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A Moment in Time for Joshua Dobbs

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Before stepping into the spotlight with his famous throw at Georgia, Joshua Dobbs had already come full-circle.

I definitely loved every second of it. And my goal was to make the most of it. Playing for such a tremendous brand as the University of Tennessee
~Joshua Dobbs

There was a lot of context to Joshua Dobbs' walk-off, game-winning touchdown pass that spiraled through the air at Georgia in 2016.

The throw, coming right after Dobbs and Tennessee watched the Bulldogs seemingly score a late game-winning touchdown on a 47-yard stunner with just ten seconds to play, wasn't part of the initial storybook script. Jacob Eason to Ridley Ridley was history's original highlight that day. For Dobbs, the moment was already one that mattered. An Alpharetta-native, he was roughly 60 miles from his hometown, playing in front of friends and family in a national showcase game. Before stepping into the spotlight, Dobbs had already come full-circle.

It was a surreal scene, with Dobbs famously finding Jauan Jennings on a 43-yard touchdown heave with no time remaining. A play that happened in an instant immediately became an enduring part of Tennessee football lore.

For Dobbs, it took forever to get to forever first.

"I feel like I had time to look at the ball, look around the stadium, find my parents, give them a wave, check the sidelines, all before the ball came down," he recalled. "It definitely felt like a long time, but in the moment, man, there is so much adrenaline rushing, there is so much going through your head. Obviously, it was an emotional back-and-forth game leading up to the point. You just want to go home with the victory. A lot goes through your mind, but, at the end of the day, you just want to make the play and go celebrate with your teammates."

This, Dobbs-to-Jennings, was a play with a purpose. And a lot had to fall into place before any throw was ever attempted or any catch was ever made. Though Dobbs had to chunk the football nearly half the length of the field, he also had to be careful not to overthrow or underthrow the last try. Dobbs needed enough time to let the downfield routes develop and enough room to step into a pass that would travel close to 50 yards. Then, and only then, would Tennessee have the slimmest of odds.

It was all about time and place.

"First and foremost, with any Hail Mary, it's just to give your receiver a chance. You don't want to be the guy that throws the Hail Mary out the back of the endzone," he explained. "Jauan did a great job getting down the endzone, the O-line did a great job providing protection. Really had all day back there to kind of find my spot and let the ball go. From there, Jauan was able to go up, make a play on the ball and seal the win for us in hostile territory."

There was a relative sense of confidence, from the veteran quarterback, at the release of the ball. Dobbs knew that he could make the throw and knew that Jennings could go up and make the catch. When he did, Dobbs, even from half-a-field away, still saw it all so clearly. Many people that mattered to him did, too. It was a play, with Sanford Stadium suddenly stunned and Dobbs sprinting to the endzone alongside all of the players and coaches from the Tennessee sideline, a lifetime in the making.

"I definitely felt good about it out of my hand, but it's definitely a daunting throw," he reflected. "It feels good out of your hand, but, at the end of the day, you got to have a lot of trust in the guy on the other end of it. I remember throwing it and then I remember the vantage point I had of seeing Jauan's mitts catching the ball above all of the Georgia defenders and coming down with it. And then, of course, the excitement ensues once the catch is confirmed."

Part of the framing for one of the most iconic throws in Tennessee history was the first finish, Georgia's late touchdown that was believed to be the game-winning score; it was one that only setup the true, with a capital T, grand finale, instead. Nearly 15 years to the date after the homestanding Volunteers scored a dramatic go-ahead touchdown on a 62-yard screen pass from Casey Clausen to Travis Stephens, only to be avenged by David Greene's touchdown to Verron Haynes, Dobbs offered retribution a generation later.

Following Larry Munson's 2001 "Hobnail Boot" radio reference, some call the 2016 contest the "DobbNail Boot" game. It was a win and a moment for the ages. It was an ending, even before the final toss, very few people saw coming.

"If you rewind back in that game, we had the lead and they had the ball driving. There was only 15 seconds left, they were around midfield, they had no timeouts. We're sitting on the sidelines thinking, 'we're in the perfect situation, they got to score a touchdown to win, they have no timeouts. One ball caught in bounds and the game is over'," Dobbs acknowledged. "We didn't think we were going to have to go back on the field, really."

Through it all, Dobbs simply followed his instincts and trusted his preparation, perspective that led him to Tennessee as a star quarterback recruit from metro Atlanta. The rest, right away, was history. 

"It goes to show your mental toughness," Dobbs continued. "You go from celebrating and getting ready to enjoy the victory, to then losing, to then getting back locked in, to then going out and making a play and securing the win. It was definitely a roller coaster ride of an ending."

Tennessee-Georgia was one of college football's games of the year that season, twice an instant classic. After the Volunteers rallied from a 17-0 first half deficit, Eason's electrifying strike to Ridley, leaving mere ticks on the clock, was initially the frantic touchdown to remember. Most thought it was the exclamation point on a statement performance from the Bulldogs. The Volunteers, however, responded with a moment where no extra point was needed.

Dobbs made his point and promptly made history along the way. Winning both of his games against Georgia and doing so with late heroics both times only made the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry that much more special for one of the top players to ever compete in it. A Peach state-native who went big orange, Dobbs made the most of his chances to compete against his home state team. His improbable, thrilling victory as a senior was one to remember for more reasons than one.  

"I never grew up a Georgia fan, but I will say my entire town and high school definitely rubbed that Georgia Bulldog red in your face whenever they had the opportunity to," Dobbs stated. "That was my only game I got a chance to actually play in Sanford Stadium. Your senior year, on the road at Georgia, both top 25 ranked teams, to win, obviously would have liked to win in less dramatic fashion, but loved the great memory of winning on the road with a Hail Mary in your home state."  

For Dobbs, there was a local feel to a play that had national implications.

"Keep in mind, I'm from Alpharetta, Georgia so I think about 50% of my graduating class ending up going to the University of Georgia," he added. "For instance, that game, on the sideline, I think five of their cheerleaders were my high school cheerleaders at Alpharetta. I knew several of them. I knew so many people who were at school there at the time. It definitely felt good to have those bragging rights."

Simply put, Dobbs is a Tennessee great. Remarkably, one all-time play is only a small part of that. His work on the field, in the classroom and in the community is a special standard.

While fans will always remember Dobbs' throw whenever Tennessee plays Georgia, the quarterback will always remember his time at Tennessee. Wherever he goes, Dobbs takes great pride in being a Volunteer. He, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, appreciates all of what he accomplished and experienced at Tennessee. Dobbs legacy in Knoxville is a lasting one, as are his memories from a place that means so much to him.  

"I definitely loved every second of it. And my goal was to make the most of it," Dobbs shared. "Playing for such a tremendous brand as the University of Tennessee. Being, especially, the quarterback of the program, to be considered one of the greats as well, has meant and will always mean so much to me. Tennessee definitely has a special place in my heart. I loved my time there."

Not only does Dobbs look back fondly on his college career, he wants to pay that pride forward as well.

"I'm always excited to go back and pour into the next team, the next generation and ensure that they see the power of that 'T' they wear on the side of the helmet. It means a lot to be a Tennessee football player," he concluded.

Dobbs has long viewed opportunities with optimism. All he has ever needed is a chance.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports