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Georgia’s Impact of What Is

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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These Bulldogs didn't quite get a national title ring, but their scars speak to the sacrifice put in.

Every one of those players on both sides will be a better man because of that. It was a special moment, everyone gave it everything they had.
~Bill Curry

Georgia's 2017 football season will never be forgotten. The Bulldogs came within mere plays of a national championship, tying a program record for wins in a run that featured an SEC title, a dramatic Rose Bowl triumph over Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma, a historic victory at Notre Dame and overwhelming dismissals of rivals Florida, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. No story from this past fall can be told without Georgia being front and center. No feeling, even pain, will soon fade.   

Literally and figuratively, all that the Bulldogs did goes well beyond what they didn't. The space between, for Georgia, is where legacies and lessons meet.

It may still take some time from when the confetti fell in Atlanta, but ultimately, around the Peach State, the dust will settle. What remains will be traditions both tangible and told.

The Bulldogs' league crown, one that Alabama doesn't have, mind you, is just Georgia's third since 1982. Furthermore, what happened in Pasadena is now part of college football lore. A dream come true, Lorenzo Carter's fingers didn't just block an overtime kick, they pinched a fan base forward. The Bulldogs left red clay all over the Rose Bowl. Even in stinging defeat, the title bout was a testament to the pride that defines Georgia and its fans; the Bulldogs, in their own backyard, and in all of their glory, glory, were on full display.         

Carter, along with the likes of Davin Bellamy, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and others, walk away with their heads held high, leaving a foundation more lasting than any one moment. Georgia is better for not only what it just did, but also how and why; head coach Kirby Smart reflected those sentiments post-game.

Tua Tagovailoa's improbable winning touchdown pass will undoubtedly go down as the national championship's signature memory; the game's true meaning, however, may prove to be much more poignant. 

"Every one of those players on both sides will be a better man because of that," explained football legend Bill Curry, a long-time pro football star and head coach at Alabama, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kentucky, also a former ESPN analyst. "It was a special moment, everyone gave it everything they had."

There's no way around it, what happened in the national championship game hurts for the Bulldogs and will for quite some time. That said, it will long resonate as well. Georgia earned its spot on that grand stage, making the most of an opportunity very few ever get. Couple the Bulldogs' on-field successes with their momentum on the recruiting trail and it looks like Georgia, with Smart already exceeding outside expectations, is primed and ready for a return. Though a number of key veterans move on, their example isn't going anywhere.

Building a champion is a very deliberate process, one that takes time and, often, tears. Parallels of shock and awe can certainly be drawn with last Monday's showdown and the 2012 SEC Championship Game, played in the lot now known as the old Georgia Dome. That afternoon, with the winner sure to advance to play for a BCS Title, third-ranked Georgia led second-ranked Alabama for much of the contest before the game came down to one final drive and, effectively, one final snap.

With Georgia trailing 32-28 late in the fourth quarter, Aaron Murray found Arthur Lynch on a stirring 26-yard strike that got the Bulldogs down to the 8-yard line with just seconds remaining. Murray's final pass was then tipped in the direction of Chris Conley, who abruptly caught the ball mere yards from the goaline. The clock expired before Georgia could run another play.

"It's hard to explain the feelings you're going through at that precise time, you're pretty much in a state of denial," Lynch recalled. "I remember specifically looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the confetti fly down and seeing the guys from the other sideline running and you realize it's over."

Big games magnify everything and the sheer simplicity of the game of football is oftentimes included; one basic sequence can be the difference in how history remembers an entire year. Through it all, though, the Bulldogs gave everything they had. Georgia went blow-for-blow with the top program in the game, walking away with nothing more left to prove.   

"Kirby Smart keeps his team in the moment and he takes the plays as they come," Lynched detailed. "When our backs were against the wall, we responded. I think that has to do with the senior leadership and, of course, Kirby Smart. I don't think they were overwhelmed at any point during the game."

Football gives and football takes, such is the nature of a game where so much can come down to so little.

These Bulldogs didn't quite get a national title ring, but their scars speak to the sacrifice put in.

"My high school coach many, many years ago, who happened to be a Georgia Bulldog lineman, coach Badgett, used to say 'football is like life marked off at 100 yards'," Curry shared. "You will get knocked on your butt and you keep getting up and keep getting up. You can achieve anything in life if you do not quit. Neither one of those teams quit. They were both winners."

Smart's message, before and after, has stayed the same. Correspondingly, expect Georgia to maintain the status quo. The true power of Smart's perspective may come in the appreciation he has for his team, an emotion that was ever-stoic after the heartbreaking defeat. There is a great value, one no scoreboard or stat sheet can measure, in the respect Smart continues to pay his players. He led the Bulldogs on and off the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the exact same sense of conviction.

"What he is doing when he does that is changing those young men's lives," Curry added of Smart's reaction to the loss. "They will never be the same because they had a head coach that stood in the gap for them. The ones who go the extra mile like Kirby did, that's called transformative coaching as opposed to transactional coaching. Transformative coaching is more important than winning a single game."

We shouldn't get so caught up in what almost was that we lose sight of what actually happened: simply put, Georgia had a season for the ages. Never settling, the Bulldogs get back to work in pursuit of a national championship; they do so in the shadow of greatness.

Georgia isn't going anywhere; neither are the memories made.

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