Sunday, December 4
"Look at the sugar falling from the sky! . . . "
Mmmm . . . SEC championship.
Oh, boy, that was some good stuff. Made all the sweeter by getting to watch it with a good friend who's a former UGA flagline member (hottest flagline in America, and don't you forget it) in a roomful of (mostly) UGA fans. Obviously the ideal situation would have been to be in the Georgia Dome, or barring that somewhere in the Atlanta metro area, but if neither of those is an option, there are worse places to watch UGA kick LSU's ass than Birmingham, Alabama -- they may not give a rat's ass about Georgia over here, but boy, do they hate LSU. All night long after the game, at my friend Kathleen's 30th birthday party, I was getting high-fives and stacks from Alabama and Auburn fans whose attitude could be summed up in two words -- "Thank you." The one sour note was sounded this morning by Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, who had to spread his big ol' smelly case of sour grapes all over the front page of the sports section by throwing around all this evidence supposedly making the case that Auburn is in fact the SEC's best team, and not-so-subtly pushing the attendant implication that Georgia is just a bunch of special-needs kids who dumb-lucked their way into having an SEC championship trophy lobbed into the open window of their short bus as it passed through Atlanta. To which Hey Jenny Slater officially responds: Whatever helps you sleep at night, Kev. (I had a much longer rebuttal written up in my head, but fuck that, I got Sugar Bowl tickets to start shopping for.)
Obviously I'm happy for the whole team, but there are two guys I'm happiest for. The first, obviously, is D.J. Shockley. As everybody and his brother has already pointed out by now, he was as loyal as they come, waited patiently for his turn under center, and when he finally took the stage in his senior season it was generally thought that with the Bulldogs having to do a fairly sizable rebuilding job, Shockley would have to be happy leading the Dawgs to third, maybe second, in the SEC East and going to Dallas or back to Tampa for New Year's. But later on, it became clear that both Shockley and Georgia were the real deal, and at that point people started wanting more (I know I did) for Shock. After a point, you kind of started thinking that Shockley shouldn't have had to wait as long as he did for anything other than an SEC title, and I'm hugely, massively, burstingly proud of him that he got it. For once, a nice guy finishes first. Congrats, Deej. Now go get drafted by either the Redskins or the Falcons so I don't have to pout quite so much about not getting to have you for three more years.
The other guy I want to put on my shoulders and carry for a victory lap around the Southeast, or at the very least around Five Points and buy him a steak at Highlands, is DeMario Minter. He went through some real rough patches in his early career at Georgia, getting beat on some coverages but more often just making some silly, unthinking rookie mistakes, and it absolutely hurt my soul to watch him get pelted with penalty flags in last year's UGA-GT game. But the kid has been on like Donkey Kong ever since kickoff against Boise State three months ago, making the interceptions nobody bothered to make last year, throwing down some truly lock-down interference-free coverage, and just basically becoming one of the best (maybe the best) cover corner in the conference this year. I wasn't sure if he could top his performance last week taking Calvin Johnson out of the game, but maybe he did against LSU last night. And it's been a truly gratifying sight watching him go from the little-brother type who screws up but you pull for him anyway to a truly talented, bad-ass player who's bringing his best stuff on every last snap.
There was tons of other stuff to love about this game, mainly the fact that all the stuff we usually do lousy we did great against the Tigers -- first and foremost being catching f#@!ing passes. And I need to single out Sean Bailey for some props here too, because those first two touchdown passes, those were the kind of passes that earlier in the season made your face fall even before they'd reached the top of their arcs because you were thinking, "Shit, I bet we drop this." But #4 redeemed himself and then some. We also tackled like the fricking Baltimore Ravens, bringing people down in situations where they used to break free, leveling fools behind the line in situations where we used to let them slip out for at least two or three yards. And whereas for most of the season we weren't even in the same time zone as bringing pressure on punts, we actually blocked one Saturday night -- I mean, seriously, can anyone remember a single punt we blocked since Boss Bailey was terrorizing people back in 2002? -- and made LSU pay.
I want to single out two specific plays purely for my own amusement, the first being the Dwayne Bowe fumble that didn't get called in (if memory serves) the second quarter. The refs called Bowe down before the ball came out, replay showed he clearly wasn't, but a whistle-happy ref blew the play dead for some reason before the play was over so it couldn't be overruled. Look at the picture below and you'll see (albeit not from the absolute best angle) precisely why Bowe wasn't down: No part of his body other than his feet were touching the turf when the ball popped out -- not even his ass, which was planted squarely on Tim Jennings's helmet at the time. I really, really wish that had been called a fumble so that I could give props for Jennings putting his head in, uh, just the right place at the right time; as it stands, though, I can still make "Down by contact, my ass!" jokes until the cows come home. (Yes, thank you, thank you. I'll be here all evening. Remember to tip your waitresses.)
Excuse me, sir, but I believe you're sitting on my head.
I can, however, give Jennings mad stupid props for his so-long-thanks-for-playing pick-six in the fourth quarter, and here's a story I promise is true: When LSU ended up deep inside their own territory on that drive, Mary Beth the Hot Former Flagline Member and I were talking about how similar Jennings's victory-sealing pick against Georgia Tech the previous week had been to Tim Wansley's Q4 interception against Tech in 2001 that went for a touchdown and basically iced the game for the Dawgs. "What I'd really like to see," I told her, "is for Jennings to do something like that here -- just jump right in front of a pass like he did against Tech, buh-pow!, and run it back for a TD." Two plays later, that is exactly, precisely what happened. Forgive me, but it was amazing. Matt Flynn may be a promising QB, not to mention the fastest white guy in the SEC, but he stared at his intended receiver so long he'd be in violation of anti-stalking statutes in several states, and you don't want to do that with Jennings lingering about, as Reggie Ball will be only too happy to tell you.
So. Was this win sweeter than the one in 2002 against Arkansas? Yes and no -- certainly there's nothing like breaking a 20-year title drought, and doing so with what was probably the most talented and most stand-up bunch we'd had since the Herschel days. But we were certainly fighting longer odds to get this one, which makes it kind of a big deal in its own right. And in spite of how many games Georgia has won since Richt took over, I think we still needed this one to silence some of the doubters who were itching for the opportunity to write Georgia off as a flash-in-the-pan or a not-quite-top-tier team. For my part, my biggest worry, beyond a single W or L or bowl berth, was the fact that if we didn't win this one, we'd be tiptoeing dangerously close to (forgive me) Braves territory, where we win one title and then spend every year after that winning a bunch of games and coming thisclose to another one but always managing to wilt before clinching the big time. I think this win pretty much takes care of that, at least for a while. Because if we can take home the hardware even after all the rebuilding we had to do coming into this season, I think it's safe to say Richt has the program in a position where anything is possible. We may not win the conference title every year, but we're never going to be in a position where we have to say "Yeah, it's just not going to happen" before the season even starts.
Hey, you held 'em under 80 . . . now turn that frown upside down!
In other news, Southern Cal and Texas apparently got tired of everyone what-iffing about losses by the nation's only undefeated teams, because both of them delivered performances Saturday that were basically the football version of "Uh, yeah, I don't fricking think so." Somewhere Katie Hnida, in particular, is still grinning from ear to ear about the anal violation Gary Barnett's team received at the hands of UT. I mean, I want to see Georgia get a shot at the national title just as much as the next Bulldog fan, but when all is said and done in 2005, I'm quite willing to sacrifice a UGA Rose Bowl berth if it means I won't have to watch the Dawgs get eviscerated on the field by either the Trojans or the 'Horns. I'm not being negative, I'm simply being realistic. There's USC and UT and then there's everybody else, and while that does have the unfortunate effect of allowing the BCS to skate for another year, I don't think anyone can make a plausible case that anyone other than those two deserves to even come within 100 miles of Pasadena this season.
On the subject of humiliations, Virginia Tech suffered a particularly stinging one in the first-ever ACC championship game, which I mention only because my sister was down there in Jacksonville watching the carnage with my VT-alum aunt and uncle. Rest assured I was text-messaging her with score updates throughout the Georgia game, one of which she responded to with the startling revelation that FSU has a male baton twirler in its marching band. The Georgia Tech Flag Boy can now rest his head peacefully at night, knowing he's no longer the gayest person in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Whoo, what a day, what a weekend. The Simpsons-vs.-college-football post is still blowing up the spot, so I'll probably throw a few more teams in there at some point, but no apologies to the Ohio State fans, whom I think were the maddest of any fan base at the "Simpsons" character I compared them to. Especially no apologies to the dude who assumed I was an Auburn fan -- dude, WTF? (I will extend a small olive branch to my cousin Mike, an OSU student -- sorry, all in good fun, didn't mean anything personal by it, now enjoy your Fiesta Bowl bid and bugger off! Kisses!) Keep your suggestions coming, of course, I've seen some great ones. And if you're a single female college-football fan who thought that post was just the funniest thing ever, come on, you can leave a picture and a phone number. It ain't gonna hurt nobody!
And I guess that's all I have for now, except to leave y'all with this . . .
Shockley sez: I got your "rebuilding season" right here.