1980: My First Championship Team

84f0085148b285b7b901e20e14bbf4ff--georgia-bulldogs-hedgesI was 16 years old the last time the Georgia Bulldogs won the college football national championship.  The game was played on January 1, 1981 in the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.  In fact, until this season, that was the last time the two teams have played.  Ironic isn’t it?

We were visiting my grandparents in Waycross, Georgia, on the day of the big game.  They weren’t football fans and not much into watching television so I had my transistor radio to listen to the game and the legendary voice of the late-Larry Munson calling the game.  The game wasn’t high scoring like Monday’s semifinal game against Oklahoma but it was just as agonizing.  The Bulldogs were ranked Number 1 in the nation with an 11-0 record.  With the score tied at 3-3, Herschel Walker scored on a 1-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 10-3 lead.  Another Notre Dame fumble later set up Walker’s second touchdown for a 17-3 lead.  Notre Dame made it 17-10 and the Georgia defense hung on for the win.  The amazing stat in the game was that Georgia had only one pass completion in the game.

When Georgia won I was jumping up and down.  Everyone thought I was crazy.  No one else seemed to feel the same way I did.  Oddly enough, I never watched the video of that game until a few years ago when I watched the YouTube video of the game during my bus rides to/from work in Tampa, Florida.  Even though I knew the outcome, I still felt tense watching the game in the same way I felt when I first listened to it.

Two years later, I was in the barracks at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas near Abilene, Texas watching the Bulldogs play Penn State in the 1983 Sugar Bowl against Penn State.  The Bulldogs were playing for another national championship.  Unfortunately I found myself as the lone ranger amongst Penn State fans in the barracks.  Sadly, Penn State won 27-23.  The guys around me watching the game were relentless in their celebration and getting in my face about it.  It was devastating.

That was the last time Georgia played for a national championship – until now.  It has been a long time.

Only one time since then has Georgia been in any position of the national championship.  In 2002, the Bulldogs lost one game.  That one loss – to Florida 20-13 – probably cost them a shot at the national championship and we all knew it then.  The Bulldogs later beat Florida State 26-13 in the Sugar Bowl to finish Number 3 in the nation.  I don’t think you get a Bronze Medal for that.

When Sony Michel broke from the Oklahoma defenders for the game winning 27-yard touchdown run in overtime, it was a moment that didn’t seem real.  I stood in front of the television mounted on our wall with my arms up but still not sure if I should celebrate.  I kept looking for something to be wrong.  I looked for a penalty or something to go wrong.  That’s just how it has been for this Bulldog fan.  Celebration that turns to anguish.  A long touchdown negated by a holding penalty.  Not this time.  The Bulldogs are playing Alabama for the college football national championship.  I still can’t believe I am typing those words.

I still remember the day I actually stepped foot inside of Stanford Stadium for the first time on September 24, 1994 when I was working part-time at the Macon Telegraph newspaper.  My editor, Kevin Proctor, let me tagalong with our reporter to the game.  I was sick as a dog that day but I was not going to miss it.  When I walked in I wasn’t sure whether or not I should remove my shoes since I was on Holy Ground.  Then I met Larry Munson.  It was overload time for me.  I sat in the press box doing the scoring summaries which turned out to be a busy job since Georgia walloped Northeast Louisiana 70-6 on that day.  After the game, I went down to interview quarterback Mike Bobo who had come into the game.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I have been to games since then as a fan but there will be nothing like that first experience between the hedges.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t care who won the game next week.  I could say that it’s nice to just be in the national championship game.  No, sorry, I can’t say that with a straight face.  I want the Bulldogs to win it!  Hey, it was a rough sports year for me in 2017.   The Falcons lost the Super Bowl, the Nashville Predators lost the Stanley Cup and Warner Robins lost the Georgia High School State Championship game.  I need a sports team to win bad!

In fact, thinking back to teams that I follow and winning it all:

  • 2004 – Warner Robins beats Statesboro for Georgia High School state championship
  • 1995 – Atlanta Braves won World Series
  • 1988 – Warner Robins beats Brookwood for Georgia High School state championship
  • 1986 – Villa Rica beats Worth County for Georgia High School state championship
  • 1980 – Georgia Bulldogs beat Notre Dame 17-10 for college football national championship

When the Georgia Bulldogs won the 1980 national championship, that was my first team to win it all.  They were the first.  I figured there would be a lot more between then and now.    Unfortunately, I have had more disappointments in my sports teams than celebrations.  Blowouts, chokes and terrible teams.  It’s nice to be back in this place again where it all started in 1980 – Georgia playing for a national championship.