Alabama fans believe their team will win every game. Georgia fans grew up with Vince Dooley, the coach who could make Vandy sound like Lombardi’s Packers, and Larry Munson, the radio legend from whose golden throat seldom emanated an encouraging word. Even the most ardent Georgia fans were predisposed to be worrywarts.
But what of now? Georgia will play Monday night for a second consecutive national title. Do the fretters still fret? I asked the biggest fretter I know – Jeff Dantzler, the astute alum from Statesboro who does a daily Athens radio program and hosts pregame and postgame shows on the Bulldogs’ radio network.
MB: Has this team convinced you that worrying isn’t required?
JD: For those of us who grew up with Dooley and Munson, it’s definitely in our blood. We all know Georgia’s history of playing so many thrillers. The ‘82 team went 11-0 in the regular season, and we trailed in seven of those games. The blowouts we’ve had in the Kirby era are unique in Georgia football. I’m very worried about TCU. I think they’ve got a great team. Nobody at Georgia is taking them lightly, but maybe around the country (people are). If you put a Texas or Oklahoma helmet on them, they’d be getting a lot more respect. But I am confident going into the game. Winning it last year took so much pressure off the program. I’m not sure we beat Ohio State if we don’t win it all last year.
For me, this has been my most enjoyable Georgia football season. You could go through it without thinking, whenever one bad play happens, “Well, that’s going to cost us this game and we’re not going to get in the playoff and the national championship pressure is going to grow and grow and grow.” It’s been great to sit back and enjoy this journey.
MB: When Kenny McIntosh tripped over the 15-yard-line Saturday, you told me that, in years past, you’d have gone into doomsday mode. This time you didn’t.
JD: This team went out and, two plays later, we scored a touchdown. There’s so much (skepticism) in our DNA, but with what Kirby (Smart) has done here, we’re now expecting to win. Good gosh, we’ve won 32 of the past 33 games. Our longest winning streak ever is 17 – we’ve got two 16-game winning streaks sandwiched around that (2021 SEC championship) loss to Bama. So yeah, going in, having great respect for the opponent but expecting to win … it’s a great feeling.
MB: With nine minutes left in the national championship game last year, I thought, “This is what happens when Georgia plays Alabama.” Then Georgia scores the next 20 points.
JD: It was a wonderful, unusual feeling. (Laughs.) The way it went down, to score the last 20 points – it was one sword, two dragons. We won the national title and beat Alabama.
A big thing is when Kirby said in the summer, “We’re not going to be hunted here.” To go out and beat Oregon and play the way they did ... this team has proven from Day 1 they’re out to make their own history. It’s been an incredible ride, and that win over Ohio State is just an all-time great victory. I was thinking about this: Kirby’s got four playoff wins. We’ve beaten Oklahoma, Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State. That’s as blueblood as you can get.
MB: The only time I thought Georgia would lose Saturday was when Brock Bowers was marked short of the first down. That gets overturned. Ohio State doesn’t get the fake punt because Smart calls timeout. It doesn’t get the targeting call. Three huge first-down decisions broke Georgia’s way. I know you recall the officiating in the first title game against Alabama, where every call seemed to go the other way.
JD: It did. Think of what Alabama did to us in ‘17 (CFP final) and ‘18 (SEC title). We led Ohio State for a minute and 49 seconds. This team is going to fight you for the full 60. Even when other teams have had some success, nothing comes easy. They might score a touchdown, they might stop us, but it’s not easy. That’s a good sign for a great team.
MB: Of all the weird Georgia stats, the weirdest was that Alabama, in those two wins in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, never took a snap while holding a lead.
JD: You have to make that stuff up – the heartbreak and how gut-wrenching it was. After those two games, I was sitting there thinking, “Do you know how close we are to being national champions and SEC champions and going to the playoff again?” And now that’s where we are. It’s incredible. And it all starts with Kirby. He never let people get down. He’s always moving forward and looking ahead. During some dark times, my thought was always, “Dare to be great. We’ve got the resources to be the best program in the country.” And we’ve finally got our coach, and our coach believes the same thing our fans do, that Georgia can be the very best. And if we win Monday night, that’s some serious history there.
MB: What’s your score, sir?
JD: Before Ohio State, I picked 30-29. For this one, I’m going with Georgia 36, TCU 33.
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