I’ve been a Georgia Bulldog all my life. I’ve had other teams that I’ve enjoyed watching along the way but the Dawgs have always been my team. I have Red and Black coarsing through my veins. But I’ll be honest, it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s been hard work a lot of the time. My wife is a Dawg. My daughters are Dawgs. My nine year old is named Bailey, wink wink. And we didn’t even mess around with our youngest – her name is Georgia. There is no denying our heritage. We love our state and we love our home team. But sometimes I wonder how much our team loves us.Make no mistake, I am used to being disappointed with sports teams. I’m from Georgia. The Atlanta Braves won 14 consecutive division titles in the 90’s and early 2000’s. They have 1 World Series ring. The Falcons last made a Super Bowl appearance in 1998. And the Hawks? Well….Cleveland makes out like they have problems. They still have Ohio State and Lebron. My love for my team never falters but it’s not because they don’t test me.I started regularly attending Georgia games in 1996. There have been some good times. I was at the Outback Bowl beatings of the Big 10 and their studs Drew Brees and Ron Dayne. We’ve been on a nice overall run against the Nerds from the Tech School over that last 20 years. The Hobnail Boot was thrilling. As was Michael Johnson in the back of the end zone on the plains. But those highs have usually been equaled by excruciating losses. I won’t list them all but there are some that really stick out and will live with me at least until we get back to the promised land that has eluded us since 1980.1996 – This was my first true in person heart breaker. Ole Miss comes to Sanford Stadium with a 1-5 SEC record while the Dawgs are at 3-4. Neither team was very good but we did have Mike Bobo, Hines Ward and Robert Edwards. We held a 13 point lead at the half. Ole Miss dominated us in the second half and scored with 3:19 left in the game to take the 31-27 lead. From our own 1 yard line, Bobo hit a streaking Hines Ward who had an 8-10 yard head start on the Ole Miss DB. One of the top 5 all time greatest Dawgs was hawked down at the Ole Miss 16 yard line and they proceeded to hold us on downs. Ball game….as we exited through the visitors section, they rained down cups and popcorn and ice on us. I will never forget that feeling. It’s come back around a couple of times too.1997 – #7 UGA at 7-1, riding high off of a huge win over the hated Gators welcomed the #16 Auburn Tigers to Sanford. The welcome wagon didn’t stay out long. Dameyune Craig (yeah, it’s spelled right) put up 45 big ones on us and crushed our dreams of winning the East. The Tennessee Vols, our only other SEC loss won the east and went on to beat Auburn in the SEC Championship. I attended my frat SEC Championship game that year with my uncle, an Auburn fan. Talk about bittersweet.1999 – Auburn again. This time they were a paltry 4-5 with a terrible quarterback named Ben Leard. We were 6-2 with hotshot Quincy Carter. Another in person doozy as UGA laid a tremendous egg in the first half and trailed 31-0 at the intermission. We tried to make it a game but lost 38-21 and our season was sunk once again. Jim Donnan as our head coach was getting pretty old to me at this point.2002 – After a couple more mediocre seasons from Donnan, we brought in Mark Richt in 2001. He paid some quick dividends and led us to a 13-1 record in his second season, and subsequently an SEC Championship, during that same year. Here’s where it gets hairy, no pun intended. We lost to the #22 Florida Gators thanks to a weak overall and truly abysmal special teams effort, which came to be the calling card of the Richt coached teams over the latter years. We gave up 21 catches to Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight as a part of a 339 yard effort from Rex Grossman. And Mr. Billy Bennett missed a pair of second half field goals. Oh and Penn Wagers was the official. We eventually lost 20-13. That loss removed us from National Championship consideration. We finished 3rd that season and the only silver lining was a beating of FSU to close out the season. This may have been the closest we would get to a national championship game in the last 20 years, if not for what now feels like a tremendously long 5 yards in 2012. But more on that later.2004 – We started the season ranked #5 and reached #3 until we ran into #17 ranked Tennessee Volunteers and they held us to a paltry 56 yards rushing to beat us 19-14. Erik “freaking” Ainge!!
2005 – Lost heartbreakers to Florida and Auburn and eventually won the SEC Championship. Still lost the bowl game to WVU that year. Up and down season but should have been better. We just haven’t been able to beat Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, GT and USC(e) in the same season.2007 – Here is another one that sticks in my memory. We finished the season ranked #2 in the AP poll but didn’t even get to the SEC championship thanks to bed wettings vs South Carolina and Tennessee in the early part of the season. We lost to USC(e) 16-12. 4 field goals is all we could muster thanks to some early season suspensions. Then came UT. They led 28-0 by halftime and we never had a shot. I remember this game vividly because my dad had asked me to go over to Fort Gaines and pressure wash the lake house. We had big open windows in the living room so I stood outside watching the game for much of the first half. We went on a tear to close out the season with 6 consecutive wins of 10 or more points. Too little too late though.2008 – #8 UGA vs #5 Florida – An in person drubbing. We drove all the way to Jacksonville Florida to watch the Gators beat us 49-10. This was a week after a huge win for us over LSU and we thought this was our year in Jacksonville. No such luck. We stayed until the bitter end watching Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer calling late timeouts to rub it in. They were still PO’d about our win in 2007. We wound up losing to Tech that year too. Yeah, it was that bad.2009 – #4 LSU at Sanford Stadium. The Dawgs were ranked #18 and gave LSU all they could handle that day. I remember sitting in the Northeast end zone and this was the loudest I remember the stadium ever being until the last entry in this list. LSU mustered only two field goals for the first half and Georgia was scoreless until the 4th quarter. Finally, after a Shaun Chapas TD catch, Georgia broke through with a 16 yard TD pass to AJ Green with 1:09 seconds remaining to take a 13-12 lead. Then it happened. AJ Green was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for excessive celebration that would later be admitted to be a mistake by the SEC. What they thought was AJ gesturing to the crowd was actually him stumbling to get out of the mob of teammates. This gave LSU 15 yards on the kickoff and Trindon Holliday was able to make hay with the short kickoff with a 40 yard return. With :46 seconds remaining, Charles Scott took a handoff, getting initially stopped at the line of scrimmage, for 33 yards and a touchdown to seal the win at 20-13. This one was the first of three BRUTAL last minute losses for the Dawgs in the last seven years.2012 – Finished the season 12-2. This was the fateful 8 yards away season. We first messed ourselves up by losing to South Carolina but they went on to drop games to LSU and Florida to eliminate themselves from SEC contention. This team was loaded with Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley, Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, Keith Marshall, Chris Conley and many others who are now in the big leagues. Of course, the team we played in the SEC Championship was also loaded with the likes of Eddie Lacy, Amari Cooper, TJ Yeldon, CJ Mosley and HaHa Clinton-Dix. We played one of the most physical games we had played since the Bowl Game against Hawaii back in 2007. Down 32-28, Aaron Murray completed a long pass to Arthur Lynch that got the Dawgs to the 8 yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining. Rather than clocking the ball, as has been debated to this day, the Dawgs ran a quick play and threw a pass toward the end zone that was deflected. Chris Conley, out of sheer reflex, caught the deflected pass at the 5 yard line and time expired before we were able to get off another play. That one stings to this day!!2013 –Auburn once again…..this one was a teeth buster. Auburn was ranked #7 in the country and had one of our former players, Nick Marshall, at quarterback. We were down 27-10 at the half but made a furious comeback in the second half, eventually taking the lead with 1:49 remaining on an Aaron Murray 5 yard run on 4th and goal. Elation!! One of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen because he had been mugged for almost 60 minutes. We then held Auburn, putting them in a seemingly unmanageable 4th and 18 from their own 27 yard line. Nick Marshall then threw a desperation pass that was tipped by two of our defenders, who ran into each other, and the ball floated in the air for Ricardo Louis to pull down the 73 yard touchdown pass with :25 seconds remaining to take us down. Murray even completed a couple more long passes with the remaining time but our final pass fell incomplete as time expired. If you think this is as close as you can get to winning a game, then losing, you are wrong.2014 – We jumped out and beat a very good Clemson team week 1 and it spiraled from there. Todd Gurley got suspended for signing his own autograph for money. He then came back only to tear his knee. We did have an awesome freshman named Nick Chubb but he couldn’t play defense too. We went on to lose to the Cocks by 3 and even dropped the finale to the Nerds. We even lost to arguably the worst Florida team in decades.2015 – The year that ended the Mark Richt era. We lost to UT (lost Chubb for the year too) thanks to a wide open drop by Reggie Davis walking into the end zone. We dropped yet another to Florida and their first year coach. We were humiliated by Bama at home for the second consecutive time. We did beat Georgia Southern though, IN OVERTIME! The season came to a close with Coach Richt exiting stage left and Kirby Smart taking the reigns.2016 – The freshest wounds hurt the worst but this one beats all of the above from the last two decades. I admit that we are a team in transition. We are a team that is changing identities. We are playing a ton of freshmen. I could’ve accepted a 3 point loss to UT in just about any other way than what happened. We came out and played as physical as we have all year. We hit, forced turnovers and even made a field goal. You know the story by now. After leading the entire game, then losing the lead in the final few minutes, Jacob Eason, the freshman phenom, breaks away from a UT rush to hit a streaking Riley Ridley for a 51 yard TD strike to give the Dawgs a 3 point lead with 10 seconds remaining. We are struck by another late game unsportsmanlike penalty, a la 2009 LSU, only this one is legit. We lose 15 yards on the kickoff, then compound it with an offsides penalty. After allowing a solid return, the Vols have 4 seconds to heave a desperation Hail Mary into the endzone. And they hit it. In a matter of 10 ticks on the game clock, we go from 4-1, SEC East drivers seat, huge upset to same old last second heartbreak. We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Another year, a new coach, a new team, same result. But as heartbreaking as it is, I still feel very hopeful about the future. Maybe I haven’t learned my lesson. Maybe it’s the curse of being a Dawg. But I see too many freshmen getting quality minutes. I see a very talented QB. I see a running back stable that is 4 deep. I see a defense that looks like it’s finally gelling after 5 weeks, save for one fluky Hail Mary. The defense only gave up 20 points to UT if you take away the TD on Eason’s fumble and the TD given to Dobbs that has now been deemed a mistaken call, once again too late. Take away the fluke Hail Mary and they only gave up 13. But you can’t take those away in reality. Mistakes, youth and mental lapses allowed those points. But all of those things are correctable. And I have no doubt that Kirby is the man for the job. So I’m going to keep my head up. I’m not going to let this game convince me that we are stuck in the same old cycle. I am going to look forward to continued growth. I am going to look forward to the tremendous recruiting class that our coaching staff is assembling. Our OLine will get better. Eason will hone his skills with more game experience. We will turn the corner. And when we do, all of the misery we’ve experienced will make it that much sweeter.