Yours truly was on a press bus to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6, 2014, the night Auburn and Nick Marshall, the quarterback who’d played cornerback at Georgia, would meet FSU for the final BCS title. Two journalists sitting behind me were running down teams apt to win big the next season. Georgia was mentioned – and dismissed. “Georgia is always overrated,” one said.
As good as Georgia could be, as many 5-stars as it signed, something always got in the way. The 2007 Bulldogs lost two regular-season games and were ranked fifth in the final BCS ratings; LSU lost two regular-season games and won national title. Florida under Urban Meyer had three 10-win seasons; in two of those, his Gators became BCS champs. Georgia under Mark Richt had nine 10-win seasons but never made reached a national championship game. The Bulldogs beat Auburn nine times over 11 seasons; in the two exceptions, the Tigers played for the BCS title.
Nick Saban alit in Tuscaloosa in 2007, giving the Bulldogs – borrowing a word invoked by a reporter during a Zoom session last week – a new bogeyman. (Saban expressed unfamiliarity with the term.) Four times over nine seasons, the Bulldogs led Bama by double figures in some sort of championship game in Atlanta; four times they lost. Georgia was favored in both meetings with the Crimson Tide this season. The first saw it lose 41-24. The second brought deliverance.
Monday’s victory changed every dynamic about Georgia football. Had it beaten Cincinnati for the title, those primal doubts about not being able to handle Saban and Co. would have lingered. Had the Bulldogs lost yet another championship game to Alabama, the noise regarding Kirby Smith’s loyalty to Stetson Bennett would have risen to a sonic boom.
Sure enough, Bennett’s fumble enabled Bama to nose ahead with 10:14 remaining. Yet another collision with the Tide was tracking its inevitable path. Fittingly, it was the much-derided Bennett who flouted precedent and dashed all fears. Georgia scored the game’s final 20 points, its quarterback throwing two touchdown passes. After Kelee Ringo returned his interception to score in the final minute, Bennett wept happy tears.
Theron Sapp is forever remembered as the Drought Breaker for scoring the touchdown in 1957 that ended UGA’s eight-year losing streak to Bobby Dodd’s Tech. Bennett and Ringo and Adonai Mitchell and Brock Bowers and their many mighty teammates did more than snap a dry spell. They brought home the only trophy that matters. If this program hasn’t always been where its supporters believed it should be, it is now.