For most of the day and night, there was hope. After midnight, when Alabama scored the winning touchdown, there was heartbreak.
University of Georgia fans sadly filed out of area bars and a campus watch party at Stegeman Coliseum in the early hours Tuesday. Many exited in tears, a stunning contrast from halftime when Georgia had the lead.
“It’s so silent in here,” said Emily Austin, 19, a sophomore from Douglasville, who watched from Stegeman.
One student tried to cheer up his classmates by yelling “Go Dogs!” A smattering of cheers followed, but it was quickly back to sorrow.
Austin, like some students, focused on the surprisingly successful season Georgia put together.
“We’re overjoyed just to be in this game,” she said. “They did the best they could.”
Freshman Markell Hardee offered a statement made for nearly four decades by UGA fans.
“Hopefully, next year will be the one,” he said.
Throughout the day, the mood was celebratory in Athens. Many partied like it was 1980, the last year Georgia won football’s national championship. Freshman Leita Williams even wore the same red sweatshirt for good luck that her father wore when he was a UGA student in the 1980s and the Bulldogs were among the dominant teams in college football.
How special would it be to bring home a trophy for another generation?
“It would mean everything,” said Williams, who grew up in Gainesville.
In downtown Athens, Bulldogs fans filled sports bars, making it a Monday night unseen in these parts in recent memory.
Bars weren’t the only ones showing the game. Local theatre Ciné uncharacteristically decided to host a watch party. Carina and Briana O’Sullivan, having just gotten off work at Creature Comforts, a local brewery, decided to head over to the theatre to watch.
“I could have gone home, but I wanted to go out and be apart of the Dog Nation,” Carina said.
The twin sisters graduated from the University of Georgia last year, and the championship-run football season made it hard to leave town, Carina said.
Nicholas Hulfeld grew up supporting the Dogs because his father is an alumnus of the university. Hulfeld, a Valdosta State student, drove up with a friend and watched the game in Athens since he couldn’t afford tickets to the national title game in Atlanta.
“I feel like Athens is the next best thing,” Hulfeld said.
On campus, classes began late Monday because of the threat of dangerous icy weather. A light, steady rain did little to dampen the excitement about the game. Nearly all of the university’s 37,000 students seemed to be dressed in Georgia gear. Some professors yelled “Go Dogs” during class, students said.
Some seemed to start the party early as classes were mysteriously missing students. Many students traveled to Atlanta for the game. There were hushed conversations about victory plans. Some students talked more openly about ringing the campus bell, a tradition for any major campus celebration.
UGA grad Katie Anderson, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees here in the mid-1990s, came to Athens with her family from Newnan to watch the game with additional family members at a sports bar downtown.
“I’m so happy to here,” she said, dressed in a gray sweatshirt with the Georgia “G” emblazoned across the middle.
Her two children, Will, 17, and Sarah, 12, of course, were wearing Georgia gear. Even her husband, Scott, an Auburn alum, wore a Georgia T-shirt underneath another shirt.
“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come,” Anderson said.
Correspondents Nate Harris and Victoria R. Knight contributed to this article.
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Freelancers Victoria Knight and Nathan Harris contributed to this article