What a strange week it’s been — “surreal,” to use the word that I heard most often over the past few days. As my old friend Ben put it the other day, “Unfortunately, March madness has a completely new meaning these days.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic had been increasingly in the news in recent weeks, prompting the declaration of national and state emergencies and setting off runs on grocery store shelves, the cultural impact of the crisis snowballed and seemed to get more real for many people this week with the shutdown of nearly all professional and college sports. Life seems even more grim without our favorite distractions.
Initially, it appeared athletic events, including like the remainder of the SEC basketball tournament in Nashville (where the Dawgs had won their opening-round game) and the upcoming NCAA basketball Final Four, set for Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, would still go on — just without any fans in attendance, due to concerns over large gatherings of people being prime opportunities for the latest coronavirus to spread even more widely.
However, the announcement late Wednesday that the NBA was suspending its season — because a player on the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19 — changed all that. It was like the first domino falling; in short order, professional basketball was joined by all the other major pro sports leagues suspending play; the NCAA canceling its tournaments in all winter-spring sports; other major events like the Boston Marathon and the Masters being postponed; and the SEC announcing that all organized team activities, including competitions, team and individual practices, meetings and other organized gatherings, will be suspended through at least April 15.
That was followed by many schools and universities, including UGA, extending spring break for at least a couple of weeks as they consider finishing off the semester with remote learning, with no classes on campus. They don’t want students gathering in large numbers — meaning, the Dawgs’ spring football practice will not open Tuesday as planned.
At this point, it’s possible there won’t be a G-Day game at all this year (with or without a crowd in attendance), even if spring practice does convene belatedly (which itself is no sure thing).
As a nervous populace hunkers down to embrace “social distancing,” most fans have been supportive of the disruptions. Of course, there are some who think the panic is unnecessary, and I’ve seen a few UGA fans spouting off on social media about how the SEC’s move is an overreaction. One said that the conference should “man up” and operate as usual, ignoring the fact that we’re trying to control a pandemic.
The athletes, naturally, are disappointed, but, as Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean noted Thursday, “the most important thing they can learn from all of this is that when they are responsible for their families someday, that they will always put their safety, their health, and their well-being in front of everything. That’s what we’re doing throughout the world.”
And that’s what brought us to a weekend where local TV sportscasts mainly dealt with discussions of there being no sports to cover, and “SportsCenter” was reduced to reporting on mixed martial arts.
Without the prospect of a Big Dance, my friend Greg posted on Facebook that, as someone who annually fills out six to eight brackets online, “this weekend and No-Selection Sunday may be the longest of the year.”
So, what to do with all that time you won’t be spending filling out your NCAA tournament bracket?
The SEC Network has been filling its schedule with replays of past games, but you don’t get to pick and choose with those, and their offerings aren’t necessarily what Bulldog Nation wants to see (the 2019 SEC Championship disaster is even harder to watch the second time around).
A better option is hitting YouTube and other streaming video outlets to watch some great games from the past that feature UGA teams.
To get you started, here’s a selection of 10 football, basketball and baseball games that Dawgs fans should enjoy. …
This one features a terrific second-half comeback for Jim Donnan’s first UGA team in the SEC’s first overtime game. After fumbling twice in a loss to top-ranked Florida two weeks earlier, running back Robert Edwards didn’t start the game, and only had 5 yards on six carries in regulation, but he poured it on in the four overtime periods, getting 60 yards on 10 carries, catching three passes from Mike Bobo for 30 yards, and scoring 3 touchdowns. Edwards accounted for 97 of Georgia’s 100 yards in overtime, as the Dawgs won 56-49
“It seemed like he was a running back possessed,” Auburn defensive back Martavius Houston said after the game. “Since he didn’t play much the whole game, it seemed like he wanted to come in and show people what he had. They went to him, and he was money.”
This was also the one where Uga V tried to take a bite out of the Tigers’ Robert Baker.
With ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town and the eyes of the nation on the quarterback showdown between former roomies Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, Mark Richt’s Dawgs came from behind despite the loss of Todd Gurley to injury in the first half.
Murray led the 2-minute offense to perfection to take a 44-41 lead, then, the defense held as Mettenberger, who grew up in Oconee County just outside Athens, tried to bring the Tigers down the field to tie it up.
Mettenberger played a whale of a game, making one key pass after another, but the day wound up encapsulating the former Bulldog’s career in Athens — no matter how good he was, Murray came out on top. Said Vince Dooley after the game: “That was the best two-quarterback performance I’ve ever seen.”
This also was the loudest game I’ve ever experienced at Sanford Stadium and, as I wrote at the time, one of the most thrilling days ever Between the Hedges. On that last futile drive by LSU, particularly the fourth-down incompletion, the place was literally vibrating with a ridiculous decibel level. This one definitely ranks among the Dawgs’ best-ever games.
This is the game that made Buck Belue a Georgia legend even before the 1980 game against Florida. With Tech leading 20-0 late in the first half in Sanford Stadium, Dooley changed quarterbacks, sending freshman Belue into the game.
With a little under 5 minutes left, Tech still led 28-21, but Belue led the Dogs 84 yards, capped by a fourth-and-3 43-yard touchdown pass to Amp Arnold, followed by a game-deciding 2-point conversion On the latter, the initial effort was an incomplete pass, but an interference penalty gave Georgia the ball at the Tech 1. A pitch to Arnold secured the extra points and the win over Pepper Rodgers’ Jackets.
The Dawgs intercepted a Tech pass on the next possession to clinch the thrilling 1-point victory.
The beloved “hobnail boot” game, and Richt’s first major victory.
Georgia had lost nine of 10 to the Vols at that point, and hadn’t won at Neyland Stadium since 1980. It looked like the Dawgs finally were going to break that streak, and then Tennessee’s Travis Stephens went 62 yards to score off a screen pass and give the Vols a 24-20 lead with 44 seconds to play.
But that was more than enough time for Georgia quarterback David Greene, who led the Dawgs 59 yards in 39 seconds, winding up with a pass over the middle to Georgia fullback Verron Haynes in the end zone to give UGA a 26-24 win.
Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson’s reaction became a national sports classic: “My God Almighty, did you see what he did? David Greene just straightened up and we snuck the fullback over! We just dumped it over! 26-24! We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!”
The debut of the modern-day black jerseys and the day Knowshon Moreno led the Dawgs dancing on the sideline to Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.”
Despite the black jerseys sending the Sanford Stadium crowd into a frenzy, the game was tight early on, with the Tigers taking a 20-17 lead. Then, QB Matthew Stafford got the Dawgs back into it with his passing, and redshirt freshman running back Moreno took over the game. The Dawgs scored 28 unanswered points.
That year was the first time Georgia had beaten both Florida and Auburn in the same season since 1982.
No. 6 Georgia and No. 2 Auburn met in a rematch of their regular season contest, with the Tigers having prevailed convincingly 3 weeks earlier.
Auburn scored first, but the scoring was all Georgia from that point on, with Bulldogs defensive star Roquan Smith making plays all over the field in the 28-7 Dawgs win. The Georgia offense had trouble at times against the tough Auburn defense, and Sony Michel missed much of the game with a knee injury, but Nick Chubb was at his best, and then-freshman D’Andre Swift electrified the Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd with a 64-yard TD run to put the game away.
As I’m sure many of you know from personal experience, this one holds up extremely well to repeated viewings.
Quite simply, the best Georgia football game ever, as the Dawgs came from behind to beat Oklahoma in the sort of back-and-forth affair that makes great television.
The aforementioned Michel raced 27 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime (with a key block by quarterback Jake Fromm) to give No. 3 Georgia a 54-48 victory, and send the Dawgs to the national championship game in Atlanta.
In the year that followed Dominique Wilkins’ early departure for the NBA, Hugh Durham’s Dawgs secured their first-ever invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia made it to the Final Four by beating Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tarheels, featuring Michael Jordan, in the East Regional final, prevailing at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York, by a score of 82-77.
Little-remembered footnote: Starting center Terry Fair picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, forcing backup Richard Corhen to play the final 18 minutes of the game.
Led by Saudia Roundtree and La’Keshia Frett, Andy Landers’ Lady Dogs made the Final Four for a second consecutive year, and cruised by Stanford 86-76 in this semifinal game to move on to the championship game, where they unfortunately were bested by Tennessee.
Just last April, this was the longest baseball game in UGA history, with Scott Stricklin’s Diamond Dawgs prevailing 3-2 after 6 hours and 33 minutes.
In the bottom of the 20th, Georgia had the bases loaded when freshman right fielder Connor Tate delivered a walk-off single to left field, scoring center fielder Tucker Maxwell and ending the marathon contest at 1:35 a.m.
“We found a way to win and it was a lot of fun,” Stricklin said afterward. “The guys were slap-happy by about the 15th inning. Guys were wearing motorcycle helmets and playing ping pong in the dugout, I’ve never seen that before.”
You can kill an entire afternoon or evening watching this one!
To wind up, and put all this in perspective, I like this post that the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes put on their Facebook page:
“For many, sports help us escape from daily life. We form connections and we build communities. But just because sports have been paused, the community remains. As life continues to change, remember your family, your friends, your team. Treat that community with compassion and selflessness. We’re all in this together and we’ll always be here for you. Be safe, and we’ll be sharing special moments together again soon.”