You know what really happened. No one needs to remind you, or beat it into your head. And in the press box, many reporters had to delete their poetic, brilliant, award-winning “Georgia beats Alabama to win national championship” stories.
But, just for a moment, let’s image an alternate universe. Let’s imagine how the story would have been written if ….
ATLANTA — Lorenzo Carter got down on his knees for a moment and looked down at the ground, then leapt up and shrieked for joy. Davin Bellamy laid on the ground, on his back, looking up and smiling at the confetti raining down. Amid that confetti, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel embraced, and just kept embracing.
It had taken only milliseconds after the field goal attempt by Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos had sailed wide right for the Georgia sideline to erupt. Arms stretched outward, helmets thrown in the air. Even Kirby Smart, used to winning national championships and knowing he had to be a good winner, had forgotten himself for a moment, raised his arms and screamed the same way, and just as colorfully, as he had when the Rose Bowl ended a week earlier.
“I’m not going to be able to process this for a while,” said Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, smiling and shaking his head at midfield, surrounded by cameras. “I mean … how did that happen?”
Rodrigo Blankenship, who kicked what proved to be the game-winning field goal, giving Georgia a 23-20 overtime victory, was one of the few not lost for words.
“So many people contributed to this night,” said Blankenship, still wearing his helmet over his goggled glasses, for an entire national audience to see. “This was a case of every player buying in, going all the way back to the offseason, believing in Kirby Smart and our coaches, and sure, getting a little lucky along the way.”
But Georgia, like any great team, also made its own luck.
The game was a topsy-turvy one of emotions: For three quarters it appeared Georgia would cruise to the win, leading 13-0 at halftime and then 20-7 after Fromm’s brilliant 80-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman.
Even some suspect officiating calls weren’t ruining the run. Tyler Simmons did not appear to be offsides when he blocked an Alabama punt, which if uncalled would have given UGA the ball in prime position with a 13-0 lead. That call will be a mere footnote now, as Georgia prevailed anyway.
Alabama, of course, did rally. The Crimson Tide did tie the game behind freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and was in position to win the game at the end of regulation. But Pappanastos missed the field goal.
There was the lucky part for Georgia. Then Blankenship was just good, nailing the 51-yarder on the first possession of overtime.
The game ultimately would be decided on Alabama’s first play of overtime, with Bellamy bringing down Tagovailoa for a sack back to the 41-yard line. It would prove too much yardage to make up. A second-down heave to the end zone was broken up by Georgia safety Dominick Sanders, with an assist from cornerback Malkom Parrish, who jammed the receiver a few steps after the snap. A third-down draw play resulted in a 7-yard gain, contained by Roquan Smith, making what was probably the last great play of his great Georgia career. And on fourth down Nick Saban sent out Pappanastos, whose 51-yarder was just off.
“Did I believe we could do this?” Bellamy said, repeating the question from a reporter.
The senior outside linebacker, who came to Georgia in 2013, played for three defensive coordinators and two head coaches, and went through two 8-5 seasons, thought for a moment and smiled.
“Yeah, I thought we could do this. This was always a special team. But you know what? Even if we hadn’t, even if we had lost this game, even if we were only SEC and Rose Bowl champs, even if that was all we were ….”
Bellamy smiled, paused for emphasis and finished his thought.
“We were still a special team.”