The 2017 UGA football team might have fallen a bit short at the end of a thrilling season, but even before the game against Alabama, it already ranked as one of my all-time favorite groups of Georgia Bulldogs.
Of course, having won the SEC Championship Game and come within one overtime play of taking the biggest prize in college football, the 2017 team also will go down in Bulldogs annals as one of the greatest teams.
The distinction is important. Fans’ favorite teams aren’t always the ones that are considered the greatest.
A list of greatest teams usually consists of the ones that won championships. But, for most fans, there are other teams that may not have won a title, but still hold a fond place in our hearts.
Maybe it’s a team that had some of your all-time favorite players on it, or one that showed a lot of grit and overcame hardship while falling somewhat short of elite status.
Perhaps, a team is one of your favorites just because you were a student at UGA during that time.
Of course, most fans’ favorite teams also include the greatest. It’s not going out on a limb to say that Vince Dooley’s undefeated 1980 national championship team — led by the greatest Georgia Bulldogs player of all time, Herschel Walker — probably is the favorite among most Dawgs fans who were around back then.
Certainly, the 1980 Dawgs top my own list of personal favorite teams I’ve watched in five-plus decades of following Georgia football. So many Bulldogs heroes were on that team — names that still make a chill run down the spine of UGA fans, like Buck Belue, Lindsay Scott, Scott Woerner, Rex Robinson, Jimmy Payne and, well, pretty much all the starters.
Actually, when I set out to compile a list of my 10 all-time favorite Dawgs teams, I put the 1980 Bulldogs on a level all their own, which allowed me to cheat a little in deciding which teams made the cut and which teams merit honorable mention.
So, going chronologically, here are my 10 favorite Georgia Bulldogs teams (besides the 1980 national champs):
1966: Dooley’s third team went 10-1, won his first SEC championship, and were the Cotton Bowl champs. Led by quarterback Kirby Moore and powered by fullback Ronnie Jenkins, that team included three All-America selections: defensive tackle George Patton, offensive lineman Edgar Chandler and safety Lynn Hughes, a former quarterback who also subbed as the Dawgs’ signal-caller for a couple of games when Moore was hurt. Also on that team were future Olympics boss Billy Payne and future NFL great Bill Stanfill. A season highlight was a come-from-behind victory over previously undefeated Florida, thanks to the defense’s constant harassment of Heisman Trophy-winning Gator QB Steve Spurrier (resulting in his lifelong hatred of the Dawgs). Georgia was No. 4 in the final AP poll of that season.
1971: This 11-1 team didn’t win any championships, other than the Gator Bowl, but it always will be one of my favorites because, not only was I a sophomore at UGA that season, but the team was led by QB Andy Johnson, a junior high and high school classmate of mine from Athens. Although a loss to Auburn, led by Heisman winner Pat Sullivan, kept the 1971 Dawgs from being SEC champs, they gave us the thrilling memory of a last-second win over Georgia Tech before a national TV audience on Thanksgiving night. Ironically, Dooley has said Johnson was Georgia’s greatest running quarterback, but No. 14 passed the Dawgs downfield for the score that beat the Jackets. Other favorite members of that team were running back Jimmy Poulos and cornerback and punt returner Buzy Rosenberg. After the bowl win over North Carolina, coached by Dooley’s brother Bill, the ’71 Dawgs placed No. 7 in the final AP poll of that year.
1976: The Dawgs finished 10-2, won the SEC championship, and had a shot at winning a national championship in the Sugar Bowl. Led by the dual quarterback team of Ray Goff (the runner) and Matt Robinson (the passer) and tailback Kevin McLee, behind an awesome offensive line that included All-Americans “Cowboy and Moonpie” (Joel Parrish and Mike Wilson), the ’76 Dawgs blanked Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide 21-0 at Sanford Stadium, and overcame a 27-13 deficit at the half in Jacksonville to beat the Gators 41-27, thanks in part to Florida coach Doug Dickey’s infamous “fourth-and-dumb” play. At the start of the season, most of the Dawgs shaved their heads, and Dooley told them that, if they won the SEC and beat Tech, he’d shave his as well. They did, and he kept his word. Unfortunately, Heisman winner Tony Dorsett and the Pitt Panthers prevailed in the bowl game. UGA was No. 10 in the final AP poll.
1983: With Hershel having moved on to the pros, these Dawgs still went 10-1-1, including a shocking upset over Texas in the Cotton Bowl (where we all know what time it still is!), costing the Longhorns a national championship. Key offensive players were QB John Lastinger, tight end Clarence Kay and kicker Kevin Butler, while the defense featured Freddie Gilbert, Knox Culpepper and All-American Terry Hoage, who placed fifth in Heisman voting. The ’83 Dawgs finished No. 4 in the final AP poll.
1997: Jim Donnan’s Dawgs went 10-2 and were Outback Bowl champs with a convincing win over Wisconsin. This was another team with a stellar lineup, including Hines Ward, Matt Stinchcomb, Mike Bobo, Robert Edwards, Champ Bailey and Kirby Smart. Georgia upset 20-point favorite Florida 37-17 and had a thrilling last-second win over Tech, with Bobo throwing to Corey Allen for the winning TD. They also wore the very cool black britches in the bowl game. Georgia finished No. 10 in the final AP rankings.
2002: I think this is my favorite team after the 1980 Dawgs. If they hadn’t stumbled in Jacksonville, Mark Richt’s second team, which finished 13-1 and was SEC and Sugar Bowl champs, might have had a shot at a national championship. It was another very talented team, featuring the “two Davids” (quarterback David Greene and defensive end David Pollack), tailback Musa Smith, split end Terrence Edwards, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, flanker Fred Gibson and linebackers Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert. Highlights included Billy Bennett’s game-winning field goal over Bama in the “man enough” game, the fourth-down touchdown pass from Greene to Michael Johnson to beat Auburn and win the SEC East, a 51-7 thumping of Tech, a convincing win over Arkansas as Georgia debuted in the SEC Championship Game, and a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State. Georgia finished the season ranked No. 3.
2005: This 10-3 season opened with a win over a ranked visitor, Boise State, as D.J. Shockley, who patiently had waited his turn, took over as the starter at quarterback. Other memorable players on this team: Bryan McClendon, Max Jean-Gilles, Leonard Pope, Thomas Brown, Quentin Moses, Tony Taylor and Greg Blue. The Dawgs upset LSU 34-14 in the SEC Championship Game before falling short against West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl (relocated post-Hurricane Katrina to Atlanta). UGA finished the season ranked No. 10.
2007: This 11-2 team didn’t win the conference (which has to be considered a disappointment, since they had QB Matt Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno). They finished in a tie with Tennessee for the SEC East title, but didn’t represent the division in the championship because the Vols had beaten them. Still, this was a fun season for fans, not least because of the famed “celebration” in Jacksonville when the team flooded the end zone after Georgia’s first score. Other highlights included the opening win over Oklahoma State, the one-and-done overtime win in Tuscaloosa over Nick Saban’s first Alabama team, and a dominating win over a heavily hyped Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl. Other memorable Dawgs on this team included Sean Bailey, Trinton Sturdivant, Thomas Brown, Mohamed Massaquoi and Rennie Curran. Despite not winning the conference, Georgia wound up ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll.
2012: The 12-2 Dawgs won the SEC East, and came within one play of beating Alabama for the conference championship and playing for the national title that Richt never could get. Led by QB Aaron Murray, this edition of the Dawgs featured one of Richt’s most talented lineups, including Malcolm Mitchell, Artie Lynch, Todd Gurley, Tavarres King, Cornelius Washington, Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo. They beat Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl and finished fifth in the final AP poll and fourth in the coaches’ poll.
Which brings us back to 2017: Kirby Smart’s second season as coach produced a host of great memories for Dawgs fans, from the road win over Notre Dame to the SEC Championship Game win over Auburn, an overtime victory over Oklahoma in a rare Rose Bowl appearance, and, finally, an overtime loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. What a year. Nick Chubb. Sony Michel. Jake Fromm. Rodrigo Blankenship. Roquan Smith. Yeah, definitely an all-time fave.
Other favorite seasons that didn’t quite crack my top 10: the 1965 team, which limped to a 6-4 record after a string of key injuries, but managed to get unforgettable wins over national champion Alabama and Michigan at Ann Arbor; the 1968 SEC champions, who completed an undefeated regular season (8-0-2) before falling to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl (finishing eighth in the AP poll but being declared national champs by the Litkenhous poll); and the Ray Goff-coached 1992 team, which featured such stars as Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst, Mack Strong, Andre Hastings and Randall Godfrey, and went 10-2, beating Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl and finishing eighth in the final AP poll.
Here’s hoping I have a reason to revisit this list and add another favorite team come January 2019!