Stop. It's not funny anymore.
As Ann and I were driving to Tuscaloosa Sunday afternoon, we took stock of what a horrendously godawful sports year this was turning out to be. Georgia is having the kind of rebuilding season in which "rebuilding" means "so lousy you lose to Vanderbilt"; Virginia is having the kind of kind of season in which "rebuilding" means "getting cracked by Western Michigan on Homecoming"; Alabama and UAB both apparently suck; the Redskins are struggling; the Braves missed the postseason for the first time in 15 years. I was prepared to say that the Falcons were the only remaining bright spot in my sports firmament, but they just got finished getting drilled by the fucking Lions. At the rate I'm going, everyone on my fantasy football season will end up on IR by New Year's, the plane carrying the Gym Dawgs to a meet in Utah or wherever will go way off course and crash in the Andes, and Marian Hossa, the star right wing for the Slovak national hockey team, will get kidnapped by the Russian mafia.
But as bad as everything else is, the mediocrity of the Bulldogs has of course been the most frustrating, and the loss to Kentucky showed the reason why in glaring Technicolor: For the first time since maybe my freshman year at Georgia, I don't look forward to football games anymore. Even in the darkest days of the Jim Donnan era, you knew deep down that, even if they weren't being coached up properly, there was still a ton of talent on the team, enough that maybe, just maybe, they could knock off Auburn or Tech or whomever based on that alone. This year, it's a Festivus-caliber feat of strength to believe that a team that has lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky has a chance in hell against anybody else. I mean, it's not inconceivable that the Dawgs are actually the worst team in the SEC at the moment. Can you tell me with any degree of certainty that Georgia would be a lock to beat Mississippi State, Ole Miss, or, God forbid, South Carolina if we had to play them again this weekend? Yup, me neither.
And thus ends, if only temporarily, the era in which Georgia could expect to beat any team they played. Thus begins the era in which Georgia fans, if only temporarily, get to experience what life is like at probably the majority of the other programs in the nation.
Is there crying in football? There is if you're me.
I had an odd epiphany Saturday as I was watching the national scores scroll across the screen below the Tennessee-LSU game -- in fact, I remember specifically that it was the Kansas-Iowa State score that did it. I remember thinking, How is Iowa State losing at home 41-3 to Kansas? I mean, Iowa State is certainly no juggernaut, and certainly not this year of all years, but neither is Kansas; they've lost to Toledo this year and beaten UL-Monroe by only two points, for crying out loud. Anyway, it just seems like, as an Iowa State fan, you should be able to walk into your stadium on a given Saturday without thinking, "You know, guys, I'm really worried we're going to get ass-raped by Kansas today." But maybe not. I mean, what the fuck do I know? For the last five years (really, longer than that) I've been spoiled by being a fan of a team that didn't have to worry about that. We wouldn't necessarily win every game, but we would win every game we were supposed to win, steal a few that we weren't, and win a couple SEC titles in the process -- and never, ever get embarrassed. I mean, we'd lose some games, we'd play lousy in some games, but we would never walk out of a game humiliated.
But not everyone has that luxury, you know? And I think that only really sunk in when I saw that Iowa State score. If you're Iowa State, you have to allow for the possibility that you're going to get blown out by Kansas. If you're Michigan State, you have to account for the possibility that you're going to be down 35 points to Northwestern one week, execute an awe-inspiring comeback, then get annihilated by Indiana the very next week. If you're New Mexico, you apparently don't even get to view Portland State as a gimme.
I was able to ignore how the other half lived up until now, when we were winning SEC championships and finishing in the top 10 on a regular basis. But Bulldog Nation can't ignore it anymore, because this season, at least, we're just like everybody else. We're not trolling Temple/Duke/FIU depths yet, but we're not elite this year by any stretch. We're losing games we used to be able to take for granted and finding out that games we used to be able to half-ass, we can't half-ass anymore -- and sometimes our best effort isn't even enough. Instead of wondering how many points we're going to beat somebody by, we're wondering whether we can beat them at all. We're doing the same things that 99 percent of the rest of the country has to do. We're the sheltered suburban kids who get lost in the big city and find out that not only does nobody else get a 4Runner for their 16th birthday, some of them don't even have enough to eat.
Notice I said this year -- I'm confident that, just as Tennessee rose impressively from the ashes of a 5-6 embarrassment, we can do the same. But there's gonna be a lot of angst before we get there. Better prepare for it now, Dawg Nation.
Ninety percent of these rappers are very soft.
I think I've made it clear that I'm not one of those people who thinks this automatically portends numerous lean years for Georgia in the near future. Tennessee endured a humiliating season last year but is now probably better than they've been at any point since Tee Martin graduated. Michigan lost to a number of supposed doormats last year but is basically a game away from a national-title shot at this point. So if you're one of the people who are exploiting this one bad season as a way of demonstrating that Mark Richt is the wrong man for the job and the whole program needs to be cleaned out, you need to raise up off Richt's nuts and accept the fact that not every team gets to be OMG aw3s0m3 every single year.
But I will say this: Just as the fans are finding out that life isn't as easy as they'd been led to believe it would be, the coaches are finding out the same thing. While I don't think Mark Richt is a bad coach, he hasn't done a terribly good job this year, and I think it's because he's gotten just as spoiled as the fans have. When your first five years are blessed with All-World superstars like David Greene, David Pollack, and
But I don't see people doing that -- not amongst the coaching staff, not amongst the players, not in a house, not with a mouse. written about it before, but Richt's legendary poker face is starting to become more hindrance than help in these kinds of situations; now, I know that Oregeronian nuclear sideline antics just aren't his steez, but if that's the case, then I think it's time to find himself a new assistant or two who can be that guy. It's common knowledge now that part of the reason Tennessee and Michigan are doing so much better this year is because their head coaches cowboyed up, sloughed off some dead weight, and brought in genuine motivators where the team needed it -- and Richt had better be prepared to do the same once 2006 mercifully comes to an end. Does that mean giving Willie Martinez the heave-ho? I don't know enough about his style to make a judgment, but that certainly seems to be a popular course of action amongst everybody else I know. Does it mean hiring a real offensive coordinator? Dunno, but even if they decide not to go the Rick Neuheisel route, I gotta think there are better people for the job out there than Neil Callaway, a major part of the reason our OL corps is looking as decrepit (and as underpopulated) as the Ninth Ward at the moment. Does it mean dumping WR coach John Eason? Ummmm . . . there I'm going to answer "probably." Unless you can find me a single other BCS-conference program where this many dropped passes would be tolerated.
This is not a good look for me.
An increasingly popular question in Bulldog circles right now is whether the likely 6-6 Dawgs should accept a bowl bid when one is offered. The pro-bowl people say any bowl game is a good bowl game (even if it's in Boise or Shreveport), it's extra mo for the conference, and it's extra practice time for the players; the anti-bowl people say this Georgia team is just so worn out and emotionally devastated that subjecting them to an extra game (and the attendant possibility of a losing season) would be almost cruel. There's a part of me that actually leans toward that second point of view, but at this stage of the game, I think I can honestly say I don't care. Whether the season lasts 12 games or 13, I'm at the point now where I'll just be glad when it's over.
Everybody playin' here:
· I don't want to sound like a sore loser, and far be it from me to take anything away from the jubilation of the Kentucky faithful, but seriously, kids -- tearing down the goalposts? For beating this Georgia team? That's like waiting around for a celebratory Gatorade bath just for getting a first down.
Come on, now. You're better than that.
· When Georgia got tagged for 51 points by Tennessee a few weeks ago, we at least had the comfort of knowing that it wouldn't be the biggest story of the weekend because Auburn had been courteous enough to get humiliated on their home field by Arkansas earlier in the day. My home state once again provided a helpful diversion from the Dawgs' struggles, as Alabama was kind enough to get embarrassed by 2-7 Mississippi State. This won't come as earth-shattering news to anybody, but Mike Shula just vaporized any leeway he had for the 2007 season; at this point he probably has to beat Auburn and win the West Division just to keep picking up a paycheck. I mean, for Sylvester Croom to make his first trip back to the school that passed him over for the head-coaching job (and his alma mater) and win that way . . . if you saw it in a movie, you'd be calling it the cheesiest piece-of-crap film you ever saw.
· While the Cheerleader Curse technically has been broken, its effects continue to linger. Even though Wisconsin broke the curse on October 28, they still had to mount a 20-point second-half comeback against Illinois, a 21.5-point underdog. And on Saturday, top-ranked Ohio State -- 24-point favorites over Illinois and alma mater of Cheerleader of the Week Tara Warrens -- had to survive the Illini 17-10. So alls I'm saying is, watch your back.
And wipe that smile off your face.
· I know I dogged the Redskins at the very beginning of this post, but they did beat Dallas today thanks to maybe the most stupefying final five seconds of football I've ever witnessed: Tied at 19, Dallas drives down to the Washington 18, Mike Vanderjagt sets up for what would be an easy 35-yarder, but the field goal is blocked, 'Skins recover, and as Sean Taylor is running it back he gets face-masked by a Dallas player, so he gets 15 yards tacked onto his return. And because the game cannot end on a defensive penalty, the 'Skins get one free play with 0:00 left on the clock -- a 45-yard field goal. Which they make. On the basis of that, Hey Jenny Slater brings you what we always do about this time.
Hail . . . to the Redskins
Hail . . . vic-to-ry
Braves . . . on the war-path
Fight! . . . For old D.C.