Saturday, October 28
We're lying in the gutter, but we're looking at the stars.
When last the Bulldogs went down to Jacksonville to face archrival Florida and left with a disappointing loss, I remember walking around with this expression on my face, the expression of the guy who's just been dumped by the hottest, smartest, most wonderful girl in the entire world and is trying to wear a brave face but is secretly (or not-so-secretly) dying inside because he knows life's probably never going to be that good again. Last year we had to go into battle without all-singing, all-dancing, all-awesome starting QB D.J. Shockley (or J.D. Stokley if you're Lou Holtz), who was injured, and start Joe Tereshinski instead; in spite of the fact that we'd lost our most important player on offense, we battled valiantly against the Gators but still lost a heartbreaker, 14-10. Now, there are different kinds of heartbreaking games, and this was the kind where deep down you kind of wished Georgia had just gotten blown out from the get-go and lost by three TDs, so at least you knew the Dawgs had been outgunned from the very beginning and there was no point lying awake at night wondering what might have been. Instead, I found myself pondering all kinds of what-ifs -- what if Shockley hadn't gotten hurt, what if we'd let Joe T open up the offense just a little bit more, what if Martrez Milner hadn't dropped that first pass -- and feeling like the universe had just up and decided to align against me and my guys for one afternoon.
There are a million reasons why this past weekend's game should've felt the same way. What if Martrez Milner didn't drop all those passes? What if we didn't cough up that fumble that Florida ran back for a TD at the very beginning of the second half? What if we managed to keep them from getting a first down on that last drive? And yet I don't feel anything like I did past year. Maybe it's only because expectations have been so dramatically lowered compared to last season, but I watched the final seconds tick off the clock with a kind of sad smile on my face, feeling disappointed for my guys yet also close to burstingly proud that they'd fought as hard as they had in the face of overwhelming circumstances. There are those who would take the Steve Spurrier route and tell me not to applaud a team for good effort and for securing only a moral victory where they could've had an actual one, people who would tell me I should be booing the team for not winning instead of cheering them for almost winning, and maybe I'm a wuss for all that, but I'm still as proud of, and as hopeful for, my team as I've been probably since the South Carolina game.
Tony Taylor: One of those rare specimens who is both a player and crushes a lot.
First of all, let's throw out the first half, because it sucked. On second thought, let's not, because you have to have seen how dispiriting the first half was to realize what a feat it was for Georgia to rise up in the second half and mount their comeback. Hell, look at one of the very first plays of the second half for Georgia -- that Kregg Lumpkin fumble that was returned for a TD -- and consider how many teams would've thrown up their hands at that point and decided it just wasn't their day. Instead of doing that, Georgia shrugged it off and came within a late turnover or late Gator first down of possibly tying the game and, given the odds against them, accomplishing what would've been maybe the second most shocking achievement of the entire weekend.
Georgia's offense, which had struggled under a bewildering quarterback rotation all season long, fought back to put the team in a position to win. The defense, which had been tagged for just shy of 100 points over the previous three weeks and was underachieving to the point of inspiring widespread calls for the firing of an assistant coach, completely shut down one of the top offenses in the conference. We followed the Auburn blueprint and got pressure on Chris Leak, we held their running game in check, we finally laid down some decent pass coverage (though it helped that Florida dropped almost as many passes as we did) -- and we did it against the 8th-ranked team in the country.
If you can look at that and still come away with nothing but anger and depression, then roll with that, but I won't.
Last week, I said that in spite of the team's struggles and all the reasons there were to be frustrated, even angry, with their performance, I refused to wash my hands of them (or this season) because I sensed that there was a fire just waiting to be lit. In the second half Saturday -- probably the best overall second half of football they've played since UAB -- I think we saw that fire finally start to burn. In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, when we punted back to the Gators and stuffed their returner inside the 20, I saw the defenders jumping around and slapping each other on the helmet like I hadn't seen all season long, finally realizing how good it felt to not play scared. Matt Stafford, it goes without saying, showed flashes of the nerves of steel he'll need to be the title-winning QB Georgia recruited him to be. Instead of searching frantically for ways to lose games we should be winning, we were finally on the hunt for ways to win a game in which we should've been getting annihilated.
When was the last time you saw the Georgia defense this pumped?
In light of all that, I was surprised at the mountains of negativity I saw in the papers Sunday morning. The team that played Florida this weekend was by no means a great team, but neither was it the team that collapsed in the second half against Tennessee or the team that lost to Vanderbilt. I'll admit, there were times over the past few weeks -- particularly in the wake of the PTSD-inducing loss to Vanderbilt -- when my own confidence in Comrade Richt and the state of the Georgia program was beginning to flag; I started thinking that our problems went beyond mere growing pains or rebuilding and went deeper, possibly as deep as some overarching philosophy within the program. After the loss to Florida, as disappointing as it might have been, I don't feel that way anymore. Obviously some things need to be changed and some players still need to get better, but progress is being made. And Mayor Kyle, I think there's a downright terrifying team lying in wait for 2007, 2008, and 2009. Actually, even with this season I'm seeing promise that I didn't before. Instead of wondering if we're going to find a way to lose to Kentucky, I'm thinking we actually have a shot at victories over teams like Auburn and Tech that were looking like distant dreams a few weeks ago.
I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty from the doomsayers and boo-birds and fairweather fans who can only focus on the half-empty glass of the discrepancy on the scoreboard Saturday evening; let them talk. They'll have reasons to try and scramble back onto the bandwagon soon enough. If they're wondering where to find it, they can just look for me -- I'll be the one who's been riding on the back of it sipping George Dickel in my La-Z-Boy all along.
Which reminds me: I haven't referred to this game as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party even once, and someone who despises Michael Adams as much as I do should've taken care of that already. Anyway, I hope all my Georgia paisans who went down to Jax for the Cocktail Party enjoyed themselves, and even though I didn't make it to this Cocktail Party, I look forward to attending many more Cocktail Parties to come.
And I hope y'all got ripping, filthy, stinking, falling-down drunk.
Do it for Mike.
Building steam with a grain of salt:
When the day is long, and the night, the night is yours alone . . .
· Bristol, Connecticut, Saturday, October 28, 2006, 7:05 p.m.:
"Bristol 911, what is your emergency?"
"Uh, yeah, I -- I'm -- I think I've done something bad -- "
"What did you do, sir?"
"There's a lot of sleeping pills -- I took a lot of them."
"How many did you take?"
"A lot. A whole bottle. I don't feel too good."
"Did you take them on purpose?"
"Yeah -- yeah. I'm sad. I'm feeling sad. I've been pumping Southern Cal pretty hard lately -- I think they're still, like, the greatest college football team ever, in the history of mankind -- but they lost to Oregon State today, and I just decided there was no reason . . . no reason to . . . see, I thought they were -- "
"Sir, I'm really interested in listening to your story, but you're gonna have to listen to me first, OK? Can you tell me where you are right now?"
"ESPN studios, in a maintenance closet. On the college football set."
"OK. What's your name?"
"Mm -- Mark. I used to play offensive line for the Washington -- "
"OK, Mark, listen to me carefully, I'm going to send an ambulance to you right away. Just stay on the line . . . "
· Look on the bright side, Dawg fans (and Mark May): At least you're not the team that lost to Temple. Egad.
· Oklahoma (+2.5) pulling the upset on the road at Missouri: Check. Ohio State (-27) at home against Minnesota: Check. Texas (-12) on the road against Texas Tech, an unranked team that lost to Colorado . . . not so much. And thus disappears, as if by magic, the hundred-and-some bucks that was almost assuredly mine, all mine, in the Tent City weekly parlay. Dammit, Mack Brown, I could've used that money. To buy a new toaster oven, among other things. Shoulda put it on Notre Dame.
On the other hand, the Red Raiders' quick sprint to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter did lead to plenty of sideline shots of the TTU "bell ringer," and to many entertaining conversations inspired by my mom asking me, "Why are you giggling like that?"
I especially love the big grin on his face.
· Cheerleader Curse Watch: The curse is broken. Barely. It was Wisconsin's turn in the seat of doom this weekend, as Badger Ashley Pringle was selected Cheerleader of the Week by SI.com, and Wisky nearly followed the rest of 'em, down 24-10 at the half at home to a resolutely awful Illinois team. But they came back with 20 unanswered points in the second half to break the spell, so hats off to them.
· Finally, I promised the numerous Virginia Tech fans in my family that I'd give the Hokies their due props for continuing the ACC's bewildering chain of round-robin beatdowns and donkeypunching the Clemson Tigers this past Thursday night, 24-7. Here's hoping they deal an equally harsh blow to The U when they go down to Miami this weekend. A word of advice to the Hokies, though: To paraphrase Chris Rock, "If you're at the Orange Bowl and someone steps on your foot, let it slide."
Why get suspended for three games just because someone smudged your Puma?