Last weekend, I returned to Charlotte, with the most uplifting memories. When I walked past Bank America Stadium, suddenly there was a flashback to the Georgia-Clemson game on Labor Day weekend, September 4, 2021.
I remembered how even the two teams seemed to be, but almost screamed at the top of my lungs when, in my mind, I could see fast cat No. 29 Chris Smith maneuvering his body in front the Clemson wide receiver to intercept DJ Uiagalelei’s pass and sprint 74 yards to glory.
That sensational play, the only touchdown in this clash between the No. 2 and No. 5 ranked teams, kicked off Georgia’s season. These “Dawgs” would eventually achieve their goal of winning the national championship.
Ever since he won it all in Indianapolis on Jan. 10, 2022, and the new year kicked off in glorious red and black fashion, the question has often surfaced about what it was like in Athens in 1980. Was there a parade? Was there a similar celebration?
The consensus is that there simply couldn’t have been more sentiment and tribute than what happened in Athens six days after winning it all. The answer to the ’80s celebration question is “No,” but warrants a few caveats.
There is no one alive today who could speak of the defining moment that took place on October 12, 1929, when Georgia toppled the scourge of the East, mighty Yale, 15-0. Even though it was wartime, can you imagine the thrill of Georgia winning the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on January 1, 1943? The small city of Athens was overwhelmed, according to former timekeepers I knew while hanging around the late Dan Magill. This team was also national champion.
To this day, Georgia’s loss to Oklahoma in the 2017 Rose Bowl remains a treasured memory for many Bulldog fans and will only grow in momentum over time.
In those good old days of the past, there was no social media. People weren’t that rich. Television and the Internet have not dominated our world and our lifestyle as they do today.
What emerges from all of this is that there is something special about the connection the state university has with the people of this state. When he left for Arkansas, Bulldog offensive line coach Sam Pittman noted that he was very impressed with how the “Georgia people have traveled.”
He saw it in South Bend in 2017, he saw it in Pasadena in the playoffs later in the season, and he saw it everywhere the Bulldogs played on the road. It didn’t come as a shock to him when he learned that the stadium was almost full which had gathered on Saturday, January 15 to pay tribute to Georgia’s last championship team.
I’m not sure of updated numbers, but three or four years ago I saw numbers where Georgia’s external revenue – merchandising, logo apparel, etc. – ranked second in the country, just behind the University of Texas. UGA was significantly ahead of Alabama, even with Tide’s recent championship success.
You drive down the back roads of this state and see the connection to the University of Georgia reflected all over the mailboxes in places like Leary, Ailey, Racepond, Pocataligo, Adrian, Suches, Hahira, Rising Fawn, and Ball Ground. . Wrightville too.
When Dan Magill organized the Bulldog Club network in 1954, he was able to organize a club in each of Georgia’s 159 counties, which led him to remind everyone that “we are the majority party in this state”.
Whenever I’m on the PGA Tour these days, which isn’t as often as it used to be, I frequently see Bulldog caps in the galleries. When one of Georgia’s many former pros posts a birdie on a hole or takes the lead in a tournament, you hear “Go Dawgs,” almost as much as you do on a Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
What I love the most are young kids with Bulldog pictures on their cheeks and T-shirts and jerseys on their grandmothers, listening to vintage Larry Munson calls.
Maybe Kirby woke a sleeping giant.