Football emotions are like the sea — the tide comes in, the tide goes out. If you are a fan, you are up or down, depending on the results of every play. Good results bring adoration, while bad results bring insults and unwashed critiques.
Saturday at Grant Field, Georgia rendered one of the most fulfilling performances of the season with its 38-7 victory over Georgia Tech to win the state championship. While looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game, let’s reflect on the previous weekend. Nobody had any complaints.
Coaching won that game. It began in the spring with the Bulldogs’ coach, who is one of the most balanced individuals you ever will meet who also is blessed with consequential savvy. This only makes him exceptional, not invincible.
Other teams have good coaches; other teams have good players. In the world today, victories are hard earned. After the Georgia-Kentucky game, Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker stopped by our postgame social and offered an interesting comment: “The leagues we play in are really tough.”
Kirby Smart began working against the option every day in practice and continued throughout the fall, understanding that Georgia’s annual goal is to compete for the SEC title, but the first priority is the state championship.
His modus operandi is to learn, to embrace adaptability and to ask questions. Smart has a father with sage advice. Sonny Smart’s influence on his son’s philosophy has been fruitful. After one practice at LSU, when Kirby was an assistant coach in Baton Rouge, Sonny said, “You are going to have a valuable experience. This is a coach nobody will out work.”
Nobody could be more linked to the work ethic than the Bulldogs’ coach.
The entire Georgia staff knows the head man’s mantra. Work hard and work smart. Smart’s surname can always be used to describe him and his ways. According to the website House of Names, “Smart” is an English surname. “The origin of the Smart surname dates back to the time of the Anglo-Saxon tribe of Britain. It comes from an early member of the family who was a person who was referred to as ‘smeart,’ which means that the original bearer was quick and active.”
A lawyer would rest his case.
To be more specific about the Georgia Tech game, think about what you are dealing with when you play the Yellow Jackets. You don’t expect this team to line up with a pro-style quarterback. To run Georgia Tech’s option, you want a pure athlete at the controls.
That is where Tim Hill gets the most generous of high fives. Hill is a defensive back on the Bulldogs’ scout team, and you probably never have heard of him. But he is about as athletic as anybody who wears red and black. Smart used Hill to simulate Georgia Tech’s option in practice. Georgia Tech recruits athletes to play quarterback; Smart recruited Hill to simulate Georgia Tech’s offense, and the scout-teamer did not let him down. Smart thinks Hill should be nominated for an Oscar.
All this is a reminder that we do say Georgia is a “team.” When the season is over, whatever the final tally, you will find Smart reminding us that everybody we see out there ― No. 11, No. 1, No. 27, etc. ― did a masterful job but don’t forget the unsung heroes like Hill.
As the week segues into what is now the most important college football weekend of the year, there is an old, familiar foe on the horizon. Auburn and Georgia have been at it since 1892 when two professors, once classmates at Johns Hopkins, organized teams on their respective campuses and began the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. It has been intense but not bitter.
I always have been amused by the swapping of loyalties in this rivalry. Pat Dye, the All-America guard at Georgia, to Auburn. Vince Dooley, the cogent quarterback for Shug Jordan, who trained under Wallace Butts at Georgia, settling in … in Athens, where he became a household name.
I think of the great names in the history of the rivalry and realize that what all schools want is consistency. It is the view here that, regardless of the outcome Saturday night, Smart will manage the process to victory as well as anybody who has coached in Athens.
The thing that sets him apart is his attitude. He is driven to win, but he is virtually without ego, which is damn rare. He will give of himself to his team, and he will always do right by his university. The gods of fate may not smile on him Saturday night, but he will have his team prepared for victory.
Just ask Tim Hill.