Welcome to your one-stop shop for all the relevant UGA football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, I wax poetic on what I’ll miss about Georgia’s greatest return man.
‘A pretty move, for the love of God’
One of the more surprising bits of post-Liberty Bowl news is Isaiah McKenzie’s decision to forgo his senior season and jump to the NFL. Which sucks, because, if you’re like me and most Georgia supporters, you’re a fan of McKenzie and hate to see him go.
One reason for this is obvious: He helped Georgia win football games. This season especially. Georgia really had no other receiver step up all season, and although he dropped his fair share of passes, his big plays at wideout helped the Dawgs win games against Missouri and TCU, at least, off the top of my head. He finished his Georgia career with 823 receiving yards, 633 of which came this season, and 7 touchdown (all of which came this season). Of course, how McKenzie played at wideout paled in comparison to his return skills. His 6 career return touchdowns — 5 punt returns and a kick return — are the most in Georgia history.
But there’s another — in my mind, just as important — reason why I’m going to miss him. In Uruguayan novelist Eduaro Galeano’s fantastic collection of essays, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, which is about far more than soccer and is worth a read from any sports fan, he explained his relationship to the game he loves like this:
Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: “A pretty move, for the love of God.”
Well, I am a beggar for good football, and McKenzie dropped a coin in my cup nearly every time he passed by.
There are few plays in football as aesthetically pleasing and exciting as a special teams return for touchdown (I’d argue an interception return is both most aesthetically pleasing and exciting, but that’s a debate for another day.). Football is a metaphor for war. Two sides line up and form trenches. One side attacks and tries to gain ground, while the other defends and tries to push the other side. It’s a war of attrition, and the side that inflicts more damage and sustains less damage dealt back at it will usually win.
But returns are guerrilla warfare and they turn the field into a jungle. There are no trenches. There is only space and the unknown lurking inside it. As you walk through that jungle, you don’t know when a bullet will whiz by or a booby trap will spring or a blocker will pop out of nowhere or the return man reverses the field. It’s a way for weaker teams to compensate and beat better teams through the sheer force of will of usually a few blockers and a single returner. It is a play where seemingly anything can happen.
McKenzie was undoubtedly a guerrilla warrior. When played at receiver, he could hold his own but was rarely special. On returns, opponents were on his turf and he caused as much chaos in their ranks as possible. He would pick up a punt on the bounce, send the defense one way, then cut on a dime the other way. Like all great returners, he would make opponents think they had him pinned, then make them look like fools when they realized they didn’t. The jungle belonged to him and no one else, and I loved watching it the last three seasons.
McKenzie helped Georgia win games. I’m going to miss that. But he was also fun as hell to watch and I’m going to miss that more.
Big flip for the Bulldogs
UGA’s hot streak on the recruiting trail continued on Monday when 3-star Alabama LB Monty Rice flipped from LSU to Georgia. With the all the 4-star and 5-star commits pouring in as of late, fans probably won’t be excited about Rice’s pledge as some others over the past month or so, but it’s still a crucial one. The Bulldogs are getting short on bodies at LB, so signing a fair amount of LBs this season was a top priority.
Recruiting is a zero-sum game. When your team lands a recruit, it means another team lost him. Sometimes that hurts, but when you’re on the winning side of this game, and the losing side is a team in your conference, it feels really good.
The Hawaiian Humane Society cleared out its shelter of all dogs for the first time in its 130-year history. The final dog adopted received a hero’s sendoff. Enjoy your forever home, little dude!