire to play the Bulldogs last fall.

“That was the first time our ears started to perk up a bit, once that comment was made,” McGarity said. “We really didn’t follow up on it other than to try to figure out what that relationship might be or when that opportunity might be.”

McGarity said negotiations began in earnest in January during a Sports Management Institute conference held on the UGA campus. During that event, Notre Dame senior associate AD Mike Harrity approached McGarity about the Fighting Irish’s sincere interest in playing the Bulldogs in the near future.

Josh Brooks, UGA’s associate athletic director for internal operations, “carried the ball from there” and worked out the details, McGarity said. There are no guarantees or appearance fees involved. The home teams will simply retain all the revenue the year they host the game.

“As our football schedules evolved with the start of our Atlantic Coast Conference competition in 2014, we had future games slated with top-drawer opponents in virtually all the major conferences,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “One exception was the Southeastern Conference, so we are pleased now to be able to check that box. These will be two contests that will have great national appeal, in part because our only previous matchup came in a bowl game.”

Notre Dame has not played an SEC team in a regular-season game since defeating Tennessee 41-21 in 2005. Georgia last played on the home field of a major, nonconference football power such as Notre Dame in 1965, when it defeated Michigan 15-7.

But the Bulldogs traditionally play a relatively strong out-of-conference schedule. They play in-state rival Georgia Tech every year, will complete a home-and-home series with Clemson this year, and have played Boise State, Colorado, Arizona State and Oklahoma State in the past five years.

McGarity said he first mentioned the prospect of playing Notre Dame to football coach Mark Richt earlier this year and he was “all for it.” But McGarity added that “the scheduling component is really an administrative role.”

Said Richt: “Playing Notre Dame will be an honor and a great challenge for us. I have a lot of respect for the job coach Kelly is doing there, and I’m sure college football fans across the country will enjoy watching our two teams compete.”

With college football moving to a four-team playoff to determine a national champion this fall, strength-of-schedule is expected to become an increasingly important component for getting into that mix. A committee will select the four participating teams based on records and other criteria

“I think everyone’s guessing at this point in time how each committee member will determine that,” McGarity said. “Certainly strength of schedule is important and we want to do that. But the University of Georgia was doing this long before this formula became the measuring stick it is now.”

For Dooley and most other Georgia fans, it’s not about all that.

“I think it’s great and am really glad that it will finally happen,” Dooley said. “To me, it’s very natural (to play Notre Dame) and I think it’ll be great for both schools. Georgia’s tradition with Notre Dame includes (former coach) Harry Mehre and bunch of other coaches from there back then. It’s good news for both institutions.”