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Perry McIntyre/UGA
Terry Godwn makes “the catch” against Notre Dame in 2017.

Junkyard flashbacks: 15 years of highs and lows with the Dawgs

Saturday marked 15 years to the day since the very first post on the Junkyard Blawg went up at ajc.com on Aug. 29, 2005.

It’s been a sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating — but always interesting — 15 years to be blogging about the Dawgs from a fan’s point of view.

A program from the 2005 SEC Championship Game won by Georgia. (SEC)

That first football season that I wrote about for the Blawg exceeded expectations, as D.J. Shockley led the Dawgs to an SEC championship in an unexpected romp over LSU that my son and I got to attend courtesy of a friendly Gator. (Thanks, Don!)

The ensuing years saw the Dawgs have many peaks and valleys: the overtime one-and-done win over Bama in Tuscaloosa in a season that saw Georgia unveil snazzy black jerseys in a win over Auburn and finish No. 2 in the national rankings … opening the next season ranked No. 1, only to find out that year’s talented but flawed team was not quite ready for prime time … the continued frustrations of the Mark Richt era from that point on, including enduring a losing season that ended with a dismal bowl showing in 2010, then bouncing back with two consecutive SEC East titles. … record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray leading the Dawgs to huge home SEC wins over South Carolina and LSU that saw a very loud Sanford Stadium rocking, only to have injuries take the wind out of their sails as the 2013 season wore on.

And, in a moment that probably sums up the latter half of the Richt era as well as any, the Dawgs coming up just short in a terrific SEC Championship game against Bama.

Elsewhere on the UGA athletic scene, the Blawg’s first decade saw some major successes in tennis, golf, swimming & diving and equestrian. But there were ups and downs in basketball (including the tornado championship); ditto in baseball (losing in the final of the College World Series and then having the program go in the dumpster); five consecutive national titles for the Gym Dogs, followed by their decline after the retirement of Suzanne Yoculan; the replacement of the disgraced Damon Evans with Athens native Greg McGarity as athletic director; and the football Dawgs seeing Todd Gurley, their strongest Heisman Trophy candidate in years, lose out because of a suspension by the NCAA for violating rules that probably won’t even exist in the near future.

This blocked kick was big in the Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma. (Getty Images)

As for the past five years, the ups and downs have included: a men’s basketball program that can’t quite ever seem to put it all together — even with a change of head coach and the signing of the nation’s most-sought-after player — and a women’s program that’s never been the same since its legendary coach retired … a baseball program that gradually clawed its way back to respectability, and seemed on the verge of another possible College World Series run, only to have the season poleaxed by a deadly pandemic … continued strong showings in the Olympic sports (including national championships for the swimming and track & field programs) …  the production of numerous touring pros from the tennis and golf teams … and the return of the Gym Dogs’ most decorated athlete, Courtney Kupets Carter, as head coach.

Plus, of course, the continuing saga of the football program, which over the past five years saw longtime head coach Richt fired for building a program that was merely good, not great, and his replacement, former Georgia player Kirby Smart, taking the Bulldogs tantalizingly close to the very pinnacle of the sport.

I have to say, of all the seasons I’ve written about for the Blawg, that magic run in 2017 was flat-out the most enjoyable. As I wrote at the time, the unlikely nature of that  season was like an old-time Hollywood movie script — Smart’s second season in Athens sees a freshman backup QB take the reins after the starter is injured in the first game and lead his team to an SEC Championship, a win in perhaps the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever, and a berth in the College Football Playoff’s National Championship Game.

A favorite piece of memorabilia from a very special season. (Fanatics)

From Nick Chubb and Sony Michel deciding to return for their senior years, to Terry Godwin’s incredible one-handed third-and-goal TD catch against the Fighting Irish (in a game where UGA fans took over Notre Dame’s stadium and Rod Blankenship was mobbed by his teammates in the locker room when he was awarded a scholarship), to Roquan Smith’s amazing sideline-to-sideline play all season, to D’Andre Swift’s 64-yard touchdown run to seal the SEC Championship win over Auburn, to Michel racing down the left side, picking up a key block from QB Jake Fromm, to score the winning touchdown against the Sooners, it was a full of spectacular, unforgettable moments.

And, then, getting to walk into the national championship game in Atlanta with my son to watch the Dawgs was incredibly special.

No, it didn’t turn out like we’d hoped, but, as I posted on Facebook that afternoon before we left for the Benz: “This season already has surpassed my expectations, and forever will be one of my favorites, regardless of how the game against Bama turns out.

“From Nick to Sony to Jake to Roquan to Rodrigo, this also is one of my favorite bunch of Bulldogs. Proud to say I’m a Bulldog, born and bred.”

Bulldog Nation was saddened by the passing of quarterback Andy Johnson, seen here against Georgia Tech in 1971. (AJC file)

Other highs and lows from the past five years include 93K in the stadium for Smart’s first G-Day (which I count as both a high and a low; a high because packing the stadium to overflowing for a spring game was an amazing achievement, but a low, too, because G-Day now seems to be primarily about impressing recruits, rather than the low-key, fan-friendly event it was for so many years). … a low in Smart’s first season being the Homecoming loss to Vandy … a high that same season with the upset of Auburn, Smart’s first win over a Top 10 team … two wins in three years over Notre Dame! … a definite low in last year’s loss to an obviously inferior South Carolina team … the high of three consecutive SEC East titles, and the low of two consecutive losses to LSU, plus the whole Alabama thing … the high of a long overdue honor in Vince Dooley having his name put on the field at Sanford Stadium … the sad loss of my Athens classmate Andy Johnson, one of the classiest UGA legends ever. … and the general weirdness of 2020.

Also, a couple of personal highlights: our daughter Olivia graduating from UGA (her brother Bill is a double-Dawg); and, at my retirement from the AJC, being presented with a cartoon drawn by Pulitzer-winner Mike Luckovich depicting me as “Billdawg.”

On top of all that, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to provide a fan’s voice amid the more detached pundits, while not letting my lifelong Dawgs devotion make me lose touch with reality. I’ve always considered constructive criticism, when it’s warranted, an element of true fandom.

Along the way, I’ve been lucky enough to have input from a group of fellow Dawgs fans who’ve graciously shared their thoughts on various UGA issues with me over the years whenever I’ve asked, including current and former colleagues, friends, classmates from Athens and, of course, my family.

If you grow up or go to school in Athens, it’s always a part of you. (University of Georgia)

Back in 2005, the very first two comments on that debut Blawg were from my brothers, Tim and Jon, and, since we talk Georgia Bulldogs all the time, they quickly became a regular presence here. So much so that, when a reader recognized me in the concourse of Sanford Stadium at a game, he then turned to Tim and said, “You must be his brother.”

About being recognized: Back in the days before Dawgnation, when the AJC first came up with the idea of fan blogs (there used to be quite a few), most of the other bloggers had photos taken that obscured their face, at least in part, to give them some anonymity.

The guy taking my photo asked if I wanted to do likewise, and I replied, “Why? I’m proud to be a Georgia Bulldog.”

Because of that, readers never have had a problem spotting me, whether it’s someone hollering “Junkyard Blawg!” from a car going by as I walk along Lumpkin Street in Athens, or a cashier at the UGA Bookstore recognizing the name.

I have enjoyed the many fans who’ve come up to me on game Saturdays and wanted to talk about the team or something I’d written. That remains true. If you spot me at a game, don’t be shy about saying hello!

Through it all, one thing hasn’t changed: I’m as ardent a UGA fan as I’ve ever been, and I enjoy sharing that love of the Dawgs with my fellow fans.

Like I said in that first Blawg, 15 years ago, let’s talk Georgia Bulldogs!

More on UGA and Athens in 1970

Memories of the University of Georgia in Athens in the fall of 1970: the bars, the bands, the booze, the bellbottoms, the bad movies! Hop aboard my time machine and travel back with me to my freshman year of college, and get acquainted with Cool Town before it was cool!

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