Columbia, South Carolina, September 14, 2002
Play starts at about 0.42.
S 2-7 S07 Corey Jenkins pass intercepted by David Pollack at the SC0, David Pollack return 0 yards to the SC0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 13:58.
------------ 2 plays, 3 yards, TOP 00:46 ------------
Billy Bennett kick attempt good.
GEORGIA 10, SOUTH CAROLINA 0
Of course we all remember 2002 as the season when "the lid came off" and we won our first SEC title in 20 years, but before the title, before 51-7 and the big play at Auburn, before even the "Man Enough" game, we played some games that were -- how to put this gently? -- aesthetically less than pleasing. We escaped Clemson by the skin of our teeth in the opener and let New Mexico State jump on us 7-0 before finally waking up in the second quarter, and in between those two games we went to Columbia and played one of the weirdest games I've ever seen.
The weirdness started early -- about five minutes into the game, with Georgia leading 3-0, the game was halted for nearly an hour due to lightning strikes in the area. Whatever offensive momentum we'd established on our speedy opening drive apparently dribbled away during the lengthy break; we punted on the next drive, South Carolina muffed it, and on our very next play we fumbled it right back to them. When the fourth quarter started, we were still clinging to that 3-0 lead, and even that we were lucky to have, given that the Gamecocks had fumbled the ball away at the Georgia 2 a few minutes before halftime.
We started the fourth quarter by pinning SC deep with a punt, and on the Cocks' second play from scrimmage, Corey Jenkins received the shotgun snap in his own end zone. Jenkins scooted right and met up with David Pollack careening around the line, and just as it looked like Pollack was about to level him, Jenkins launched the pass -- but the second it left his hand, it hit Pollack's. And somehow, in spite of the fact that he'd just been rushing toward Jenkins at full speed, Pollack had the werewithal to grab the ball as it rolled down Jenkins's back. Jenkins was still looking quizzically into the sky wondering where the hell his pass had gone when Pollack hit the end-zone turf, the ball cradled safely in his arms. Touchdown, Georgia.
I watched that game on TV back in 2002 and have vivid memories of it, and I still had to go back and watch the YouTube of that play six or seven times to piece together what actually happened. But Jenkins's arm was moving forward, the ball left his hand, and Pollack did indeed catch the "pass" before it hit the ground -- so yes, it was an interception, not a fumble recovery, and it did end up being a touchdown, so it met the dictionary definition of what the kids these days are calling a "pick-six." Even if it did cover, uh, exactly 0 yards.
And boy, did we need it. Consider the ensuing sequence of events: On their very next drive, the 'Cocks went down the field for a quick score that cut Georgia's lead to 10-7, and then with just under three minutes left in the game, Georgia got bottled up inside the South Carolina 10 and had to settle for a field goal. Had Pollack not recovered the ball on the end-zone play, we would've been behind 7-3 at that point and probably would've had to go for it; even if Pollack's play had somehow turned into a safety, we only would've been ahead 8-7 after kicking the late field goal. Which meant that when South Carolina got all the way down inside the Georgia 5 on their last drive of the game, they could've simply kicked a field goal to win it.
Instead, facing a 13-7 deficit, they had to go for the touchdown. And on fourth-and-goal from the 1, South Carolina ran a toss sweep, and tailback Andrew Pinnock mishandled the pitch from Jenkins. Thomas Davis pounced on the ball at the 4, and the game was finally, mercifully over. In her postgame interview with Mark Richt, Jill Arrington specifically mentioned Pollack's interception -- and in the process mispronounced his last name as "Polack," as in someone who hails from the glorious nation of Poland. Richt, to his credit, took the trouble of correcting her on-air; if anyone has a YouTube of that, you gotta send it to me.
We didn't know it at the time, of course, but that win was integral to Georgia winning the SEC East that season for the first time ever; we lose that one and we watch Florida go to the Georgia Dome for the 539th time. That was also the play that turned David Pollack from a promising young recruit to a frickin' legend, one who would go on to win SEC Player of the Year honors that year, followed by two first-team All-SEC and three first-team All-America honors, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, two Ted Hendricks Awards, the Rotary Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and the Ronnie Lott Trophy, and then get picked in the first round of the '05 draft. Sadly, Pollack's NFL career basically ended with a serious spinal injury suffered in the second game of the 2006 season, but he's alive and well and running a successful nonprofit for at-risk kids in Cincinnati -- and I think it's safe to say he'll never have to buy another meal in Athens again.