INDIANAPOLIS – If you thought Stetson Bennett was on point at the close of Monday night’s national championship game leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, well, he was only warming up. There was another press conference to win.

Nine hours or so later, sleep-deprived but riding the straight caffeine of victory and, yes, vindication, Georgia’s feel-good story of a quarterback went from winning the game to defining it. His gifts blanket the horizon. He can turn cynics into wide-eyed believers. Pound-for-pound and skill-for-skill, he can wring more from his position than anyone else who has ever played it at Georgia. And when the time calls for coloring in the greater meaning of a moment, that, too, he can do with fluid ease.

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Part pastor, part motivational model, part poet, and all the quarterback that the Bulldogs needed. There could not be a better face for the year that Georgia returned to the top after 41 years of climbing, losing a foothold and climbing again.

As the most outstanding offensive player in Monday night’s 33-18 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game, Bennett was run through one more press conference here Tuesday morning, along with his coach Kirby Smart and the most outstanding defensive player, safety Lewis Cine.

Bennett is almost as enjoyable to listen to as he is to watch play. Because it seems in all things the Mailman never mails it in.

So, when asked a question Tuesday about the moment he’ll most take away from championship night, Bennett did more. He became a voice for the emotion that surely every long-yearning Bulldogs fan felt (some quotes compressed for clarity):

“So, we go down, we score a touchdown. We get the ball back. We go down. We’re up by eight (with just over three minutes left to play). They get the ball back, and I’m walking on the sideline.

“Everybody’s pumped up, you know? And I’m telling everybody, hey, listen, be ready for two-minute drive to win the national championship. Listen, think about the numbers. Think about everything that you have to do.

“And then Kelee (Ringo) catches the pick (returning it for a clinching touchdown with 54 seconds left) and it just hit me. I’m watching on the big screen – I can’t see, I’m not that tall. I’m not looking on the field.

“I can’t describe the feeling. I tried not to put the Bulldog Nation on my shoulders because I can’t carry that weight. But when Kelee caught that pick – and I didn’t even see him score the touchdown, I just saw him catch the pick – it just lifted off my shoulders. I just started crying. The emotions just came over me.

“That was when it all hit me, the wave of emotion. I can’t describe it. I wasn’t expecting it. It caught me off-guard. But that was when it set in.”

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) eludes the tackle by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) and linebacker Christian Harris (8) during the third quarter at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) eludes the tackle by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) and linebacker Christian Harris (8) during the third quarter at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022.   Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) eludes the tackle by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) and linebacker Christian Harris (8) during the third quarter at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

When thrown a softball about the support he received back home in the South Georgia hamlet of Blackshear – which declared Friday “Stetson Bennett Day,” not that he knew it because as he said, “I had a pretty big game to prepare for” – he became the voice of small-town life:

“But I love that small town. That’s home, (area code) 912. It’s the best area code in Georgia by far.

“But Blackshear, I think there’s two, there’s probably four red lights. But it’s just every small town. Coach Smart (a Bainbridge boy) or everybody who grew up in South Georgia or a small town knows what it’s like to grow up in a small town. Everybody knows everybody.

“You make a mistake, everybody knows about it. If you’re successful, everybody knows about it. If you’re good to people, everybody knows about it.

“So, when you’re raised in a good family, in a small town, like I was, then you don’t know what the world is outside of that. But you do know once you leave there how to treat people. And I’m so proud of the place that I’m from and what it’s taught me. And I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

caption arrowCaption
The biggest momentsof the national championship game.Georgia receiver George Pickens catches a 52-yard pass in the first quarter.Alabama receiver Jameson Williams catches a 40-yard throw early in the second quarter, but injures his knee on the play.Alabama TE Cameron Latu explodes for a 61-yard catch and run to the Georgia 8-yard line with 6:49 to go in the second quarter. .Three plays later, Georgia's Channing Tindall sacks QB Bryce Young for a 13-yard loss, forcing Bama to kick a field goal. .The score at the half: Georgia 6, Alabama 9.Georgia intercepts a pass by Bryce Young with 12:05 to go in the 3rd quarter.Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter blocks a 48-yard field goal try by Alabama late in the 3rd quarter..Georgia RB James Cooks breaks loose on a 67-yard scamper late in the 3rd quarter.Georgia running back Zamir White scores on a 1-yard run three plays later, and the Dogs take the first lead of the game, 13-9.At the start of the 4th quarter, Alabama QB Bryce Young hit a 28-yard pass to Agiya Hall for a first down at the Georgia 5 yard line.A stout Georgia defense held, and Bama had to settle for another field goal.In a controversial call, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett is sacked as he appears to throw an incomplete pass; instead it's ruled a fumble.the ball is recovered by Alabama's Alab Brian Branch just before he steps out of bounds.Five plays later, Alabama takes the lead again on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young to Cameron Latu.On the ensuing drive, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett hit Adonai Mitchell for a 40-yard TD, putting Georgia up again, 19-18.A 15-yard touchdown pass to TE Brock Bowers puts Georgia up 26-18 with 3:33 remaining.Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo intercepts a pass by Bryce Young and returns it 79 yards for a touchdown to ice the game

When asked what gave him the most reason for pride Monday night, Bennett became the voice of the toughness that his coach built into the program, all the long workouts and strain and sacrifice that ultimately paid off in confetti.

“When I fumble on the 10-yard line and we give up a touchdown and we go back and we score two straight drives, that’s the reason. The toughness, the resiliency, the connection, all that stuff.

“You know, you kind of wonder why (he puts himself through the physical torture of preparation). But there’s a method to the madness of coach Smart and all the coaches who spent years and years in this industry and know how to mold young men.

“What all of the players in this program have gone through in the past has gotten us to this point. And you always wonder why are we doing this? And this is why.”

Because of COVID-19, Bennett has the option of returning for another season of the long strain for the few hours of game day. And it’s not like the NFL is likely to be clamoring for his services. That was the one subject on which he was mum Tuesday. He betrayed no leaning either way.

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Georgia bulldog quarterback Stetson Bennett arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after a 33-18 win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship. Tuesday, January 11, 2022 Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia bulldog quarterback Stetson Bennett arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after a 33-18 win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship. Tuesday, January 11, 2022 Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

caption arrowCaption
Georgia bulldog quarterback Stetson Bennett arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after a 33-18 win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship. Tuesday, January 11, 2022 Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It’s better for the program were he to ride off into the memory of Monday night and allow for the young and restless quarterbacks behind him to show themselves on the field. The pipeline could use a good unclogging.

And it’s probably better for him and his everlasting place in Georgia lore to bow out on this crescendo. He’s full, he’s sated, stuffed and can possibly get no fuller. The rebuilding that inevitably will take place in conjunction with losses all along the defense and throughout the offensive backfield can well be someone else’s job.

Still, don’t we all know by now that whatever decision Stetson Bennett makes, it will be the right one.

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