What’s still on the table this holiday weekend for Georgia’s football team is enough to make mouths water for Bulldogs players and fans.
Knocking off in-state rival Georgia Tech on senior day, to start.
Heading to Atlanta next week for a chance to capture the Southeastern Conference championship, probably against Alabama with a chance to advance to play for the ultimate prize — a national title.
So much is there for the third-ranked Bulldogs to grab, but what if it comes crumbling down today?
“Not to be negative, I like to stay positive, but it could be horrible,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “It could be everything we didn’t want this season to be about, and people would pile on everything negative they could think about. We can’t focus on that. … We have to play sound football and do what we have to do.”
Yes, today’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game is among the biggest the Bulldogs have ever played. The Bulldogs’ SEC title hopes would still be alive with a loss, but getting to Miami for the BCS title game would be off the table.
There have been other games in a series that dates back to 1893 where national title dreams were crushed or continued.
“This game has a lot going for this team,” said Charley Trippi, the former Georgia tailback who is a member of the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames.
Trippi was part of the 1942 consensus national champion Georgia team that lost to Auburn 27-13 the previous week but entered the game 9-1 and ranked No. 5 and had on the line a shot at the national title against unbeaten and second-ranked Georgia Tech.
“The Rose Bowl came to town and said the winner of the Tech-Georgia game would go to the Rose Bowl, so that put a lot of emphasis on winning,” Trippi said.
Frank Sinkwich, a senior who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, moved to fullback and Trippi, a sophomore, played tailback.
“All of a sudden (coach Wally) Butts determined that we were both going to start the Tech game and it turned out a pretty good game,” Trippi said.
Trippi scored on an 86-yard run and finished with 119 yards rushing and 116 passing in a 34-0 rout.
“I had a good day, I guess,” said Trippi, who lives in Athens and turns 91 next month. “I always had good days against Georgia Tech for some apparent reason. I don’t know how I got keyed up.”
Georgia went on to a 9-0 Rose Bowl win over UCLA.
The Georgia Tech game, of course, loomed large again in Georgia’s 1980 national championship season when the Bulldogs had a freshman running back named Herschel Walker.
The Bulldogs went through a November schedule of South Carolina and star running back George Rogers followed by rivals Florida, Auburn and then the Yellow Jackets.
“So it was somehow, some way, one more time,” coach Vince Dooley said. “We had to find ways to win that particular year. There was either one phase of the game that took up the slack or the other phase. So it just kind of developed that game, ‘One more time.’”
Dooley called on a player from Georgia’s 1927 team, which was unbeaten until a 12-0 season-ending loss to Georgia Tech.
“Players don’t know anything about history except their own history, which is limited,” Dooley said. “You can talk about that, but when you have somebody that experienced it, that it probably lived with that person all those years and have him express that. Can you imagine these players if they get beat by Georgia Tech? They’ll remember that.”
The player was Harvey Hill, who wrote Dooley a letter about the importance of the Georgia Tech game. So Dooley asked him to speak to the team.
“We should have won that game against Georgia Tech,” Hill told the players, according to an account from the book “Glory! Glory!” by Loran Smith and Lewis Grizzard. “We were upset, and we had to live with it the rest of our lives. It bothers me today. I’ll never forgive, nor will I forget.”
He told the players: “I don’t want what happened to us, to happen to you. You’ve got be ready for those &&%%$#! You’ve got to be ready. I want you to give it back to them! You are No. 1, and you must stay No. 1! Make ’em pay!”
In case, they didn’t get the message, he added:: “You are going to have to live with this the rest of your lives. Don’t let them ruin your season.”
Walker made sure that wouldn’t happen in a 38-20 victory. He rushed for 205 yards and scored three touchdown, setting an NCAA freshman record with 1,616 yards.
Walker had 144 of his rushing yards against Georgia Tech in the second half.
“It was a tight football game and Herschel broke it open,” Dooley said. “He also broke the record.”
Georgia won another national championship, 17-10, against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Current Georgia tailback Todd Gurley is the only other Georgia true freshman besides Walker to top 1,000 yards in program history.
Coming from North Carolina, he didn’t know much about rivalry games, but fifth-year receiver Tavarres King tried to educate this week about Georgia Tech.
“`You remember how bad we felt after losing to South Carolina this year,” King said he told him. “You’ll feel 10 times worse losing to these guys.”
This senior day may be overshadowed a bit today by so much on the line, but the contributions of the 21 players who will be honored today isn’t overlooked by those around the program.
The players were part of teams that saw Georgia go 8-5 and 6-7 in their first two seasons, but they have been part of a team that rebounded strongly with 10-4 and 10-1 seasons and back-to-back SEC championship appearances.
“We have won a lot of games, and I’m very impressed with this senior bunch,” coach Mark Richt said. “They really wanted to take some ownership of this team. Once they all decided they were going to stick around, just the fact that everybody on defense especially who checked out the NFL and where they might be drafted and all that kind of stuff, once they all decided to stay, I think it created energy immediately for those guys and for the team and I know the coaching staff too. … Because they decided to stay, they wanted it to be a special season. They didn’t just want it to be another year where we came up short, so I saw a sense of urgency in the offseason.”
Those seniors who considered the NFL included safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Cornelius Washington. Now they have their last game in Sanford Stadium.
“It will be excitement from the standpoint of you got a big game, but it’s also a little bit of a saddening thing because these guys have done a great job for us, especially since I’ve been here and really have believed in what we’ve tried to get accomplished and they’ve allowed us to right the ship a little bit and have some success,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
Rambo said he had no regrets about returning this year.
“We have a lot to play for,” Rambo said. “We still want to play for our goals. We’re trying to get to Miami. First of all we just want to beat Tech, beat our rival. It’s going to be a very emotional day for us. It’s our last game between the hedges. All the seniors we’ve had some great times here between the hedges. It’s going to be a great day for us.”
King said it’s too early to say how this senior class will be remembered.
“We do know what’s at stake,” King said. “We’ve got high hopes around here. We’ve got big dreams, big goals. They can be reached. I think if we pull this thing out the way that I think we can and will then it will be a special team.”
Safety Shawn Williams, like Richt, had tunnel vision when talking about what’s on the line.
“You don’t want to get caught three weeks from now saying I wish we would have taken this one as important and not looked to this date,” Williams said.
Nose guard John Jenkins, a junior college transfer who is his second year in the program, said his time here has been “like a flash,” but knows the next three games offer a chance to have moments that these Bulldogs could cherish for a lifetime.
“It would be some special memories,” Jenkins said, “but, hey, we’ve got to start with Tech.”
Harvey Hill would have certainly agreed.
Mark Richt sports a 10-1 record against Georgia Tech since his first season in Athens. Here’s a glance at the rivalry during Richt’s tenure:
- 2001: Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17
- 2002: Georgia 51, Georgia Tech 7
- 2003: Georgia 34, Georgia Tech 17
- 2004: Georgia 19, Georgia Tech 13
- 2005: Georgia 14, Georgia Tech 7
- 2006: Georgia 15, Georgia Tech 12
- 2007: Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17
- 2008: Georgia Tech 45, Georgia 42
- 2009: Georgia 30, Georgia Tech 24
- 2010: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34
- 2011: Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17