ATLANTA — If you weren’t at DawgNation Appreciation Night on Thursday, you missed out on some revelations about the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs.
For instance, did you know that Roquan Smith throws up before pretty much every game? That’s right, Georgia’s star linebacker is a puker; well, at least before games in which he’s serving as a team captain, which was most of the time.
And Nick Chubb, the stoic, unflappable tailback from Cedartown, Ga., always ties his shoes the same way and in the same order on game days. He also made e a point to leave his bathroom light on. You know, on purpose. Chubb never did really explain why after Sony Michel outed him with that tidbit. But he did protest the remark, saying he “grew out of that superstition by the end” of his career.
It was that kind of a weird and wonderful night Thursday at the Coca-Cola Roxy at the Battery Atlanta. DawgNation brought back the core leadership group of Georgia’s 2017 team to say thanks to them and to show appreciation to the many sponsors and readers who followed the Bulldogs every step of the way last season. In turn, those players shared background and anecdotes about the 13-2 season, which included a win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and a dramatic overtime loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It was considered one of the most special seasons in Georgia history. And it was, according to Chubb, Michel, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Smith. The quintet posed for pictures, signed autographs, swapped stories and hobnobbed with DawgNation sponsors and fans in the Roxy’s expansive venue next to the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. The whole affair was quite a study in free enterprise and adulation.
Chubb, Michel and Smith were the feature act. They were the paid stars originally booked and contracted through their respective representatives to be featured at this event. Bellamy and Carter came on board when the buzz began to swell and it became clear that hundreds of fans planned to participate. When the official announcement was released via social media, good buddies Bellamy and Carter raised their hands to be included, and were.
It’s a good thing as the meet-and-greet lines to talk and take pictures with the two charter members of the Georgia’s famed “Wolf Pack” snaked back and forth across the sweeping hardwood dance floor at the Roxy. Count Bellamy as a big winner. The Chamblee, Ga., native proved to be the most entrepreneurial of the group. Bellamy showed up with 500 of his “Humble Yourself” T-shirts, and they were almost all gone by the end of the night. I bought one myself — 25 bucks it cost me — but I was more than happy to contribute to the kid’s cause. Anybody who can profit through humbling a cocky opposing quarterback (see Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield) deserves to make out well, and he did.
Bellamy caught some grief, too. The panel session before the packed house was a huge hit and hilarious. We learned from Carter and Smith that Bellamy heard and actually comprehended the play calls in the defensive huddle only “about 10 times a game.” Bellamy explained that he gets so worked up during the heat of competition that he just doesn’t process verbal commands well. So Smith would make the call, break the huddle, and then Bellamy invariably would ask “What’s the call?” just before the snap.
Nobody seemed to mind too much, especially after Bellamy’s strip sacks on the road at Notre Dame and versus Auburn in the SEC title game in The Benz.
We also got some insights on Georgia coach Kirby Smart. The players revealed that the mercurial persona that we witness on the sidelines each Saturday is actually different from the coach they experience each week during practice.
“He’s actually more of a tyrant in practice,” Smith said. “Believe it or not, he’s actually calmer during games.”
Probably the funniest exchange I encountered was behind the scenes. As the players scarfed down hamburgers and fries and candy bars in one of the green rooms backstage at the Roxy (so much for pre-draft training diets, right?), I asked them about “Zo’s Conquest.”
Carter, the long, tall outside linebacker from Norcross, Ga., had boasted that he was going to run a sub-4.5 40 at the NFL Combine. Not only did he do that, but he also bested Chubb, Michel and Smith. Smith, the swift-footed inside linebacker and winner of the Butkus Award, also boasted of being able to run in the 4.4s.
Alas, only Carter did, logging a 4.46, best among the crop of pass-rushers lining up for the NFL draft in late April, and better than Smith’s 4.51 and the 4.5-plus times of Georgia’s heralded tailbacks.
“They knew it,” Carter said of his teammates’ awareness of his incredible speed. “Everybody on the team knew it.”
“Nobody was surprised,” Chubb said.
Added Smith: “No, we all knew he was fast like that. We’d been seeing the guy run all summer long through conditioning drills, so we knew he was going to do something fast like that.”
The feat created a lot of buzz for the 6-foot-6, 245-pound outside linebacker. You can add Carter’s name to the growing list of Bulldogs expected to get an early call in the draft. Smith is the only one considered a virtual first-round lock.
So while Bellamy was making money slinging T-shirts, Carter could relax in knowing that he probably banked some green at the combine.
“It is the best I’ve run in a while,” Carter said. “I just wanted to make sure I broke 4.5.”
But all that stuff is about the future. Thursday night was all about these Bulldogs’ past. That’s what everybody came to hear them talk about, the incredible year that was 2017. And everybody left happy.
It was a red-letter season, for sure, and Thursday was a red-letter night. That was attested by the message posted in neon lights on the Roxy’s marquee facing Battery Avenue and SunTrust Park.
The evening couldn’t have ended more perfectly. An entertaining round of interplay between the five players and DawgNation Daily host Brandon Adams was capped off with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle proclaiming in separate video tributes that March 15, 2018, shall be known as “DawgNation Appreciation Day” in the state of Georgia.
Fitting for sure.