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Georgia’s New Moment in Time

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith on Georgia's new historical perspective.

When it comes to sports, certain years resonate in certain cities, often for the wrong reasons.

1908 was a source of both pride and pain in the north side of Chicago until the Cubs ended their 108-year World Series championship drought in 2016.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles couldn’t shake 1960 for two generations, as their championship over the young Vince Lombardi Packers was the franchise’s last title until a stunning upset of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII in 2017.

Perhaps, of all cities, it’s Boston has the most in common with University of Georgia football. No, not culturally, as few people besides a pandering Brian Kelly can likely speak with an accent from each region, but on the grass, there are many parallels.

The Boston Red Sox went from 1918 to 2004 without a World Series title. As the decades went on, the former year became a taunt, mostly coming from the Red Sox’ archrival, the New York Yankees, who dominated the sport and ruined Red Sox title hopes directly in both 1978 and 2003. In 2004, a memorable comeback by the Red Sox against those Yankees propelled Boston to finally getting to celebrate for the first time in 86 years.

For Georgia, 1980 was their 1918. A star freshman named Herschel Walker led the way that year for a Bulldogs team that won close game after close game, defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the national championship. Georgia had come painfully close to ending its long national title drought in recent seasons, but Alabama, the Yankees of college football, snatched the Bulldogs' hands from the dog treat jar in comebacks wins in the 2012 SEC Championship Game and 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Georgia had another chance at its tormentors on Monday night in Indianapolis in the CFP National Championship Game. Would it be the Bulldogs’ 2004 Red Sox moment? Or would 1980 live on as a pain point in the Peach State after another Alabama title?

For a while, it looked like the latter, as Alabama was holding a slim 9-6 second-half lead in a battle of field goals. Georgia finally found the end zone late in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by Zeus White, putting the Bulldogs on top, 13-9. Alabama stole the lead back in the fourth quarter after a quirky fumble by Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV was recovered deep in Bulldogs territory. A four-play touchdown drive made it 18-13 Crimson Tide.

Embattled all season as not talented enough to win a national championship, Bennett rose up in the final quarter, capping a go-ahead touchdown drive with a beautiful 40-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell with eight minutes to play. The Bulldogs were ahead to stay.

The score? Well, in a twist of fate that only sports could provide, it was 19-18.

A pair of late touchdowns extended the score to 33-18 before it went final, as another touchdown pass from Bennett to Brock Bowers was followed by a 79-yard interception return touchdown by Kelee Ringo to put the final stamp on a night Georgia fans will never forget.

1980 was history. The tormentors had been tormented at last. Just as Red Sox fans had done in 2004 in St. Louis, the Bulldogs celebrated in a chilly Midwest town far away from home.

How did Georgia do it? As it had all year, with its defense, which held 14 of 15 opponents to below 20 points. After Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young picked apart Georgia for 421 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 41-24 SEC Championship Game victory five weeks ago, the Bulldogs held Young to just one touchdown and intercepted him twice, the first time in his Alabama career that he finished with more interceptions than touchdowns.

Bennett overcame a nervous start and the relentless pressure from star Crimson Tide edge rusher Will Anderson to lead a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives, as a South Georgia kid ended his Bulldogs career as a hero. The offensive line cranked it up in the fourth quarter to bust open some holes for White and James Cook, while the defensive front contained Alabama’s Brian Robinson for most of the night in holding him to just 68 yards on the ground.

The Red Sox have won three more championships since 2004, and with the talent amassed by head coach Kirby Smart, who became the first coach to win a national title at his alma mater since Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee in 1998, the Bulldogs could be poised for a similar run of success.

1918 is now just another championship year in Boston. Thanks to a play that made it 19-18 on Monday night, 1980 is finally the same in Athens, Georgia.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.