NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Terry Godwin stood and posed, for no one in particular, and just flashed his wide grin. Nick Chubb looked at Deandre Baker, smiled and patted him on the back. Behind them, a sea of red-clad Georgia football fans cheered, and cheered, and kept cheering.
It’s become a hallmark of Georgia games this year: Players go over to the massive sea of red, whether it be in Athens, South Bend, Knoxville or Nashville, and share in the moment.
Still, the celebration seems outsized to the actual event: A regular-season win, and this time at Vanderbilt. It would seem the perfect time for the head coach, the one reared under the seemingly joyless Nick Saban, to step in and demand his players get off the field. You haven’t won anything yet, you’d think he might say.
Instead, Kirby Smart is often right in the middle of it. He doesn’t stop the celebrating. He revels in it, too. For all the elements involved in this Georgia run so far – great defense, improved offensive line and special teams, Jake Fromm – there’s another underlying element.
Yes, a football team can have fun and still win. It can be relaxed enough that even the strength and conditioning staff can spend Saturday morning bear-hugging players and even Smart, trying to get everyone excited for a noon start.
“I certainly didn’t want a hug from them but they gave me one, too,” Smart said.
Smart then spent much of his postgame press conference issuing wise-cracks. Like when a microphone for Atlanta’s Fox 5 began slipping on the podium. As a representative from that station, which a day earlier had flown a helicopter over Harrison High School for the Justin Fields announcement, Smart paused as he began to smile.
“Figured y’all were still over at Harrison,” Smart said.
A bit later, another reporter asked Smart about Solomon Kindley, the 330-pound right guard who has had recurring ankle injuries and limped off the field on Saturday.
“I think he just wants you guys to ask about him,” Smart said, deadpan. “I think he was tired of playing so he comes hobbling off and says, ‘It’s my ankle, coach.’ He’s just ready to get on the plane and get a sandwich.”
Georgia players, for all their postgame joyfulness, tend to clam up and be more robotic when it comes time for the interviews. But only to a point.
Chubb, when asked whether Georgia’s 423-rushing yard performance showed the identity of the team, grinned at the reporter.
“We want to run the ball,” Chubb said. “And I think you know that.”
Then Chubb giggled. Yes. Giggled.
The joyfulness may be a result of winning. It may be the personality of the locker room. Maybe Fromm, with his ever-present smile and energy, is rubbing off on everybody. Senior leaders Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy also are very outgoing personalities.
It may also have a lot to do with the fans: At every stop this year the fan base has accompanied the team. And at the end of these games they’ve always had something to cheer about, fans and team together.
Sony Michel, the senior tailback, summed it all up after Saturday’s game.
“It’s fun when you win,” he said.