John Lastinger chuckled ruefully when asked. Yes, as he watched the way it ended ― that eerily similar play, one of many eerie similarities with a game 35 years ago ― Lastinger’s mind went back in time.
“You go from such a high in excitement to such a low,” Lastinger said. “And it’s like bam, bam, you know?”
After the finish to the 2018 National Championship Game, Georgia knows, just as Lastinger and his Bulldogs teammates knew after the 1983 Sugar Bowl, the de facto national championship.
There’s a replay of the game on YouTube, for those who dare to watch, and another replay of just that play: Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge, early in the fourth quarter, hurls a pass down the left sideline, where it’s caught for a 47-yard touchdown by Gregg Garrity. It looks just like … well you know.
“Both games, that’s what comes to mind,” said Knox Culpepper, a linebacker on that 1982 Georgia team. “You’re a play away from a difference in a national championship. That’s what it comes down to in those games. Other than bowing your head and going out.”
That 1982 team often gets overlooked because Georgia won the national title two years before. But Lastinger, Culpepper and others on that team – Herschel Walker, Kevin Butler, Terry Hoage, etc. – can sympathize with members of the 2017 team, which was so close to winning it all before Alabama snatched it away in overtime. There are more than a few ties between the two games:
- A similar score. Georgia lost 27-23 to Penn State in 1983, and 26-23 to Alabama on Jan. 8.
- The yardage and pass route on the opponents’ winning touchdown: The only difference is the timing. Blackledge’s 47-yard pass to Garrity came early in the fourth quarter, putting Georgia behind 27-17. Alabama backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa connected with DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown in overtime.
- Keith Jackson, who called the 1983 game for ABC, passed away four days after the National Championship Game last month.
- The 1983 Sugar Bowl began with a kickoff from Kevin Butler, who was on the field in the 2018 title game in his role as a student assistant coach. Another person on the sideline both games was Mike Cavan, then a top Vince Dooley assistant, now a special assistant to Kirby Smart.
“I remember the hype and build-up to that game [in ’83],” Lastinger said. “Then the game happens, and the next thing you know you’re putting on your sweats and going into workouts for the next year,” Lastinger said. “Golly, what happened? You went from such a high to back to reality, and it hits you right smack in the face.”
It may have taken some sting off the Georgia fans, and some players, that year because the Bulldogs won the game for the national championship in 1981. Walker had a championship ring, as did many starters on that 1982 team, which was laden with upperclassmen.
But Culpepper wasn’t on the team in 1980. He was a high school senior. That was his chance.
Lastinger was hurt before the 1980 season.
“I was a part of the team but I wasn’t really a factor in anything that happened on the field in ’80. So ’82 for me you felt like that was your opportunity,” Lastinger said. “We felt like we belonged among college football’s elite at that particular time. There was a sense of, ‘Now I’ve got to carry the torch, it’s my year.’”
And even for Tim Crowe, a starter in 1980 and 1982, it’s tough. Crowe, a defensive lineman, started five games as a sophomore in 1980, then was a full-time starter the next two years, including the 1983 de factor national championship.
“I talk about that a lot. You know, 1980 was just an unbelievable year. And then to throw together two more seasons and get that close and don’t get that close, it’s tough,” Crowe said. “You remember it forever. It’s hard to get close like that. To get the opportunity to play for that.”
But that 1982 Georgia team shouldn’t be overlooked by history. It won the program a third straight SEC title. It went unbeaten in the regular season. Larry Munson’s immortal “sugar falling from the sky” comment came this season, when the Bulldogs beat Auburn on The Plains.
It was still a great year, much like the most recent Georgia season, even if the final play didn’t work out as people had dreamed.
“Not many people say, ‘Oh lemme see your ’82 ring,’ ” Crowe said. “But it was a special season, and I think the older you get the more you realize how special it was.”