The "Blackout," Georgia-Auburn, November 10, 2007.
Let me say this for Georgia fans: When a favor is asked of us, we are obliging. You could tell the "Blackout" was a success long before the game actually started -- save for the orange-clad Auburn fans crammed into the northwest corner and the third tier, it was a sea of black, from old guys in black leather jackets to sorority girls (who would be very cold by the end of the night) in what amounted to black cocktail dresses. If the seniors, who had requested the Blackout to begin with, wanted some sign that the fans were behind them, they got it.
And then the players themselves took the field.
The long-rumored black jerseys make their debut.
I don't recall Sanford Stadium ever having gone quite as bat-shit crazy over any not-actually-game-play-related event as they did when the Bulldogs burst out of the tunnel in the black jerseys. And I'll be perfectly honest with you here: Ever the curmudgeon, I originally thought the black jerseys were a baaaad idea. We'd tested karma once with the end-zone celebration against Florida, and I was terrified that black jerseys would be the gimmick that finally made the Fates decide they'd been tweaked one too many times by the suddenly saucy Mark Richt.
A few minutes into the third quarter, it was looking like I might've been right. We'd gone up 17-3 a few minutes into the second quarter thanks to a couple of achingly beautiful deep passes from Matt Stafford -- you owe Sean Bailey a steak at the Last Resort Grill, young man -- and you could've forgiven some of us for thinking that a two-touchdown lead over Auburn, at home, qualified as "comfortable." But then Georgia abandoned the deep passes in favor of some overly cute screen crap that Auburn jumped on in a hurry, the defense bent just a little more than they needed to, and the refs decided Georgia needed to be punished for their black-clad insolence if they so much as breathed on an Auburn player -- and after a wrenching Stafford pick and a quarter or so of 11-on-17 ball, the Dawgs were suddenly behind, 20-17. Momentum? Auburn was soaking in it, and it looked like we were once again going to find a way to make the home field a disadvantage once again, all logic, motivation, and black outfits notwithstanding.
But then Bobo 86ed the fruity screens and decided it was time to bully Auburn's secondary again, and Matt Stafford eagerly jumped on that game plan like Britney Spears on an open bar: forty-five yards to Sean Bailey (another steak, good sir!), followed by a bewildering 24-yard Knowshon Moreno run to paydirt (him too!), and all of a sudden we were romping again. Once listless and sinking, we were suddenly scoring points as fast as we could make Brandon Cox cough the ball back up to us. In less than two minutes of game time, we'd gone from certain doom to doing the Soulja Boy on the sideline and daring Auburn to get pissed about it.
All you heard was "Poppa don't hit me no mo'."
I've been to a bunch of Georgia games over the years, but I'd need a second to recall one that was as much fun as this one. You had the loudspeakers playing "Back in Black"; Moreno and Thomas Brown Soulja Boy-ing it up at any and every opportunity; the crowd laughing hysterically at Sonny Perdue's Jumbotron exhortation to "protect Georgia" by not flushing toilets (followed by a shot of a line of students with "CONSERVE WATER!" painted on their naked torsos); and, from what I hear, a Georgia coed making her parents indescribably proud of her by getting her "Knowshon Moreno is on my to-do list" sign onto CBS's nationwide broadcast for a few precious seconds. All in all, it was almost like a Homecoming atmosphere, and not just because of the 25-point margin of victory. (On that note, it'll be interesting to see if the "Fire Willie Martinez"/"Hire Will Muschamp" factions come out of their holes at all this week now that Muschamp and his supposedly impenetrable defense have been pistol-whipped to the tune of 417 yards and a 45-spot by a bunch of underclassmen.)
If I had fun, though, the players must've been having a blast, hammering a notoriously frustrating rival in front of a boisterous, 92,000-strong crowd blacker than Dick Cheney's heart. There were certainly times earlier this season when the team didn't appear to be having all that much fun -- the South Carolina and Tennessee games being only the most obvious examples -- but the past three weeks have seen a team transformed. Not just a team, but tellingly, a coaching staff.
It was almost exactly one year ago that we saw a figurative light go on over the head of Matt Stafford and the rest of the team: Instead of desperately flinging passes to anyone and everyone and giving leads away as fast as we could build them, we got smarter, we got more confident, and we reacquired our killer instinct. In the past few weeks, I think we've seen another light go on, only this time it was for Mark Richt and the coaching staff. For a long time they've been rightfully lauded for their unflappable sideline demeanor, but over the past season-plus we've seen that calm conservatism occasionally manifest itself in some negative ways -- tight-assed playcalling designed to protect leads rather than build on them, players taking the field with a pulse so imperceptible you almost had to wonder whether they'd been ordered to go flatline, aggression-wise. But at some point during this season -- I think it was during the Vanderbilt game -- Richt and the coaches decided it was time to unclench. In the second half against the 'Dores, Richt and Martinez actually took it upon themselves to yell, scream, and even make physical contact with their players. Against Florida, of course, we had the end-zone fiesta. And now we've got black jerseys and "Soulja Boy." Gimmicky? Perhaps -- and I can already hear the Tech fans decrying it as such -- but Richt and his staff have discovered that a team of robots, a team that can't have fun in their work, is no team at all.
Richt v2.0: Now with facial expressions!
That's the thing we need to remember here: The end-zone celebration didn't beat Florida. The black jerseys didn't beat Auburn. A team that was having too much fun to remember that they weren't supposed to beat Auburn at home or beat Florida period won those games. And it figures that in this everything-you-know-is-wrong season -- in which Michigan loses to App State, USC loses to Stanford, Notre Dame is helpless, and Kansas is a juggernaut -- those kinds of trends and streaks would get shoved aside like a cornerback on the wrong end of a Knowshon stiff-arm. This team found a way not to care that they'd only beaten Florida twice in the last 17 years, or only beaten Auburn at home once in their last seven tries, or hadn't taken down Florida and Auburn in the same season since Herschel Walker was on the team. In that sense, this team has knocked a lid off the program in a fashion nearly as emphatic as a previous set of Bulldogs did when they stormed to an SEC title back in 2002. If trends as daunting as those are suddenly out the window, then what's to stand in the way of a team already this talented in 2008 and 2009?
Knowshon replies: "Well, not you."
That's the big question, and I'm growing more confident daily in the answer. So I guess the only other questions are these:
Now that we've gone black, will we ever go back? and
Can I have a black #4 jersey for Christmas?
Also having a good time:
· Tim Tebow, who ran for five freakin' touchdowns against a South Carolina team that will need every last bit of pull Steve Spurrier still has with his master, the dark lord Satan, just to finish the season with a winning record. God, how badly do I want that Georgia-South Carolina game back right now? Usually we're lucky to get SC early in the season because they start off shitty but get better as the year goes on; this year they started off fantastic, and at 6-1 actually looked like they'd make that trip to the SEC title game that Corso said they wouldn't make in a million years, but they've laid nothing but turds on the field ever since. Look at Georgia's offense now (40+ points for three games straight), look at South Carolina's defense (average of 42 points given up over the last three), and tell me the 'Cocks would be able to hold Georgia to 12 points in a quarter, much less the entire 60 minutes.
· Barbara and Clark Gillett, who got to follow up a 50-inch, plasma-rendered viewing of Georgia's big win with their alma mater handing a Biblical 48-0 beatdown to the hated Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl's not-so-grand finale. Honestly, after a game like that, I think Miami's Powers That Be should steal a page from communist China's book and have a 50,000-strong workforce dismantle the place in a single night, then deny it ever existed. I guess Al Groh was getting really tired of hearing people talk about how he could only beat teams by one point apiece.
No word yet from Lamar Thomas on whether the Hoos are allowed to come in the OB talking that stuff, though I guess it's academic at this point.
· Sylvester Croom and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who inspired the following thorny questions in the wake of their second straight win over Alabama: If someone loses to State but the coach doesn't get fired over it, were they still Croomed? Or is it a Crooming anytime an SEC coach loses to the Bulldogs, but if he gets fired as a result, we then say he was mortally Croomed? And if MSU actually turns out to be good, can we still use the word "Croomed" at all? Will we have to start saying "He got Zooked" instead?
If the answer to the first question is still "yes," then that was one expensive Crooming.
· Birmingham News columnist/Auburn fluffer Kevin Scarbinsky, who is making some mad serious bank over at the paper, because he can afford the kind of drugs that allow him to believe Auburn lost because they were distracted by the Tuberville-to-A&M rumors. I mean, that's the only possible explanation, right?
Just don't suggest to senior Quentin Groves that reports of Texas A&M trying to take away Tuberville had anything to do with it.
"We put it to the back burner," Groves said. "He's our coach, and as long as he's at Auburn right now, he's our coach. We're not going to entertain any Texas A&M talk."
It is entirely possible, of course, that Georgia is simply a better team than Auburn. . . .
Whoa, let's not go crazy there, Kevin! You had such a nice little analysis going before you decided to bring, you know, talent and gameplanning and all that other irrelevant crap into it.
· And, finally, Jenna . . . a tailgating machine.
Grippin' and sippin' for the big game.