Thirty-five years. That’s how long it’s been since Georgia played for a national championship.
Thirty-five years. Little boys then are now middle-aged, while young men just out of college then are now thinking about retirement.
Time slips by on all of us, but 35 years is a long, long time.
The wait for hungry Georgia fans has been long enough. They are starved. Fifteen teams (eight different programs) from the South have won the national championship in the last 21 years. As Georgia’s faithful clamored for a champion, those around them enjoyed the ultimate prize.
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“When are we going to get there?” Georgia fans would ask, as if they were kids in the backseat of a station wagon (something in vogue in 1983) wondering when they’d get to the vacation spot. “When are we going to be like them and experience a championship?”
It’s been 37 years since Georgia won it all. The 1980 Georgia Bulldogs had a perfect season, and what’s scary is there are parallels between that team and this year’s Bulldogs.
Both teams claim an impactful freshman from Middle Georgia. Wrightsville’s Herschel Walker was the final piece to that puzzle in 1980. Jake Fromm, from Houston County, got his job in a most unusual way in week one this season, but he’s a main reason Georgia is still playing.
The 1980 team had a miracle win in Jacksonville, with the famous Belue-to-Scott touchdown pass against the Gators. You can certainly call last Monday’s win over Oklahoma a miracle win for Georgia, as the Bulldogs were down by 17 at one point and won in double overtime.
Georgia beat Notre Dame for the championship that season long ago. They hadn’t played for the title since then, until this season. And Georgia won that game too.
And how about senior leadership. The 1980 team had Scott Woerner, Frank Ros, Jeff Harper, Rex Robinson, Nat Hudson and Hugh Nall. Everybody you talk to about that team talks about the seniors that helped Herschel and the others get to where they got.
That story is being repeated this year. It started when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return instead of turning pro. Isaiah Wynn, Lorenzo Carter, John Atkins, Davin Bellamy and others have provided tremendous leadership.
Since 1980, Georgia fans have had plenty of hope and have been disappointed time and time again. There was that search for the next Herschel, thinking that would be the key. And here we are now, with Chubb and Michel being the most prolific running back duo in NCAA history.
Vince Dooley, the coach of the 1980 team, retired after the 1988 season. Ray Goff had seven seasons to try and win a title, but the great skill players didn’t work. Jim Donnan replaced Goff and couldn’t beat Georgia Tech and was fired. Then Mark Richt came in and got his shot.
The first few years under Richt teased Georgia fans. There were two SEC titles in Richt’s first five seasons. But then, in the second half of Richt’s tenure, there were only recruiting championships. They got close a few times, but close was just not good enough.
Georgia wanted to be great, not just good, and that’s why Kirby Smart was brought in. No one thought he’d do this in year two, but Smart has Georgia where he’d promised they’d be. Georgia fans will wake up Monday knowing this is the day to finally play for a national championship.
The Bulldogs finally found the right running backs and the right coach. They are finally going from good to great. We all know the difference now, don’t we?
The folks in Alabama do this a lot, so they’re used to it. For Georgia fans, this will be a huge day. This will be a day grown men who were with their dads 35 years ago will now spend with their sons, who might even have their own kids by now.
When I was growing up, people would ask, “Hey, were you in New Orleans (the last time Georgia won it all)?” Monday is the day that next question could be formed. Perhaps Monday night we’ll know where we were when Georgia won it all again.
The trip was long, but the day has finally come. Georgia is ready to play for a championship. We’ve waited impatiently for 35 years, and Monday is the day we’ve wanted for so long.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.