It’s been interesting to see how the newspapers I read regularly have chosen to deal with the lack of sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Athens Banner-Herald has done away with its sports section for the duration; what sports stories it runs (mostly about what the future holds for the UGA football program), are in the news pages. USA Today has kept its sports section, spending a lot of time discussing what the sports landscape might look like later this year. And, the AJC also has kept its sports section, much of which has been devoted to nostalgic looks back at local teams’ triumphs, like the Braves’ World Series-winning season.
The AJC also has been running a series of columns from its various sports staffers, in which they recount the five most memorable games they have covered in their careers. The articles have been fun reading, covering quite a wide variety of sports (with Georgia football well represented).
That put me to thinking about the five most memorable games I’ve attended.
I won’t say “covered,” because, although I’ve been blogging about Georgia football for 15 seasons, that’s always been as a fan, not a reporter. I wasn’t a sportswriter during my career with the AJC, and I only ever participated in covering one football game in my career, for The Red & Black student paper at UGA.
That was the Sept. 15, 1973, season opener in Athens against the Pitt Panthers. The Dogs were a 17-point favorite, but the Panthers had a running back making his collegiate debut that day named Tony Dorsett, and he rushed for 101 yards as the two teams played to a 7-7 tie.
I’d been managing editor of The Red & Black that summer, and all of the paper’s student staff wasn’t back yet, since school hadn’t started (UGA began classes much later in those days), so the sports editor asked me to help out with the coverage. It was the only regular season game I’ve ever watched from the press box, an experience I didn’t particularly enjoy, since you weren’t supposed to cheer. After the game, I did the locker room interviews with a disappointed bunch of Dawgs. “We just never could get going,” my old Athens High classmate Andy Johnson told me. “We didn’t underestimate them. We knew they would be good, but … I don’t know, I guess we just weren’t ready.”
So, yeah, it was one of the most memorable games ever for me, in terms of how I experienced it, but not a great outcome.
Likewise, the Oct. 22, 1977, homecoming game certainly was one of the most memorable ever, with Prince Charles in attendance (the Georgia student section chanted “Damn good prince!”) and James Brown performing with the Redcoats at halftime (with my brother Jonathan underneath the stage, bracing it with his back as the Godfather of Soul did his splits). But, the game itself was one of the worst ever in Athens, a 33-0 loss to Kentucky. (I believe that might have been the game where an irate Vince Dooley pushed over a row of lockers at halftime in frustration.)
The 21-10 win to end the losing streak against Tennessee in 2000 also was memorable. The atmosphere was unforgettable, as the Sanford Stadium crowd sensed victory and massed around the field, but while fans taking down the goalposts after the game was understandable, the fact that some of them then trashed their own stadium, ripping up the hedges, was an act so mindless that I still don’t understand it. So, that one stays off the list.
I also was at the basketball game in the Georgia Coliseum on March 8, 1969, when “Pistol Pete” Maravich scored 58 points. With LSU ahead by 8 in the second overtime, Maravich dribbled around Bulldogs defenders for about a minute, putting on a show, then launched a 35-foot hook shot at the buzzer for a 90-80 win. Georgia fans, appreciative of the amazing performance they’d just seen, mobbed him on the floor. But, again, it was a Georgia loss.
So, stipulating that I want my five most memorable games to be Dawgs wins, that sent me back to a listing of the greatest games my brothers and I ever have attended. We first compiled it shortly after I started the Junkyard Blawg in 2005, and I updated it in 2009 and 2017, to add additional games. The most recent version offered a baker’s dozen of the greatest games I’d seen, and, believe me, it was tough narrowing it down to those.
Picking the five most memorable? Even tougher.
Still, here goes, ranking them in ascending order, like the AJC series did.
(Keep in mind, this is limited to games I saw in person. My list doesn’t include some of Georgia’s greatest wins — games that I watched on TV or listened to on radio, including the upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor, “Run, Lindsay!” in Jacksonville, the national championship win over Notre Dame in New Orleans and the “hobnail boot” game in Knoxville.)
5. Georgia over Georgia Tech, 30-24, Nov. 28, 2009: Frankly, I was dreading attending this one when my son Bill decided to take me to my first game at Grant Field in decades, but the lightly-regarded Dawgs ran it down the throats of a Jackets team that ended up winning the ACC Championship. This was the original “We run this state” game. The looks on the faces of the Tech fans on the walk back to the North Avenue MARTA station afterward were priceless.
4. Georgia over Clemson, 27-12, Oct. 5, 1991: Recently replayed on WSB radio, this was one of the high points of the Ray Goff years (and there weren’t many), as the Dawgs upset the No. 6 Tigers, who went on to win the ACC Championship, in a night game on national TV. Key plays were Georgia safety Mike Jones stripping the ball after a Clemson back had run 54 yards, and quarterback Eric Zeier setting up a TD with a 59-yard bomb to Arthur Marshall. This also was the day the Braves clinched the division title that began their celebrated run under Bobby Cox. When the Braves score was announced after the football game, Georgia and Clemson fans chopped and chanted together. Unforgettable.
3. Georgia over Auburn, 45-20, Nov. 10, 2007: The first “Blackout” game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Sanford Stadium crowd as excited as when the Dawgs burst through that banner in those black jerseys. Still, the Tigers made it a game, taking a 20-17 lead, before a Georgia team featuring Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno scored 28 unanswered points, and wound up dancing to Soulja Boy.
2. Georgia over Alabama, 21-0, Oct. 2, 1976: The outcome of the game between the No. 6 Bulldogs and the No. 10 Crimson Tide never really was in question, and the Sanford Stadium crowd smelled the Bear’s blood from the start. This was the loudest I ever heard a Sanford crowd until they enclosed the east end of the stadium. Matt Robinson and Ray Goff alternated running Georgia’s veer option offense, and Erk Russell’s Junkyard Dogs defense held Bama’s vaunted wishbone attack to just 49 yards rushing. Manhandling Bama, which was coming off five straight conference crowns, just wasn’t done in those days. This game was one of the toughest tickets ever in Athens. Folks camped out overnight on the tracks, and my Dad had to watch from the Sanford Drive bridge. The postgame celebration in Athens was wild, with police having to close Milledge Avenue.
1. Georgia over Alabama, 18-17, Sept. 18, 1965: This was back during a period when Alabama was our opening game, and the last time the Dogs had won was during the 1959 SEC championship season with Fran Tarkenton. After that, the whippings by the Tide had become somewhat expected. Not many folks gave the Dawgs much of a chance against the defending national champion Tide at the beginning of Dooley’s second season. But, the Dawgs were hanging tough and behind only 17-10 in the fourth quarter. I’d gone to get a Coke and was walking back to my seat when I heard a guy I knew casually from school say to his father, “The Bear better do something, or Bama could lose this thing.”
I’m not sure if he was happy or sad about that, but, sure enough, moments later came the legendary flea-flicker pass from Kirby Moore to Pat Hodgson to Bob Taylor. And then, with the 2-point play pass to Hodgson, Georgia had one of its most unexpected wins ever, especially considering the Tide went on to take another AP national title that year.
So, those are five memorable games I’ve seen in person. Are they the most memorable? Well, yeah, but, ask me tomorrow, and you might get a slightly different listing. After all, they don’t come much more memorable than the 2013 UGA-LSU shootout featuring former roomies Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger (the loudest game I’ve ever experienced at Sanford Stadium) … or the butt-kicking of Nick Saban’s defending national champion LSU Tigers in 2004 (featuring five touchdown throws by David Greene ) … or that spine-tingling moment last year when the stadium was lit-up all red at the beginning of the fourth quarter of yet another Georgia win over Notre Dame, or …
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of memorable games.