ATLANTA – Amid the craziness, the celebration on one side and the stunned silence on the other, Calvin Ridley and Riley Ridley managed to find each other. They spoke for a minute, embraced, and then took off their jerseys and gave them to each other.
“Hey man,” Calvin Ridley told his younger brother, holding his Alabama jersey. “Don’t let nobody steal this.”
They embraced again, and Riley whispered in his older brother’s ear.
“I just told him congratulations, and that I love him, and that he’s a champ once again,” Riley Ridley recalled later. “And that he continue to play hard throughout his career.”
The two leading receivers for both teams in the National Championship Game, at least statistically, were the Ridley brothers. Calvin had 4 catches for 32 yards and a touchdown for the Crimson Tide. Riley had 6 catches for 82 yards for the Bulldogs.
The most spectacular moments went to others. Devonta Smith, once committed to Georgia, had the game-winning 41-yard touchdown, his only catch of the game. And Mecole Hardman hauled in the 80-yard bomb from Jake Fromm that made it 20-7 in the third quarter.
Either way, the Ridley brothers had personal big nights.
Calvin Ridley, a junior, went out a champion in what likely was his final college game.
Riley Ridley, a sophomore, had his coming-out game on a national stage.
“It’s a lifting point,” Riley Ridley said. “It’s also a learning point for my team and the guys that will remain here. That we have to continue. We have to fight and start over for next year. We’ve got to let this drive us and become that team that we were this year.”
Riley Ridley entered the game with only 8 catches all season. He nearly doubled that in the National Championship Game.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said he saw it coming.
“I spoke to him before the game and I said, ‘Man, I feel like you’re going to have a great game,’ and dang if he didn’t do it tonight,” Fromm said. “I’m so proud of the way he played. He rose to the occasion, and I’m really proud of him.”
Ridley was the beneficiary of the absence of Javon Wims, the team’s leading receiver this season. Wims left the game in the first half and didn’t return. The injury, whatever it was, didn’t appear serious. Wims was not on crutches or in a walking boot in the locker room. A senior, he will now head to the NFL.
And Ridley could step into that role next season. Wims, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman developed into a good top tier for Georgia wide receivers this season, with Godwin and Hardman the speed guys and the taller Wims making big catches to move the sticks, and more.
Ridley showed he could do that, running good routes and making good catches.
But it came in a losing cause. Afterward, Ridley was asked what this does for the team going forward.
“Never forget this moment right now,” he said. “And let it drive you all the way back into next year.”