LOS ANGELES ― It was the best game I’ve ever covered.
I’m just going to start right there because so many people have asked me that in the hours following Georgia’s 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. It might’ve been THE greatest game ever played in 104 Rose Bowls, except that one between USC and Texas in 2005 that decided the national championship. So, that one will continue to get the nod, or so I’m told by those who’ve long covered The Granddaddy of Them All.
It’s a shame this Rose Bowl was not for the national championship, because it was a classic. Many in the Oklahoma press corps were saying afterward they thought Georgia and Oklahoma had to be the two best teams in the land. We’ll see how the actual title game against Alabama goes next Monday in Atlanta, but maybe it was the de facto championship game.
Comparatively, the Crimson Tide (12-1) played a yawner in the other semifinal. They defeated No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl to punch their ticket to Atlanta. And so you’ll have for the next week an endless stream of mentor-protégé stories on coaches Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. Rightly so.
But for me, the Rose Bowl was the best game I’ve ever witnessed involving Georgia, a team I’ve covered off and on for the better part of 35 years and followed longer than that. Being honest, I might not say the same thing if the Bulldogs hadn’t won. But they did. I’ve seen a lot of wild ones and a lot of sad ones and chronicled a lot of joyous moments. This one took the cake, though.
You saw it. It was the kind of game where, as a journalist, you wish you could just kick back and enjoy it instead of feverishly trying come up with words for what you’re watching so you can hit “publish” as quickly as possible after the game ends. The first thing I post after games is something called Instant Analysis. But there was no way to analyze this one instantly, or even quickly.
In the end, it again came down to those seniors. That forever will be the storyline for this magical season, all those seniors who came back instead of turning professional. All of them seemingly left their mark on the Rose Bowl.
- There was Sony Michel, the offensive player of the game, who finished with 181 yards rushing and 41 more receiving and also scored 4 touchdowns, including the 27-yard game-winner.
- There was his roomie Nick Chubb, who gained 145 yards himself and scored twice, including the one that sent the game into overtime.
- There was Lorenzo Carter, collecting 10 tackles and a sack and getting that long right arm up in the air to block a field goal and etch his name on one of the signature plays in UGA history.
- There was Dominick Sanders, the senior safety, hauling in a crucial interception and returning it 39 yards to set up a fourth-quarter score.
That was just the Rose Bowl. Pick out a game from this season and go back to see how those seniors fit in. Regardless of what happens in this next game, this team will forever be remembered for its leadership, 31 seniors in all and that Core Four of Davin Bellamy, Carter, Chubb and Michel.
Well, those guys and a certain freshman quarterback.
“It’s just crazy that we’re in this situation, to play in front of this crowd in The Granddaddy of Them All, is just incredible,” said Jake Fromm, who had quite the night himself, finishing 20-for-29 passing for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. “You couldn’t have written it any better, the way the game went.”
Fromm and junior Terry Godwin combined for one of the game’s most meaningful plays. Their 16-yard completion on third-and-10 at the Oklahoma 23 is what put Georgia in position to score the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation.
But for Fromm, too, 2017 has been about those seniors.
“I’m just thankful to be on the same field as those guys,” Fromm said. “They’ve played a lot of football. They just always seem to come out and make a big play when we need it. That’s just incredible. I’m glad they’re on my team.”
We’re living in the College Football Playoff era, so now there’s one more to play. And it will come against the greatest college football team and coach of the modern era.
The Tide opened as a 4½-point favorite, according to odds posted Tuesday morning at Bovada. Everybody will be talking about how Saban has never lost to one of his assistants and how Alabama is the team that’s going to be more comfortable in the brightly lit surroundings of the title game. But at this point, I see it as foolhardy to go against the Bulldogs and all those seniors.
I’ve resisted the urge to invoke the D-word when it comes to this Georgia team, but I don’t know how you can’t now. With respect to my close friend and former colleague Mark Schlabach, who assigned the moniker “Destiny Dawgs” to the 2002 team and wrote a book about that season, destiny belongs to the 2017 Bulldogs.
They’ve already given us one of the greatest games in UGA annals. There’s only one way now for this magical ride to end.