This is the day of days, and so the telling begins.
Douglas Coupland, Microserfs (1995)
Looking back, there were all kinds of signs it would be a special day. Baby sis and I spent the weekend down in Columbus, and on most weekends like that I would sleep late (which for me is about 8 a.m. or so), roll downstairs in my jammies and nurse a cup of coffee for the next couple hours, but this morning I went out to run with Pops and set a new personal best in my ongoing quest to work up to the Peachtree Road Race next year. And then Clark Gillett did something quite unlike anything I've ever known him to do in 29+ years of being his son: He went out and bought a 50" Panasonic plasma-screen TV. And the very first thing we watched on that TV was Georgia's upset win over the Gators on Saturday.
Even then, though, I wasn't expecting anything special from the game. Even when the very first play from scrimmage resulted in Tim Tebow getting dropped like a sack of potatoes nine yards behind the line. Even when Roderick Battle punched the ball out of Kestahn Moore's hands and Asher Allen ran it back to the Florida 39. Even when Georgia crept closer and closer to the end zone, every single play on the ground, I was thinking, What's going on here? They don't really think they can keep this up the entire game, do they?
But then The Celebration -- and yes, I'm capitalizing it that way because it's going to be remembered capitalized, just like Run Lindsay Scott or The Prayer on the Plains -- happened. I didn't even realize it at first; I was too busy jumping around the room like a maniac and traumatizing my poor dog by throwing her up in the air. When I sat back down, there were players all over the field, and at first I was thinking, Aw, fuck, how'd we manage to get in a fight already? But then it turned out to be a big bench-clearing party at midfield, and the rumors that it was a planned event were confirmed when Tracy Wolfson asked Mark Richt about it as he headed into the locker room at halftime -- with a 21-17 lead -- and he replied, "I told 'em if they didn't get a penalty for celebrating after the first score, I was gonna be mad at 'em."
The Celebration has already been discussed, and will continue to be discussed for the rest of the season and possibly afterward. It was called "courageous" by Kirk Herbstreit, "foolish" and "desperate" by the AJC's Terence Moore. Not surprisingly, Georgia partisans have mostly given it the thumbs-up, while Florida fans, even less surprisingly, were more than a little bit pissed. My sister thought it was awesome; my dad had a worried look on his face, saying it was an incredibly reckless thing to just hand Florida whatever field position they'd get from the Dawgs kicking off from their own seven and a half (where we ended up after not one but two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties following the TD).
But it was a tremendously ballsy move that should forever erase any notion that Mark Richt doesn't have the temperament, passion, or sheer fire in his belly necessary to be the Dawgs' head coach.
For 17 years, not coincidentally starting with Steve Spurrier's tenure as the Gators' coach, Florida had been the dicks in this rivalry. I'm not saying that to whine or ask for sympathy; deep down, there's actually a little admiration in that comment. Florida began imposing their will on Georgia early in Spurrier's regime, and it didn't take long before the Gators realized they could pretty much do whatever they wanted to Georgia and the Dawgs would be powerless to do anything about it. Referring to our coach as "Ray Goof"? Sorry, you'll just have to sit there and take it. Dropping "half-a-hundred" on the Dawgs in their own stadium just to prove it could be done? You'll just have to take that too, and good luck ever returning the favor, since the home-and-home was a one-time deal and the game is headed right back to Jacksonville next year. Reggie Nelson publicly trash-talking Mo Massaquoi last year on the field? Don't bother me, little boy, I got a national-title game to plan for. And on and on. They were the dicks in this rivalry because they could be the dicks; you win 15 out of 17 and you can pretty much do anything you want . . .
. . . As long as the other team lets you, of course. And for 15 out of 17 years we'd let them, but Mark Richt, may there be peace upon him, decided we weren't going to do that anymore. Instead, we were going to be the dicks -- we were going to be so dickish we'd exchange 15 yards (OK, 22) for the privilege. We were going to be huge dicks and challenge Florida to do something about it. They got angry, oh yes they did, but apparently they got 12 points less angry than they needed to.
Sucks to be you, I guess. And please, Gator fans, let's have no more of this Melanie Wilkes hand-wringing over the end-zone party, OK? Y'all have whupped our asses for the better part of 17 years, and now, after one win -- no, one touchdown -- you all of a sudden want to bust out the fainting couches and complain about what big naughty bullies the Dawgs are? Save that melodrama for the Commodores this weekend, kids. You guys still worship at the altar of a former coach who turned opposing-coach-tweaking and score-running-up into an elaborate form of performance art, but one excessive celebration turns Mark Richt into Ernst Stavro Blofeld? Un-bunch your culottes from your righteously indignant asses and calm down -- and yes, we'll still sleep soundly tonight with big smiles on our faces whether you like our coach or not.
Weren't expecting that, were you?
Now, it's too early to declare the rivalry back on even footing. Yes, after years of losing with demonstrably better teams, we finally won one with a team everybody thought wasn't as good. Yes, 3-of-18 notwithstanding, we've actually split the last two. Yes, we've figured out how to score on the Gators for the first time in eons. It's not going to mean a whole lot if we lose next year and everyone says, "Well, back to the same old Georgia."
But I think a strong case can be made that we're not the same old Georgia, not as far as this rivalry is concerned, at least. In 1997 and 2004, we won with seniors at quarterback, other offensive skill positions, and several critical spots on defense. This year, we had seniors at . . . where? A couple on the offensive line, one receiver, and a couple guys in the secondary. Oh, and our kicker. Everyone else was either underclassmen and first-year starters. But now that they've solved the riddle for beating Florida without having to wait until their senior years to do it, who knows what else they might be capable of?
And who knows what else this coaching staff might be capable of, now that mild-mannered Mark Richt has gone into the phone booth and come out of it a bare-knuckle badass with a pair of titanium-plated testicles? The coach I chided earlier in the season for meekly accepting a blowout loss to Tennessee has turned into the guy who will walk up to you, knock the books out of your hands, and then dare you to do something about it. Mark, you just might be on to something with that "game-planning energy" thing -- go get 'em, coach.
Take 'em to the mall, pimp.
And go get 'em Dad, who in the face of long odds and a weirdly-shaped family room, stood tall and said, "Fuck it, I don't care that we don't really have a wall big enough to hang it on -- we're going plasma, and we're going big."
Mark Richt and R. Clark Gillett Jr.: Real men of genius.
Everything else that happened on Saturday was secondary, of course, but in case you're interested . . .
· The Cheerleader Curse deals another team a suckerpunch to the gut, and this time it's the South Carolina Gamecocks, who, after losing to Tennessee in OT, need Vanderbilt -- Vanderbilt! -- to lose another conference game to have a chance of winning the East Division.
As for the rest of the division, Georgia and Tennessee are now tied for first place (with the Vols, of course, holding the tiebreaker), but here's where it gets interesting. Obviously, Georgia needs Tennessee to lose another game, but if they do and the Dawgs win out, Georgia goes to the SEC title game. And even if Georgia loses to Auburn or Kentucky, they still have a chance if Tennessee loses to Kentucky or Vanderbilt, because then there'll be a three- or possibly even four- or five-way tie at the end of the season, and . . . damn. November's gonna be fun, isn't it?
· With about four minutes left in Thursday night's Boston College-Virginia Tech game, VT leading 10-0 and Boston College not having mustered any consistent offense to speak of, I muttered, "Well, looks like this one's over" and got ready to take the dog outside to poop before I turned in for the night. A few minutes later, Boston College had scored two TDs and beat the Hokies 14-10. Needless to say, that taught me, and I made no such pronouncements on Saturday, toward the Dawgs or anyone else.
· Wofford Terriers update: Wofford nearly blew a 37-3 halftime lead against the Western Carolina Catamounts on Thursday, but unpuckered in time to corral WCU's final on-side kick, run out the clock, and secure their seventh victory of the season. At 4-1 in the Southern Conference, Wofford has 6-2 Georgia Southern and 2-6 Chattanooga on the schedule and, thanks to an upset loss a couple weeks ago, need Elon to lose to either Furman, the Citadel, or Stony Brook down the stretch to win the conference title.
· At any rate, there was a price to be paid for all of the weekend's awesomeness, and it was the Washington Redskins getting sodomized to the tune of 52-7 by the already-anointed Greatest NFL Team In The History Of Ever, the New England Patriots. I'm real glad I'm not a betting man -- or, rather, that I'm too poor to be one -- because I would've seriously thought of putting some money on the 'Skins and the points in that one. Hooray for having no discretionary income left at the end of the month!
Aw, shit. Well, at least it wasn't the Falcons.