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Area Georgia fans eagerly await national championship game
Bulldogs can claim first national title in 37 years
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Adam Miller poses for a portrait holding ticket stubs from University of Georgia football games he has attended this year, including the Rose Bowl and SEC Championship, in Gainesville, on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Miller, who is a graduate of UGA and a Bulldogs fan, owns various items from previous football seasons, including a clock and Coca-Cola from the 1980 National Championship season. - photo by David Barnes

Thirty-seven years.

That span saw five different U.S. Presidents, Michael Jordan’s flu game in the NBA Finals, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, all of Tiger Woods’ 14 Major golf championships, not to mention the 37 Super Bowls that have played since the University of Georgia last won a national championship.

Nearly four decades of knocking on the door could finally come to fruition for the Bulldog fanbase.

After coming out on top in arguably the most thrilling finishes in College Football Playoff history, 2018 Rose Bowl champion Georgia has a date with destiny. The third-ranked Bulldogs (13-1) battle No. 4 Alabama (12-1) for the College Football Playoff national title game inside the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 8 p.m. Monday.

It’s an opportunity for second-year coach Kirby Smart to give Georgia its first championship since Vince Dooley did so in 1980.  

“The people just want a championship, and they want it bad,” said Adam Miller, a longtime coach at Gainesville High and avid Georgia fan.

Hammond Law, a Gainesville attorney, has yearned for this day since he graduated from Georgia in 1982 and will be one of the lucky fans to fill up Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the game. Law’s father took him to his first Georgia game in 1963, and he has bled red and black ever since.

“My wife (Bree) says I’ve been intolerable lately,” Law joked. “When I got out of school at Georgia, I assumed they would always win because that was at the tail end of the Herschel Walker years. I didn’t know it would be (37) years later, playing for a national championship.”

Miller, 42, who is an assistant baseball coach and the cross country coach at Gainesville, joins Law in his fervor of hoping to see the Bulldogs win it all. 

A win Monday will pay huge dividends for the football program and especially, the state of Georgia, Miller said.

“Pretty much anywhere you go in the state, you’ll see a Georgia license plate, a bumper sticker, a car flag or something flying year round,” he said. “Obviously the state is invested in this university and the program.” 

It’s a state that has had to weather a long storm of failing to reach the pinnacle of college football. Law can recollect those years of frustration. That includes the shortcomings in Mark Richt’s tenure, and Georgia’s painfully close loss to Alabama in the 2012 SEC championship at the Georgia Dome, where the Bulldogs came yards short of a possible trip to the national championship game with a 32-28 loss. 

For many years, the results have been the same: Close but no cigar.

“We do expect to be great, and we do expect to be the top-tier every year. It just hasn’t worked out,” said Gainesville’s Rusty Jessup, who is a Georgia graduate from a family of season-ticket holders.

And then along came Kirby.

Despite an 8-5 mark in 2016, Law was impressed with Smart’s intensity from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, almost identical to his former superior and longtime mentor Nick Saban at Alabama. 

More recently, it was the poise of freshman quarterback Jake Fromm against Notre Dame that caught Law’s eye. From that, he knew something bigger could be in the making.

“I thought they had a chance to win the division and maybe 10 or 11 games,” he said. “I knew if they did that, they would be in contention to do good things at the end of the year. But once they beat Notre Dame on the road, you knew they had a chance to win big, and not just win the (SEC East).

“It’s amazing that he’s taken this team to a national championship (game) in just his second year,” said Gainesville’s Abit Massey, who is president emeritus of Georgia Poultry Federation. “He’s done a great job coaching and recruiting.”

Smart also has the chance to snap an ugly streak in becoming the first of Saban’s former assistants to beat him at his craft. Saban is 11-0 against his subordinates, with Smart up next.

But Monday’s championship game still circles back to the fans — those immersed in the Bulldog nation.

It is a community of diehards, those who practically grow up between the hedges, and for some, go on to marry other Bulldog fans. And while many alums leave Athens, it never really leaves them.

Nearly every major event in Miller’s life has occurred within the Arch. His mother graduated from Georgia. He attended games with his parents as a child and even met his wife Leslie on campus shortly before graduating in 2000. 

To this day, he never gets enough of Athens and the Georgia sporting events there. 

“I was sort of born into it. ... It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember,” Miller said.

Miller, along with Leslie and his two children, had some of the best seats in the house during Sony Michel’s double-overtime heroics in Georgia’s Rose Bowl win Jan. 1.

Miller saw the entire sequence unravel five rows back from the left corner of the end zone — Michel’s direct snap, slip through the crease and trot into the end zone to clinch the victory. It was total pandemonium, he said.

“It was pretty cool seeing him run straight toward us,” Miller said.

“Obviously with all the buildup and the chance to get to the national championship game, that was quite a scene. And especially that venue. What a stadium, what a day.”

Massey, along with members of his immediate family, were sitting in the Tunnel 5 section, Row 39 of the Rose Bowl Stadium when the Bulldogs officially booked their tickets to the title game. 

Massey is a Georgia alum alongside his son Lewis, who was a freshman at Georgia when the Bulldogs last won a national title in 1980. Lewis and his wife Amy, along with their three children — Christian (a freshmen at Georgia), Cameryn (a Georgia grad) and Chandler — were in the stands at the Rose Bowl.

Miller, who attended the Notre Dame game, SEC Championship and a majority of the Bulldogs’ home games this season, confirmed his view of the national title game will be in front of his own television. Massey too will be watching from home.

Jessup anticipates a contested battle coming down to the wire but doesn’t want to be too greedy with his prediction.

He’s still prepared to accept a more ominous result. 

Then again, this is Georgia. Greatness is still expected.

“I can’t bet with my wallet more than my heart,” Jessup said with a laugh. “A lot of Georgia fans are gonna be pleased, no matter what happens. I definitely think we have a chance, and I definitely think things can go our way.”

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