Where does Rose Bowl rank among Dawgs’ ‘best’ games ever?

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Many Georgia fans consider the Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma to be the greatest football game in UGA history.

Georgia’s Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma is up for best game at the ESPY Awards next month. We’ll find out if it takes the prize on July 18, but, regardless, it doesn’t get much better than winning the granddaddy of all bowl games 54-48 in double overtime over a blue-chip program, thus earning a shot at the national championship.

Georgia’s Rose Bowl win is in the running for best game at the ESPY Awards. (John Kelley/UGA)

Many UGA fans already rank the Rose Bowl game among the Dawgs’ best ever. Heck, I’ve heard from non-UGA fans who think it’s one of the best football games ever played, period.

All of which raises the question: What other games belong on a list of Georgia’s all-time best?

Determining the “best” of anything is a subjective process. When I think of the all-time best games, I’m not necessarily talking about biggest wins or most important games. To me, it depends on how competitive, entertaining and exciting the game was, rather than just the Dawgs winning.

If, decades later, fans are still talking about a game, I think it’s probably safe to say it’s one of your all-time best. But if a game was too one-sided, I wouldn’t include it on such a list, even if it was a thoroughly enjoyable beatdown, like the 51-7 win over Georgia Tech in 2002.

Of course, you could make the case for some losses — such as the down-to-the-wire 2012 SEC Championship Game against Alabama — being ranked among the “best” games, as long as your main criteria isn’t a win by the Dawgs.

I put this question to some longtime Georgia Bulldogs fans this week. Not everyone approached the question the same way.

My buddy Scott, for instance, sought to put some objectivity into it: “Regardless of who wins, if I didn’t have a dog in this fight, would I stick with the game and at the end be able to say, ‘Wow that was a great game!’”

Scott’s criteria is very specific:

  1. Has to be a game of big stakes or a completely unexpected upset;
  2. Has to have a bunch of lead changes or a massive comeback;
  3. A highly dramatic ending;
  4. Overall quality of play has to be good.

For the latter reason, the National Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium doesn’t make his list.

I’ll concede that the title game didn’t show either team at its best, but it was a very competitive game for the national championship, and it went to overtime. So, a case definitely can be made for including it. 

The Cotton Bowl game against Texas still resonates with fans. (Getty Images)

My friend Joel agreed. “I don’t think a game has to be played at the highest level to be a great game. The final score of the Immaculate Reception game [between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in 1972] was 13-7. It was 3-0 after three quarters. Yet it’s one of the most iconic games in NFL history. I think it’s the drama that makes a great game.”

However, for Scott, drama alone isn’t enough. “The 2016 Tennessee game probably had the most bizarre/exciting finish in the history of Sanford Stadium. But, at the end of the day, it was two mediocre teams playing for runner-up in the SEC East — not high-enough stakes, so it doesn’t make my list.”

Among the games that did make Scott’s list, besides the recent Rose Bowl, were: Georgia’s 2013 win over LSU (two top-10 teams in a game almost as exciting as Rose Bowl); the 2001 Hobnail Boot game in Knoxville; the 1971 comeback win over Tech; the 2002 win over Auburn that put the Dawgs in the SEC Championship Game; and the 1984 win over Clemson resulting from Kevin Butler’s 60-yard field goal.

What, no 1980 Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame? “There was no drama at the end, and it was truly a poorly played game,” Scott noted. “We couldn’t complete a pass, and Notre Dame could only complete passes to our defensive backs. It was Herschel Walker vs. Notre Dame’s 11 defenders.” 

If losses are included, Scott also would give consideration to the 2013 Prayer at Jordan Hare game, and the 2012 SEC title game, among others.

Many fans would disagree about a loss qualifying as one of Georgia’s best games. Scott said he shared this question with another friend, and “every one of their choices was a UGA victory, often one-sided wins over rivals.” His argument that you should include hugely entertaining games the Dawgs lost, “in which the last bounce went against us,” fell on deaf ears, he said.

Another friend, Mike, considers the Cotton Bowl win over Texas to be the classic Vince Dooley-era game (“hang around, hang around, win”) and one of the best ever. But, for him, the 1978 victory over Tech engineered by substitute quarterback Buck Belue ranks in a tie with the Rose Bowl as the best ever.

The 2013 shootout with LSU in Athens deserves consideration as one of Georgia’s greatest games. (Philip Williams/UGA)

Getting back to sheer drama, Joel doesn’t think you can top the 1980 Florida game. “The quality of play might not have been the highest, and from beginning to end it wasn’t a spectacular game, but it’s my No. 1 game just based on one play and the obvious importance of the result. Hobnail Boot is also high on the list. Not surprisingly, those two games produced [Larry] Munson’s two greatest calls.”

Scott, of course, pointed out that “the little-remembered 1981 Florida game was actually a better game start to finish” than the 1980 game.

When it comes to including losses, Joel said, “If you’re going to be totally objective, trying to judge from the perspective of a neutral fan, I think No. 1 would be the Rose Bowl, No. 2 would be the national championship loss to Alabama, and No. 3 would be the 2012 SEC championship loss to Alabama.”

But, he said, “being objective is no fun at all!”

And, Joel added, “from a totally unobjective standpoint, and basing the answer on sheer ecstasy, I nominate as the greatest game of all time: the 1976 Alabama game,” a 21-0 win over Bear Bryant’s Tide.

Other fans reach a bit farther back. Dan, Owen and Bill, three Athens classmates of mine, all consider the 1965 upset over the Crimson Tide — popularly known as the “flea-flicker game” — to be Georgia’s best ever. “Nothing else is close in my book,” Dan said.

Helen, another lifelong fan, joined Bill in also mentioning another 1965 game, one of the greatest upsets ever achieved by the Dawgs, the 15-7 win over top 10-ranked Michigan at Ann Arbor. It seemed like half of Athens turned out at the airport to welcome Dooley’s Dogs back from that one.

Remembered Bill: “We went to church the next morning, and the pastor, Claude McBride, himself a former UGA cheerleader, talked about the big win, then said it was time to get to the sermon.” When he raised his Bible to read the Scripture, the congregation saw the headline from that morning’s paper, which he had taped across the back: ‘Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious!’” 

Bill thinks maybe the 1957 “drought-breaker” win over Tech, which ended an eight-game winning streak for the Jackets, and got game hero Theron Sapp’s jersey number retired, probably should make the all-time best list, too. 

Vince Dooley’s Dogs celebrate their 1965 upset of Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide. (University of Georgia)

As for my own list of Georgia’s best games ever, I limited myself to 10 and came up with these:

  • Georgia over Alabama, 18-17 in 1965. It heralded a new age in UGA football as the Dawgs beat the national champ.
  • Georgia over Alabama, 21-0 in 1976. Beating the Bear. The party afterward went on for days.
  • Georgia over Georgia Tech, 29-28 in 1978. Thanks to this one, Belue would have a place in UGA annals even without the 1980 Florida game.
  • Georgia over Notre Dame, 17-10 in the 1981 Sugar Bowl. Herschel! National championship! Who cares if it wasn’t technically a great game?
  • Georgia over Texas, 10-9 in the 1984 Cotton Bowl. A huge upset that still resonates. What time is it in Dallas?
  • Georgia over LSU, 34-14 in the 2005 SEC Championship Game. Another major upset.
  • Georgia over Auburn, 45-20 in 2007. The first “blackout” game, in which the Tigers took a 20-17 lead before Georgia scored 28 unanswered points.
  • Georgia losing to Alabama, 32-28 in the 2012 SEC Championship Game. A terrific back-and-forth game that many non-UGA observers consider the best SEC title game ever.
  • Georgia over LSU, 44-41 in 2013. The battle between former roomies Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. The loudest game ever at Sanford Stadium.
  • Georgia over Oklahoma, 54-48 in the 2018 Rose Bowl. Best. Game. Ever.

Runners-up: Herschel vs. George Rogers in the 1980 win over South Carolina; the 2001 Hobnail Boot win over Tennessee; the 2007 “celebration” win over Florida; the 2014 win over Clemson in Athens (Nick Chubb’s debut);  the 2017 win over Notre Dame in South Bend; and the overtime national championship loss to Bama.

As for that Rose Bowl game, it’s going up against World Series Game 5 and the U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey shootout victory over Canada in ESPY voting. You can vote here.

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