As perennial participants in bowl games — with the fourth most appearances of any team nationally — Georgia has seen more than its share of postseason ups and downs.
Whichever way the Liberty Bowl game against TCU turns out, UGA’s bowl history includes both sweet memories of exhilarating bowl wins worth savoring and exasperating losses that left fans shaking their heads.
There’s no debate about UGA’s greatest bowl win ever, as the 17-10 Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1981, gave the Vince Dooley team featuring a freshman back named Herschel Walker a consensus national championship. It wasn’t the Dawgs’ best bowl performance, or even their best game of that year, with the Irish outrushing and outpassing Georgia and the final result coming down to a Scott Woerner interception at the end. But a 12-0 record for the champs gives that game an unchallenged place in UGA football history.
However, if you’re talking about the Dawgs’ best bowl game other than that win over Notre Dame, or UGA fans’ favorite bowl wins, there are quite a few others worthy of consideration.
I put the question of favorite/best bowl games to several fans this week, and, as you might expect, the results varied.
Lifelong UGA fan Carl said his favorite would be the 1966 Cotton Bowl victory over SMU, which saw fourth-ranked Georgia dominate the 10th-ranked Mustangs 24-9, thanks to a dynamic rushing attack led by Kent Lawrence, who scored on a 74-yard scamper.
A bowl game that drew mention from both my age group and my son’s was the Jan. 1, 2008, Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii, featuring a star-studded Georgia squad led by Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Thomas Brown, Mohamed Massaquoi, Dannell Ellerbe and others.
It’s not that it was really a great win, Joel said, but “so many of the media ‘experts’ were talking up Hawaii and their unstoppable offense.”
Another friend, Owen, recalled of the game: “By the time Georgia had totally clobbered the Warriors 41-10, we were feeling very sorry for the many Hawaii fans who had come so far to see their team humiliated. But it was great to see the Dawgs in such fine form at what was, in retrospect, the peak of the Mark Richt era.”
My son Bill also has fond memories of the Jan. 1, 2003, Sugar Bowl win over Richt’s former employer, Florida State. It might have been a generally boring game, he said, but it was “the kind of beatdown of an elite program that nearly never happened for the entire 1990s and a great cap to an important season.”
Another of Joel’s and young Bill’s favorites was the 2006 comeback win against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Recalled Joel: “We were down 21-3 at halftime and staged an unbelievable comeback to win 31-24. We were only 9-4 that season, but it was a great way to finish the year.”
Another of Bill’s favorites is the Jan. 1, 1998, Outback Bowl win by Jim Donnan’s Dawgs over Wisconsin, “where Mike Bobo played great and group of seniors (Bobo, Robert Edwards, Hines Ward) who saw lot of adversity went out on a high note.”
A noteworthy stat from that 33-6 win, which featured Georgia wearing its white road jerseys and black britches, was Bobo, the game’s MVP, completing 26 of 28 passes for 267 yards and one touchdown.
My own list of bowl favorites includes all the above games. And, even though it took place a decade before I was born, I think you have to include Georgia’s Jan. 1, 1943, Rose Bowl win over UCLA, which earned a consensus national championship for a team featuring the legendary duo of Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi in the backfield.
Also worthy of mention, I think, are the Jan. 2, 1984, 10-9 win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl and the Jan. 1, 1960, 14-0 win by Wally Butts’ Dawgs, led by Fran Tarkenton, over Missouri in the Orange Bowl (the first time a UGA game was shown live on TV).
As my buddy Mike summed up the 1984 bowl win over the Longhorns: “Underdog team without Herschel. When the Cotton Bowl and Texas were still historic. Typical Dooley game, hanging around and hanging around.”
And, from the Donnan era, my son also has fond memories of the comeback bowl wins over Virginia in the 1998 Peach Bowl (35-33) and over a Drew Brees-led Purdue team in the Jan. 1, 2000, Outback Bowl (with the Boilermakers getting out to a 25-0 lead and Georgia winning 28-25 on an overtime field goal by Hap Hines).
A personal favorite for me that merits at least honorable mention is the 7-0 win over Texas Tech in the 1964 Sun Bowl. Not a terrific game, even back then, but I remember how excited Georgia fans were to actually have their team back in a bowl at the end of Dooley’s first season.
As for those bowl games UGA fans would just as soon forget, I agree with Joel about the worst ever being the 21-10 loss to Miami of Ohio in the 1974 Tangerine Bowl (which eventually morphed into the Citrus Bowl). It was a fitting end, he said, to “one of Dooley’s worst seasons, which included a blowout loss to Mississippi State and three consecutive losses to end the season to finish 6-6.”
Most observers felt UGA didn’t really didn’t belong in a bowl game that year, and that’s exactly how they played. With Miami ahead 21-3 at the half, I couldn’t take any more, so my future wife and I spent the second half drowning our sorrows at T.K. Harty’s Saloon in Athens.
The other serious contender for worst-ever bowl game for the Dawgs was the 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the 2010 Liberty Bowl, when Georgia could manage only two field goals on offense. You might remember that as the game when Aaron Murray played wearing gloves, a practice he thankfully never repeated.
Another bad one was Carl’s least favorite Bulldog bowl appearance: the underwhelming performance at the Jan. 1, 1969, Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. As Carl put it: “The Dogs played an uninspiring game and lost 16-2. I was there to witness it firsthand at old Tulane Stadium. In later years, many players, including Jake Scott, said they felt betrayed by (UGA Athletic Director) Joel Eaves and Dooley, who secretly agreed to the Sugar Bowl invite prior to playing at Auburn. The players wanted to play in the Orange Bowl against Penn State for a shot at the national title. So, the players definitely did not bring their ‘A’ game to the Sugar Bowl.”
Owen mentioned another disappointing visit to New Orleans: the Jan. 1, 1977, Sugar Bowl game against Pittsburgh, which gave the Panthers a national title.
As Owen recalled: “The Dawgs rode into town on a six-game winning streak with an SEC championship and No. 4 (actually No. 5) ranking. My inaugural visit to the Superdome and our high hopes of whipping Pitt came to earth pretty quickly as Georgia went down 27-3. It wasn’t as close as the score might suggest, either. … Tony Dorsett ran over us for 202 yards and I have a vivid memory of seeing him afterward in the French Quarter signing autographs in a floor-length fur coat. He appeared to be in very good spirits.”
Unlike Georgia’s fan base.
The 1978 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl is another painful memory for Dawgs fans, since it saw Georgia get out to a 22-0 third quarter lead vs. Stanford and then fall apart to lose 25-22. As Mike remembered: “I was 16 at the time and took my team photo off the wall after the game. I was distraught.”
That’s how seriously fans take bowl games.
With Kirby Smart’s first team coming off a regular season finale where they blew a 13-point lead with 6 1/2 minutes to go against Tech, Dawgs fans fervently hope they won’t see anything like that in Georgia’s 52nd bowl appearance.
The Blawg will be off for Christmas next week, but I’ll return to discuss that Liberty Bowl game.