Wednesday, December 19

The 25 Biggest Plays of the Mark Richt Era, #14:
The world's shortest pick-six.

#9 Georgia 13, South Carolina 7
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.


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.


Josh M. said...

I remember that moment well. I was at the game ...... in the bathroom. Still pissed about that one.

Anonymous said...

This is great. Dying to get to 1/1/08 and see the hounds one more time... In the meantime, I don't know what to do. The countdown here helps.

duff said...

Wow. Good heads up playing by Pollack to recognize that the ball was there and to hold on to it on his way down.

JasonC said...

I was shooting that game from the ground level and through the viewfinder, I completely missed it. I was ready to follow the pass or the deflected pass, so I started to move with what I thought would be the trajectory of the ball and then I didn't see it and then went back to see what happened and I thought Pollack had recovered a fumble. I had to wait to see the replay before I saw what happened. It is still one of the most amazing plays I have ever seen.

And that game was crazy- tying you stomach in knots crazy.

Anonymous said...

I was actually in the endzone seats for this play. We all thought it was actually a safety, and the official just had the wrong signal.

Also- didn't USC's game-ending fumble happen on 3rd down?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's too much to say that this play might be the most splendid kick-in-the-stomach interception I have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Doug, I have to acknowledge that you are doing all the work on this series, and I am truly grateful for the enjoyment it provides; however, this play really ought to be closer to #1, imho. I know it may not be the most crucial play to the Dawgs recent successes, but at the same time, it is a play that has probably never happened before anywhere and probably won't happen again, anywhere. Not only that, but the SEC officials got the call right the first time!!!! What are the odds of seeing that happen again, huh?

It's also great because it highlights an attitude that most of our 2000 teams have displayed since then: a hard-working, motor running, play-with-your-hair-on-fire attitude. To me, that's one of the biggest differences between the 2000s and the 1990s. Several years ago I was going to the Ramsey center to workout. It was the very last day it was open before the Christmas break. I was patting myself on the back for going and maintaining my program even this late in the year. As I am leaving, thinking I might be the last one there until the new year, here comes David, workout towel in hand, ready to put in another session and basically having to be dragged out of there, I am sure. The plays are nice, but the attitude is what brings the plays in the first place.

Hobnail_Boot said...

I was actually smack-dab in the middle of the SCU student section that day, and from there it looked like a safety. We couldn't really see the refs and didn't realize it was a TD until we saw Billy Bennett trotting out there for the PAT. None of the SCU students around us were mad because they were too shocked. Amazing play.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was going to die in the upper deck of Williams Brice that day....the crowd wasnt moving fast enough to get out of the storm and we were stuck about 25 rows up because there wasnt enough room undercover so good thing the lightning never hit us- especially since we were standing in water. thing to point out about that game that I remember in the growth of CMR and how he evolved as a head coach...he had told Powell that he was going to get the 3rd carry/series or something like that...sure enough he ran in there and fumbled the first time when we had the ball within the 10...I think CMR learned that he was going to stop saying publicly when a RB would play or what series Shockley would play and rather substitute by feel.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

The game-ending fumble happened on 4th down. 4th and 2 on the UGA 4. Both that unforced fumble and this Pollack play are pretty high up there in the Bizzaro World edition of this countdown--25 Worst Gamecock Plays of the Past 8 Years. That list is long and distinguished, like my johnson.

DAve said...

Yeah, that storm sucked. Josh and I had to trundle up 40 flights of steps in pouring rain to... oh wait. Sorry, no, we were in a completely enclosed luxury box drinking someone else's bourbon and mocking George Rogers during the delay.

Josh, you had about as much of a clue of what happened from the bathroom as I did, and I was watching the game.