Thursday, November 10
AU, Get Off Of My Cloud: A Southern Gothic drama in eight parts.
Georgia-Auburn '96: "You're a funny man, Robert Baker - that's why I'm going to kill you last."
Simply by virtue of being an old, heritage-rich program in a region where college-football passions run hotter than probably any other part of the country, Georgia has been blessed (or cursed) with a whole slew of rivalries that could be considered "big time." Which rival you hate most fervently kind of depends on where you're from; now, I don't view Auburn as our biggest rival, but as someone who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, right on the Alabama border and less than an hour away from the Plains, I sort of have a special place in my heart for the rivalry.
My high school always sent a bunch of kids to Auburn and a bunch to Georgia, and we'd always talk shit to each other, even before we went off to our respective schools. While UGA kids are quite secure in their knowledge that Athens kicks Auburn's ass as a college town, I've spent many an insanely fun, usually intoxicated weekend in Auburn hanging out with longtime friends and staring, jaw hanging to the ground, at the coeds there. (Sure, I'm a Georgia homer and will be until the day I die, but I'm man enough to admit that Auburn and Ole Miss are every bit Georgia's equal when it comes to the quality of the women.) And I've been to the Georgia-Auburn game every year without fail since 1997; it's the one game I make a special effort to get to even if I can't make it to any others. There's just an atmosphere around it that I enjoy; unlike Florida or Tennessee, the rivalry is one where the respect and camaraderie mostly outweigh the hate (at least from my perspective).
This weekend's Auburn-Georgia tilt is the most vital to Georgia's season hopes since the 2002 game in which we clinched the SEC East title for the first time ever. I thought I'd go back and remember a little something (when possible) from each of the eight previous Georgia-Auburn games I've been to, because there's always been something that stood out in my memory. Occasionally it's been something that would be better off repressed, but . . . well, that's SEC football for you.
November 15, 1997: The first bitter (and scalding hot, tobacco-redolent) taste of failure.
(#11 Auburn 45, #7 Georgia 34)
I can already see this is going to be a tough project, because for this game, as with so many others, I was so drunk I don't remember a whole lot. I do, however, remember being so hammered I put the lit end of a Macanudo in my mouth while we were tailgating, and right in front of the hottie from my philosophy class I wanted to ask out, no less. There was a frenzy surrounding this game because we'd just beaten Florida for the first time in forever; two weeks later, we were still so stoked over that victory that we wrote "FLORIDA SUCKS" on our tailgating vehicle and "SPURRIER SWALLOWS" on the other. That truck, incidentally, was a Blazer that my friend Temperance's roommate had purchased just a few days before -- it was red with black lower-body cladding, shit you not. We thought it was a sign. It was, but only of our overconfident asses about to get taken down a peg or two. Or fourteen. The Dawgs rocketed right down the field on the first drive and did pretty much squat after that; this was about the coldest game I've ever been to in my life, so we weren't anxious to stay for the whole thing, particularly when Auburn got up 24-7 in the second quarter. I think we left right before Georgia scored to come within 10 points right before halftime, but it didn't end up mattering. We scored on the very last play of the game to get to 45-34, and they didn't even let us kick the extra point. Not that it would've mattered anyway, but still, bastards.
There are two ends to a cigar. The end pictured here, as it is not red-hot and smoldering, is the one best suited to be inserted into your mouth. Just trust me on this one.
November 14, 1998: A vulnerable Auburn gets drunk, taken advantage of, and left crying on the sidewalk.
(#18 Georgia 28, Auburn 17)
Given that Auburn has outscored Georgia by only a single point over the totality of this 100-something-year series, an 11-point win over the Tigers would seem to be kind of a big deal. But this was the year that Auburn went 3-8 and the very Campbell's-Soup-kid-esque Terry Bowden threw in the towel and said "no mas" halfway through (replaced by his D-coordinator, historical footnote Bill Oliver, who supposedly helped plot his ouster to begin with), so we should've been able to beat Auburn by 11 with our bench. As it was, we did one of our patented UGA play-to-the-level-of-the-opponent sleepwalks, but even that was good enough to drop 527 yards on the Tigers, including an 80-yard pass play from Quincy Carter to Michael Greer (which was about as good as life would ever get for either of those guys) on the very first play from scrimmage after Auburn got their first touchdown. The game wasn't especially thrilling otherwise, and it poured rain for most of the second half, but I always relished the chance to go to Auburn, ogle the chicks, and annoy the shit out of my old high-school friend Arlana. When my friend Jon and I straggled back to her apartment after the game, the first thing we did was make a giant super-G out of beer cans right outside her front door (how many beer cans, you ask? Uh, we lost count after 30), and when her next-door neighbor complained about it and all the noise we were making, we responded by assing his doorknob. Oh, the good times you can have if you refuse to mature past age 12.
November 13, 1999: The one time in my entire life I was happy to go back to Lynchburg.
(Auburn 38, #16 Georgia 21)
Every time I tell someone my first job out of college was working at the daily paper in Lynchburg, their eyes light up and they're like, "Oooh, Lynchburg, Tennessee?" No, sweetheart, not Lynchburg Lemonade Lynchburg -- I'm talking Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Lynchburg. Kind of changes the whole meaning right there. Anyway, I spent most of my first six months in the 'Burg getting the hell out and going to Charlottesville or to ballgames all the way down in Athens, and I fully expected my first Georgia-Auburn game as a Georgia alumnus (as opposed to student) to be a gala boot party for the 4-5 Tigers. Instead, I drove all the way from fucking Lynchburg to Athens just to watch Auburn beat Georgia down like the fax machine in "Office Space," racing out to a 31-0 halftime lead and eventually pushing it to 38-0 before they switched on the autopilot and let Quincy score a few comfort TDs. That was a bad year for Georgia's defense -- we thought we'd scored a major burn on Tennessee by hiring away their defensive coordinator, Kevin Ramsey, but Ramsey turned out to be what I can only guess was a Big Orange sleeper agent who cursed Georgia with probably the most sievelike D we'd had since the Ray Goff era. Complete nobody Ben Leard somehow laid waste to our secondary for more than 400 yards; that may have been what I was most pissed about, since I had it on good authority from my Auburn friends that Leard was a total douche, but it didn't matter.
I don't know that I've ever heard Sanford Stadium as quiet and dead as it was that night -- between the eerie silence and the absolutely diarrhetic performance put on by our team, which had clearly fooled some people into thinking it was top-25 caliber, this was as close to a nightmare as I've ever experienced in waking life. We could only sit there as the very full moon hung over our heads and feel sorry for the people in our group who were Georgia seniors left only with this as their last memory of a Sanford Stadium home game. For weeks after the game, even my Auburn peeps were like, "Dude, we have no idea what the fuck happened."
If the choice is a year with Lynchburg's Favorite Son or seeing the Dawgs down 38-0 to the Tigers, I'll still take this jackbag.
November 11, 2000: Once again, the Leard has forsaken me.
(#23 Auburn 29, #13 Georgia 26, OT)
One of the more ubiquitous storylines in the Georgia-Auburn series of late has been the Curse of the Non-Existent Home-Field Advantage -- from 1992 to 2002, the home team won only once. So I figured that in '00, Georgia would exact their revenge for the previous year's humiliation, and when Terreal Bierria turned around a Ben Leard pass for a 75-yard pick-six midway through the first quarter, I thought it was on like Donkey Kong. "Eat it, Leard," I said to myself, which warmed my vindictive little Georgia heart even as I sat freezing my tits off up in the northeast corner of Jordan-Hare's upper deck. Georgia went up 13-0 before Auburn receiver Tim Carter got his central nervous system rearranged by a hit from Tim Wansley right before halftime; the game was delayed nearly 20 minutes while Carter was examined and ambulanced off the field, but that injury apparently lit a fire under the Tigers, whose field goal as time expired in the second quarter was the first of 23 straight points they proceeded to lay on us. Cory Phillips, thrown into the game at QB because Quincy was hurt, succeeded in bringing us back and forcing overtime, but we could only manage a field goal in the first OT; Auburn, on the other hand, rode Rudi Johnson (who'd been raping and pillaging us the entire night) down to the 1 yard line and then popped Leard over the top for the TD and the win. Punked by The Leard Almighty once again. I can't promise y'all with any certainty that if I ever see Leard just walking down the street, I won't just go Michael-Douglas-in-"Falling Down" on his ass right there and get arrested. I'd like to, but I can't.
Phillips has provided effective, stimulant-free relief of constipation for over 125 years; unfortunately, it has never beaten Auburn.
I was, however, able to console myself with a certain irony concerning Phillips and Auburn's backup QB, Daniel Cobb. Cobb had originally been a Bulldog but was beat out by His Quincyness for the starting QB job before the '98 season; he decided to take his ball and go home, or rather to some community college in Kansas, where he (and, incidentally, Rudi Johnson) were bogarted by the Tigers on one of their patented JUCO raids in 1999. Cobb wasted no time taking a comfy back seat to Ben Leard, and thus saw no playing time against Georgia in the '00 game. But Quincy's backup, Phillips, played every down. So if Cobb had just stuck around Athens instead of transferring, he would've probably been the starter against Auburn in that game. Not that I'm complaining; Cobb was, to steal a phrase from Homer Simpson, one of the suckiest quarterbacks who ever sucked. Yet he somehow managed to finagle approximately 39 years of eligibility out of the NCAA and is probably pounding Ensures at the old QBs' home with Chris Weinke as we speak.
November 10, 2001: Dear Mark Richt, If "Jasper Sanks" is the answer, it was a stupid question.
(Auburn 24, #21 Georgia 17)
Next in the long history of Georgia getting punked by lesser-ranked Auburn teams is the 2001 game, Mark Richt's first meeting with Auburn as the Dawgs' new head coach. This game featured one of David Greene's finest moments, nay, one of the finest moments for any college quarterback ever -- first quarter, less than a minute into the game, Dawgs at their own 33, Greene appears to hand the ball off to Musa Smith, then strolls casually back to about the 25. Only thing was, he still had the ball. The most beautiful, perfect fake I've seen in my life -- the entire Auburn defense bit on it, the coaching staff bit on it, I'm pretty sure people in China bit on it. You could've checked your e-mail, gone into the kitchen, microwaved a pizza, and come back to the TV in the time it took Auburn to realize Musa didn't have the friggin' ball. At one point Tommy Tuberville was actually screaming at his players from the sideline to get the fuck up off Musa and go tackle Greene. But Greene turned around just in time to see the entire Auburn D bum-rushing him and launched a breathtaking 67-yard cruise missile to Fred Gibson for six.
I (and pretty much everyone else in the stadium, Auburn and Georgia fans alike) thought the game was in our hands at that point, but a 14-7 halftime lead degenerated into a 17-14 deficit by the start of the fourth. Sixteen seconds left, Dawgs down by seven, no timeouts left, a beautiful reception by Terrence Edwards has us at the Auburn 1, and Mark Richt calls . . . a Jasper Sanks run up the middle. Not that this was Jasper's fault, mind you, but you got to dance with them that brung ya, and the one that brung us to a 5-2 record, an upset of Tennessee, and a top-25 ranking in Richt's first year was David Greene -- not Jasper Sanks, a Columbus (w00t) product who went from Parade All-American to pot-possession charge to dismissed from the team so fast his "Behind the Music" special would be shorter than the commercials. I got to watch Richt's epic brain fart from the vantage point of the very end zone Sanks was trying to bust into; Georgia tried to line up for one more shot but didn't have enough time, and thus the game ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Knowing the astronomical pickiness of the typical Georgia fan, somewhere in Bulldog Nation there's a guy (one of those old-schoolers who will never be satisfied until Vince Dooley is brought back as Georgia's head coach) who's sitting there waiting for Richt to be fired for bringing us only one SEC title in his first four years as coach, and in the unlikely event that that happens, the Sanks run will be the moment he holds up on his blog as what he just knew was "the beginning of the end" for Richt.
A rare shot of the Pride of Columbus managing not to get stuffed at the line.
November 26, 2002: With all due respect to the birth of Jesus...
(#7 Georgia 24, #24 Auburn 21)
...this was the greatest thing to have ever happened, ever. Yet as with so many of my football-game-watching experience, it began by putting on a slinky red dress, sidling up to the bar, and flirting shamelessly with the handsome but darkly mysterious gentleman named Disaster. My sister's then-fiancee, an Auburn student, had hooked me and two of my Georgia friends up with tickets to the game, but they weren't all together, and we weren't sure whether we could get away with trying to sneak everyone into the same section. As it turned out, the chaos at Jordan-Hare that evening was such that we probably could have brought a keg, a couple strippers, and a truckload of illegal Mexican immigrants into our section without arousing any suspicion, but Kristen and Mark still ended up sitting on the complete opposite end of the stadium from my sister, her fiancee, and me. It was overcast and wicked cold that day, and by the end of the first quarter it was probably even more frigid than the '97 and '00 games; there was a hellacious wind battering us in the upper deck, which only added to the Ice Station Zebra ambience. The first half was a stomach-turner -- with Terrence Edwards hurt, our offense didn't do much of anything, and we were staring at a 14-3 deficit at halftime. The Auburn fans surrounding us looked at my red-and-black-clad sister and me and smelled blood; they had been good and riled up by Auburn's first-half dominance, and when the concession stands ran out of hot chocolate during halftime, the mood, as they say, turned from angry to fearful.
Georgia finally mustered some offense and came back in the second half to pull within 21-17, but the fourth quarter was one of the most awe-inspiring, agonizing, tense trench battles I've ever witnessed. Auburn, three-and-out; Georgia, three-and-out; lather, rinse, repeat. Then, finally, Georgia moved down to the Auburn 14 but got hung up by three incomplete passes and a false-start flag. Fourth-and-15 from the 19, minute and a half left, it's either get the first down or lose the SEC East title we'd thought was ours all season long (and to Florida, no less). The play was called 70-X-Takeoff: David Greene drops back, he's going for everything, and he gets it -- a 19-yard pass to Michael Johnson in the corner of the end zone, touchdown. My sister's fiancee later began referring to it as "70-X-Pushoff," but face it, Auburn's Horace Willis just plain jumped too early and fell on his ass (earning him a 0.1-point deduction from the Swiss judge). We then stopped Tre Smith at the Georgia 43 on Auburn's last-gasp drive, and that was it: We'd clinched our first-ever SEC East title, and I don't know that I've ever felt as good leaving a stadium as I did that day. Just as Georgia grads from the early '80s tell their kids about being in Jacksonville in 1980 to witness Lindsay Scott Lindsay Scott Lindsay Scott, I have a feeling I'm going to be regaling my own kids with the story of "the prayer on the Plains."
70-X-Takeoff: Learn it, love it, live it.
November 15, 2003: Dude, you're getting Odell'd.
(#6 Georgia 26, Auburn 7)
This, you'll recall, was the year in which Auburn was anointed as a preseason juggernaut by everyone and his brother (including The Sporting News, who ranked them #1) but proceeded to do a face-plant right out of the gate, scoring a total of 3 points in their season-opening games against USC and Georgia Tech before finally getting their heads on somewhat straight. Still, even though Georgia was a top-10 team coming into this game and Auburn was 6-4 and not top anything, I was worried -- the game was at home, where we'd not performed particularly well against the Tigers in the past, and since annihilating Tennessee up in Knoxville earlier in the season, we'd put together three godawful offensive performances in a row (ugly win at Vandy, squeaker homecoming win over UAB, the customary loss to Florida). Our offense in this one was satisfactory as opposed to amazing, but our defense straight-up posterized Auburn and their supposedly unstoppable RB combo of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown; of course, this was mainly due to a dim-bulb coaching staff that gave them only four rushes in the first half for a total of 6 yards. Kind of ironic when you remember that Tommy Tuberville (who, if he were a flavor of ice cream, would be pralines and dick) had needled Mark Richt about perhaps "running the ball more" after Richt's head-slapper of a play call to end the 2001 game.
Georgia entered the fourth quarter with a 19-0 lead, but Auburn made it down to the 2 yard line about four minutes in; however, their last chance to score points that would've mattered was stopped by Odell Thurman, who snatched Jason Campbell's pass out of the air at the 1 and rumbled 99 awe-inspiring yards for the fuck-you touchdown that for all intents and purposes ended the game. (Which was actually the second time that season that we'd taken a turnover and reversed it more than 90 yards for a score.) Paul Westerdawg and The Drizzle are quite accurate when they recall the Georgia crowd as being louder for Odell's pick-six than it's perhaps ever been; the place was already aircraft-carrier-landing-deck loud when Odell picked off the pass, and by the time he was in the opposite end zone, corpses were getting out of their graves at Oconee Hill Cemetery telling us to quiet the fuck down. (By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the "you're getting Odell'd" line was stolen from my fellow Bulldog DAve, who is quite often cleverer than I.)
November 13, 2004: Uh, apparently we don't want beef with Tubby.
(#3 Auburn 24, #5 Georgia 6)
Ugh, hell of a way to end this thing. I've already gone on at length about how this was an awful game I knew we were destined to lose about five minutes in; really nothing else of note to say about a game in which the unstoppable Auburn juggernaut laid waste to the Dawgs just like they did to everyone else that year, so I'll simply look back fondly on the fact that I was at least able to bring a smokin' hot ex-New Yorker to Auburn with me and give her her very first taste of an SEC gameday, and leave it at that. While, of course, hoping that the outcome of this weekend's game is nothing at all like last year's.
So I guess the final tally for this retrospective is Auburn 5, Georgia 3 -- not great. But maybe we'll be able to inch a little closer to evening the score after this weekend. And if that results in me getting to console a carload of disenchanted Auburn Tri-Delts afterward, so much the better, just keep me away from the cigars.
By the way, now is probably as good a time as any to plug Kyle on Football, the red-and-black-to-the-core Weblog of fellow UGA alumnus T. Kyle King. Kyle is also a fellow alumnus of The Red & Black, the award-winning independent student newspaper at UGA -- he'd moved on before I really started writing a bunch of stuff for them, so there's a good chance he doesn't have the foggiest idea who I am, but his blog is still worth reading, especially if you're looking for exhaustively researched, stat-packed previews of each week's Georgia matchup. He runs the numbers so you don't have to.