Atlanta, Georgia, December 7, 2002
A 4-12 A19 Richie Butler punt BLOCKED, recovered by UGA Thomas Davis at the AR09, Thomas Davis for 7 yards to the AR02 (blocked by Decory Bryant).
Sadly, a lot of people currently remember cornerback Decory Bryant more for the lawsuit he filed against the Georgia athletic department for dropping the ball on his insurance policy right than for his exploits on the field. But those exploits were considerable -- before getting hurt, he was an integral part of a lockdown defense that limited opponents to only 277 total yards a game on the way to 11-3 and an SEC East title in 2003. And he made the play that permanently shifted the momentum of the SEC championship game in 2002 -- well, as much as you can shift momentum when you haven't even been playing three minutes yet.
Arkansas got the ball first in the 2002 title game, and after a four-yard rush by Matt Jones, an incomplete pass, and a six-yard sack by Boss Bailey, they were facing 4th-and-12 at their own 19. So it was a pretty great defensive series already, but it was about to get better. On the next play, as the Razorbacks snapped the ball back to punter Richie Butler, Bryant flew completely untouched around the right side of the Arkansas line and knocked the ball right off the end of Butler's foot. I was watching the game with a bunch of fellow Dawgs at my friend Kristen's apartment in Midtown, and we were jumping around like hyperactive five-year-olds on the jungle gym after Bryant's block. I was almost a little worried that we'd done lasting structural damage to the place.
Thomas Davis picked the ball up and took it down to the two, and one play later Musa Smith went in for the first six points of the game. By the end of the first quarter, the Dawgs led 17-0; at halftime, they were ahead 23-0; and by the time the clock hit 00:00, they had won their first SEC title in 20 years (and notched the second-biggest blowout ever in an SEC championship game). It was a beautiful night all around, and it started with Decory's big play. If anyone has any info on what he's doing now, let me know -- he had a promising NFL career ahead of him before he got hurt, and all acrimony with the athletic department aside, I hope he's doing well.