Monday, November 16
You've got a home here.
"Georgia Wins" on the Jumbotron, and Athens itself -- both sights for sore eyes.
I felt my eyes welling up not once but twice Saturday night -- the first time was when the lone trumpeter started playing in the southwest corner of the upper deck at Sanford Stadium and the highlight video started up on the Jumbotron. Hearing Larry Munson narrate the video, the crowd shout at the top of their lungs as "Baba O'Riley" started, seeing the team rush out onto the field, I realized it'd been more than a year since I got to see all that in person, and I realized how much I'd missed it; and I also realized that after months of variously expressing hope, despair, barely contained frustration, and a million other conflicting emotions over the state of our football program, there is still no better place to be on a beautiful evening in the middle of November than Athens, Georgia, surrounded by friends.
Bacarri Rambo: big-hitter, game-saver, hero. Get well soon, baller.
The second time came with less than a minute to go in the actual game, when Bacarri Rambo made his bid for folk-hero status by flinging himself at Mario Fannin at the goal line, knocking what would've been the tying touchdown pass away from him, and landing flat on his back and motionless. Whether he knew it as he was flying through the air or not, Bacarri was sacrificing himself to make the game-saving play in what might've been our biggest and most desperately needed win of the season. I hope everyone who was out there saying silent prayers for him and then chanting "RAM-BO, RAM-BO" as he was carted off the field remembers that guys like him are the ones down there on the field doing our dirty work; guys like him are the ones we're pinning our hopes on each week; guys like him are the ones who take the hit when we give into our temptation to lay into our own players and divine sinister motives for what they're doing or not doing on the field each Saturday. There will be time enough after this season is over to determine what worked in 2009 and what didn't, who's likely to be a major contributor to our success going forward and who isn't, but for right now I hope Bulldog Nation keeps that image of Bacarri in their minds and remembers just how much each and every one of our guys are risking out there just so that we might have something to be proud of the next morning.
Israel Troupe, hopefully the forgotten man in our receiving corps no more after making this catch.
In between those two emotional moments, of course, there was the usual roller-coaster ride of momentum being given away, snatched back, and changing hands many more times over before the final gun sounded; in a way, it did follow the early-season script I alluded to in my preview of the game -- go in a hole early, claw our way out of it, dangle the momentum in front of our opponents' faces and risk handing it back to them at least one more time before the whole show finally ends -- but with a couple of differences.
First of all, we didn't dig ourselves into the early hole with turnovers. Quite frankly, we dug ourselves into the early hole with abysmal play-calling on both sides of the ball -- seriously, you've got A.J. Green, the best receiver in the nation, and you're going to waste his once-in-a-generation talent on swing passes? You're gonna let Auburn convert three straight third-and-longs on the way to a second easy touchdown? And when we ended the first quarter down 14-0 in points and 145-5 in yards (needing a seven-yard run from Caleb King on the last play of the quarter just to sneak into positive territory), I'll be honest, I was giving serious thought to the prospect that I might not be there to see the second half start. But as the game unfolded and Georgia hunkered down, got their heads on straight, and clawed their way back from the early deficit, a funny thing happened: For the first time all season, we didn't commit any turnovers. Nor did we kill ourselves with penalties -- after a dumb offsides/false-start flag on each team's opening drive, we only committed two penalties the rest of the way.
Washaun Ealey, Knowshon's evil twin, says "So long, losers."
For all the nail-biting I'm sure we all did and all the opportunities we let whiz by our heads, it was a surprisingly clean game in that regard, and it gives me hope that someone or something is starting to sink in with our players. There's going to be a lot of soul-searching amongst our coaching staff once the season's over about why it took 10 games for all that stuff to sink in -- actually, 23 games, when you consider that last year's team wasn't exactly a paragon of excellence in those categories either -- but for right now, it's nice to be able to sit back and revel in something other than our program's uncertain future for a change. We needed this win in the worst way, and we got it thanks to a tremendous team effort from a bunch of guys who refused to give up.
All in all, except for the whole going-into-a-two-touchdown-hole-in-the-first-quarter thing, it was a weekend that couldn't have gone any better if I'd scripted it myself beforehand. I got to give Orson Swindle and Holly a taste of the Full Athens on a beautiful autumn day in which Athens the Georgia fan base put their very best respective feet forward. The tailgating scene was everything Holly had been told about and then some, and even Orson, a Florida grad rarely inclined to say anything nice about Georgia unless compelled to by crushing gridiron defeat and/or gunpoint, evidently had a blast:
So thanks to the city of Athens; the Georgia fanbase; the Tent City crew, especially Scott Hartman for being my ticket hookup; Holly and Orson; and, of course, the Georgia team and coaching staff for collectively giving me the best Saturday of the football season thus far. As Holly and I were sitting there in section 134, row 12, watching the Dawgs do a little post-victory dancin' in front of the student section, it occurred to me just how many of my most cherished Georgia football memories are from the UGA-Auburn rivalry; this was the 13th straight Georgia-Auburn game I've been to (and it was the day after Friday the 13th, no less), but it was anything but unlucky.
· I don't know how much comfort this will be to the more beleaguered segments of our fan base (and I certainly don't like that it's coming at the expense of Paragon SC, a guy I've met in person and love like a brother), but for what it's worth, Bulldog Nation, the whole "Has Our Coach Lost His Mojo?" meme is hardly exclusive to Georgia at this point. Pete Carroll arguably had a good bit further to fall, too, and it'll be an interesting (if perhaps not especially enjoyable) exercise to compare him and Mark Richt as they try to steer their teams through lower-than-expected bowl bids -- and, potentially, through thorny off-season dilemmas concerning the respective states of their defenses. As much as you might want Willie Martinez gone, folks, we at least haven't given up 55 points this season, to Stanford or anyone else.
That's Commitment with the stop; Integrity gets credited with an assist.
· While taking in as much of Florida-South Carolina as we could before heading down to the stadium, I noticed a Gamecock player with "Courage" on the back of his jersey, followed by one with "Service," and I remember thinking, "My, those South Carolina guys do have some cool, if unusual, last names" -- but then I saw the guy with "Commitment" and I was reminded that both South Carolina and Maryland were gearing up in special military-themed unis to mark Veterans' Day. Here's my question, though: If I'm the Wounded Warrior Project marketing guy tasked with pushing this idea, how thrilled am I that the two teams agreeing to wear the special jerseys are South Carolina, for whom November 11 is right around the point where their annual late-season slump is hitting terminal velocity, and Maryland, who at this point isn't making a run at anything other than the title of worst team in the ACC? Don't get me wrong, I have no beef with the idea in principle; I just hope that for the sake of our troops they manage to land two more inspiring teams next time around.
· Speaking of the ACC, big ups to Clemson and some other team for locking down their divisions' respective berths in the ACC title game -- but given how weak a draw that game has been even in favorable circumstances, how thrilled are the ACC bigwigs, really, that this is just gonna be a rematch of a game we've already seen? Will the Tech and Clemson fanbases be rejuvenated enough by their teams' apparent rise from mediocrity that they'll make the long drive down to Tampa, or will half the purchased tickets end up getting tossed like last time?
· UAB Blazers Watch: Don't look now, but dear old UAB is 5-5 after dispensing with Memphis and only needs one more win to earn the second bowl bid in the program's history. I kind of doubt that they'll get that sixth win against East Carolina this weekend, but I'm seriously considering heading back up to the Salty 'Ham on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to see if Black Tebow can nail down that sixth win at the expense of George "Master's Degree" O'Leary and the UCF Knights. Oh, how delicious that would be.
· Wofford Terriers Watch: A difficult season continued in its difficult-ness with a close loss to Samford. The switch to an option-based offense, clearly, has been a rough one for the Terriers, but they can end the season on a high note with a win at Furman this weekend.
· Cheerleader Curse Watch: The winsome Chelsie (above) did not manage to doom her team to a loss on Saturday, but the fact that her Minnesota Golden Gophers had to come from behind to beat DI-AA South Dakota State on a late field goal should prove that the Curse's powers have not disappeared.
· And finally, never let it be said that I don't keep my promises. Flag run, engage.