December 27, 2017

Forget Herschel—This Year's Bulldogs Can Make Young Fans New Memories

Flag Football

It's easy to make me nostalgic for the Georgia football glory days. Video of Herschel Walker breaking tackles and bulldozing defenders is enough to make the hair on my arms stand up. A clip of Larry Munson has the potential to make me well up. I'm a sucker for anything about legendary defensive coordinator Erk Russell. I've read most Lewis Grizzard books. These are all things I love about Bulldog football.

These are also things I've had to learn about Bulldog football, because, for the most part, it all happened in the early ’80s, before I was born. I didn't get to experience the highest moments in Georgia football history. So when I think back on the golden age of Georgia football, I have to conjure images of grainy video or rely on the recollections of folks who lived through it.

Quite frankly, this sucks, and I'm tired of it. For those of us who were around to see Herschel vanquish his foes in living color, I'm sure it was sick. But for us millennials who have seen heartbreak in even the best of seasons, it sucks. Walker is great and all, but he can go kick rocks. I want legends in my own time.

Take the 2012 Dawgs, the best team during my time as a student at Georgia. That squad was full of players I love and have fond remembrances of—Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley, Chris Conley, Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree. They had fantastic wins, some dominant, some thrilling. The 17-9 win over No. 3 Florida is one of the best the Dawgs have ever had against the Gators. All in all, it's a team worth remembering.

But every remembrance of the 2012 team turns sour. Because Conley caught a pass, time expired at the Georgia Dome, and the Dawgs lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. And lost a chance to play for the national championship.

So far in my lifetime—in many of our lifetimes—mention of pretty much every great Georgia team is accompanied by a "but" or "what if." The 2002 team went 13-1 and won a Sugar Bowl, but a loss to Florida kept them from the national championship. The 2007 Dawgs won the Sugar Bowl, too. It didn't get to play in the national championship because it didn't win the SEC because it didn't win the SEC East. What if that team had beaten South Carolina and Tennessee?

My fondest memories of Georgia football, the ones I experienced, and my favorite Bulldogs, the ones I've seen in the flesh, are considered second-best to moments that occurred and players who played while The Empire Strikes Back was in theaters. And I'm tired of it.

To quote an angsty Star Wars bad guy of more recent vintage, "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to." This crop of Bulldogs has a chance to kill the hell out of the past and take another step toward a national title in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma on New Year's Day.

This season is the most fun I've ever had watching Georgia football, and this team is my favorite UGA squad ever. Just thinking back on the moments puts a smile on my face. Davin Bellamy's strip-sack to beat Notre Dame. Jake Fromm's flea-flicker against Mississippi State. The shutout of Tennessee. The humiliation of Florida. Roquan Smith dominating Georgia Tech. Getting revenge on Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. These are moments and people I don't want to look back with "buts" and "what ifs."

In that regard, I'm in luck, for two reasons. First, this will not be a one-off. Kirby Smart has proved to be a good motivator, teacher and tactician this season. On top of that, he's a fantastic recruiter and in the midst of bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in Georgia history for the second year running. Georgia is built for sustained success. Win or lose, this will not be Georgia's final shot at the natty.

Second, I truly believe this team has what it takes to win the title. Getting past Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the Sooner offense will be tough, not to mention Clemson or Alabama in the national title game. But Georgia has shown an ability to play its best in the biggest moments. If the Dawgs play with discipline and aggression—if they play like they've played all season—there isn't a team they can't beat.

Now go win the Rose Bowl, Dawgs, and make us some new memories.