I have to begin by giving credit where credit is due.
Two unsung heroes of the Bulldogs' 34-14 rout of the Bayou Bengals deserve special recognition. They are my son, Thomas King, and my old college pal, Jeff Rogers.
As all of you know, Thomas, who is two and a half years old, is a mojo savant. He detects and reports on the way the wind is blowing without realizing the significance of the vibes he is sensing. Because Susan is a good wife, she let Thomas and me eat supper in the living room during the early going of this evening's S.E.C. championship game. While we were sitting on the couch, Thomas spotted something on top of the entertainment center.
What Thomas spotted was a bowl I received from my Aunt Deborah as a Christmas present in 2002. The bowl is in the shape of a bulldog, which she painted red, black, and white to denote its University of Georgia pedigree. Before she was able to wrap it, her son, Jackson, pointed out that you can't just give someone an empty bowl; you have to put something in it. Since Georgia was bound for the Sugar Bowl that year, Deborah filled the bowl with Dixie Crystals sugar packets.
That bowl has been sitting atop the entertainment center literally every day of Thomas's life, but it was not until this evening that he happened to notice it. He wanted to climb up and see what was in it, so I picked him up and let him look into the bowl.
Thomas wanted a sugar packet. I gave it to him.
Susan, being in maternal mode, protested the idea of giving a toddler a packet of pure sugar an hour before it was time to start getting his bath ready and preparing him for bed.
I, being in Southeastern Conference championship mode, was not about to deny my mojo-sensitive son his request to be given a packet of sugar from a bulldog-shaped bowl during a game in which the Bulldogs were playing for a Sugar Bowl berth. You don't have to have read The Sound and the Fury as many times as I have to get the symbolism of that request.
I handed Thomas the sugar packet and set him back down on the floor. He asked me to help him open it. I took it, opened it, and handed it back to him. As I did so, the Bulldogs ran a play. The play resulted in a 45-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Shockley to Sean Bailey.
Thomas made a request involving the words "bulldog," "sugar," and "bowl." As soon as his request was granted, the rout was on and a Bulldog bid to the Sugar Bowl was a done deal.
This brings me to Jeff Rogers.
A little after 1:45 on Friday afternoon, Jeff sent me an e-mail, which read as follows: "I've got a funny feeling this afternoon that we're not only going to win but win big. I know what the prognosticators are saying, but my gut is saying something 180 degrees opposite. Let's hope it's right."
You should bear in mind that it was Jeff who predicted a close contest against the Gamecocks when I and everyone else predicted a blowout. Jeff has had a strong gut feeling going into two games this season. We disagreed both times and he was right on each occasion.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
It is time for the special Look at the Sugar Falling Out of the Sky Edition of the Mark Richt Victory Watch.
The Mark Richt Victory Watch now stands at 52. Coach Richt needs just 149 more wins to tie Vince Dooley's all-time school record of 201 career victories.
With 64 games under his belt, Coach Richt has the best record of any coach in Georgia history. Coach Richt's 52-12 ledger surpasses the won-lost records compiled by W.A. Cunningham (42-16-6), Harry Mehre (38-23-3), Wally Butts (43-19-2), Vince Dooley (43-17-4), and Ray Goff (38-26) after the same number of contests spent on the Georgia sidelines.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Following "Black Monday" on Wall Street in October 1987, Newsweek published a cover story which declared that the '80s were over.
The news magazine's language was figurative, not literal, of course, but the point was well taken then and, more to the point, it is well taken now here in the heart of Bulldog Nation.
On November 24, 1979, Georgia beat Georgia Tech at Bill Engvall Stadium at historic Grant Field to salvage a winning record, but the Bulldogs finished 6-5 and Vince Dooley's squad remained home for the holidays for the second time in three years. 1979 was the sixth straight season in which the Red and Black were without a postseason victory.
I don't remember that very well, since the 1979 Georgia-Georgia Tech game took place three weeks after my 11th birthday, but I'd be willing to bet that there were some old timers among the Bulldog faithful who were going on about how the glory days were behind us.
Naturally, they were referring to Wally Butts's powerhouse Georgia squads of the 1940s. Between 1942 and 1948, the 'Dawgs claimed three conference championships and two national titles in a seven-season span. There were a couple of down years in 1943 and 1944, when the able-bodied stalwarts from the Red and Black squads of the early '40s were fighting in Europe and the Pacific, but the Georgia squads of 1941, 1942, 1945, and 1946 went 40-4-1 and were victorious in the Orange, Rose, Oil, and Sugar Bowls.
In 1979, a Georgia fan was within his rights to wonder whether the 'Dawgs would ever again attain that level of success.
From 1980 through 1983, the Bulldogs went 43-4-1, won three S.E.C. crowns, and finished No. 1 in the nation in 1980.
Fastforward to Christmas Eve 2000. A Georgia squad picked to win the conference championship and to compete for the national title finished a disheartening season with a meaningless win over Virginia in the O'ahu Bowl. Jim Donnan was fired over the 8-4 debacle and Georgia fans began to pine for the glory days.
2000 had been the 18th straight season in which the Bulldogs did not win a Southeastern Conference title. Between the founding of the league in 1933 and Herschel Walker's junior season in 1982, Georgia had never gone more than 11 years between titles. Heading into the 2001 campaign, a Georgia fan was within his rights to wonder whether the 'Dawgs would ever again attain the level of success of the glory days in the early 1980s.
Enter Mark Richt.
One game remains in the 2005 campaign, but, since the 2002 season opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs have posted a 44-8 record, claimed three Eastern Division championships, and won a pair of S.E.C. titles. Georgia is assured of a fourth straight season with a double-digit victory total and a fourth straight January bowl berth. A win on January 2 would assure the Red and Black of a fourth straight top 10 ranking.
Earlier tonight, the Bulldogs played their best game of the season. The Red and Black made the nation's No. 3 team look like Boise State.
The Georgia coaching staff called a brilliant game. The contest was hallmarked by gutsy calls, aggressive play, methodical execution, killer instinct, and physical football. If you're a Georgia fan and you didn't absolutely love every aspect of this game, you need to quit watching football, move to China, and spend the rest of your life watching people play ping pong. Yes, I know they call it "table tennis" in China. It's ping pong.
D.J. Shockley hit Sean Bailey on a perfect 45-yard touchdown strike. DeMario Minter set up another T.D. with an interception. Bryan McClendon blocked a punt to set up the Bulldogs' next score. Brandon Coutu made a 51-yard field goal look easy. The Georgia D knocked L.S.U.'s starting Q.B. out of the game with a separated shoulder and the second-string signal caller's second pass was intercepted by Tim Jennings and returned for a touchdown. The Tigers were held to 74 net rushing yards and the Bulldogs spent all evening in the Bayou Bengals' backfield.
Years hence, Georgia fans may look back at the 2003 S.E.C. championship game the way Florida fans look back at the 1966 Cocktail Party. In Steve Spurrier's senior season, the Bulldogs ruined the Gators' hopes of capturing their first S.E.C. title and the bitterness of that loss fueled the Evil Genius's desire to stick it to the Red and Black every chance he got. The worst whipping ever administered to a Mark Richt-coached Georgia squad was handed to the Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome two years ago, when eventual national champion L.S.U. beat the Red and Black, 34-13. In the two Georgia-Louisiana State games to have taken place since that dark day, the 'Dawgs have outscored the Tigers by a combined 79-30 margin.
This brings me back to my earlier reference to Newsweek's 1987 cover story. Newsweek was right and it is time we in Bulldog Nation acknowledged it.
The '80s are over. I don't want to hear any more talk about the glory days.
The glory days are now.