Georgia football fans are feeling a whirlwind of emotions. Bulldogs faithful are at an intersection of euphoria and anxiousness.
However, it’s a good problem to have for those a part of entrenched fanbase. Georgia’s been waiting for this opportunity for a long,long time.
The third-ranked Bulldogs (13-1) are just three days from playing Alabama on Monday in Atlanta for the national championship. This has caused a swell of Georgia pride as it plays in its first championship game in 35 years and looking for its national title since 1980. At the same time, Georgia fans are still riding the high of winning the nerve-wracking, double-overtime Rose Bowl against Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals Monday.
Bulldogs fans have already celebrated once this week like they won the big one, when in reality it’s a date against the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) to decide who brings home the championship in the fourth season of the four-team playoff.
For the final days leading up to the national championship, the reality of a national championship dangling in front of Georgia’s face will become more and more clear. The Bulldogs make the short trip to Atlanta today, where they’ll put the finishing touches on game preparation and handle the endless media responsibilities that those two programs are lucky enough to make it this far have to endure.
Turnaround was very fast since the Rose Bowl win. Georgia had to make the cross-country flight overnight from Los Angeles, before arriving back in Athens early on Tuesday morning. That left little time to break down game film and do extensive recovery work to mend bumps and bruises, and prepare for the physical grind of a game against Alabama.
Georgia players have been certainly barraged by requests for tickets, patted on the back by everyone they know for a job well done against Oklahoma and forced to focus on the task at hand against the Crimson Tide, a four-time national champion since 2009.
The Bulldogs’ players also had to get back in the classroom this week for the spring semester. With all the money generated and TV ratings spike the playoffs have
created, we have to remember that these are still student-athletes.
Georgia fans have equally glomped on to the ride to the championship game, hitting every peak and valley of emotions earlier this week during the back-and-forth, come-from-behind win against the second-ranked Sooners in Pasadena, California.
Georgia fans grimaced at the 17-point hole early in the game against Oklahoma, that was generated largely due to the exciting play of Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield for the Sooners. When Sony Michel coughed up the ball that was returned for a touchdown by Oklahoma, fans began to accept that things didn’t look good. Then, in a finish that could only be drawn up in the movies, Michel broke off a 27-yard touchdown run to find redemption and lock up the Bulldogs’ win.
Ever since Monday, Bulldogs fans — some lifelong supporters and others simply enjoying watching the local school do well — have been walking around wide-eyed and smiling at the possibility of a championship, along with how far the program has progressed under second-year coach Kirby Smart.
You’d have a hard time finding a household in our area where the Georgia football program’s success hasn’t been a topic of at least one conversation. Everyone is chatting with fellow Bulldogs fans about how they need just one more win to earn that long-illusive national title. Work production has likely been impacted with everyone talking about the excitement created by this seven-day span of back-to-back playoff games for Georgia, much like what happens during March Madness for college basketball fans.
Bulldogs fans have good reason to feel jubilation. For years, Georgia was mired in a pattern of complacency with 10-win seasons. Former coach Mark Richt did many wonderful things as the Bulldogs coach, and certainly won a lot of games over 15 seasons, but the two SEC Championships led to Georgia fans pressuring the school’s administration to make changes.
In stepped Smart into a role right off the coaching tree of Nick Saban at Alabama.
Right away, Georgia is playing with more swagger and appears confident it can win any game it plays. Wins against Notre Dame in the 2017 regular season and Auburn in the SEC title game made that pattern abundantly clear.
As a result, Bulldogs fans are feeling equally excited that they have the framework in place necessary to sustain success for many years to come. Georgia’s signing class for 2018 has it stockpiling depth in every position to replace talent that is on the way to the NFL.
Most of the week, fans of the red and black have steered clear of talking about the title-game opponent. It’s been a time to enjoy the moment of turning the corner in the Bulldogs’ football program. If Georgia beats Alabama to earn the national title, it will truly be a season no fan alive will ever forget.
I’ve yet to hear a Bulldogs fan say they would be devastated by a loss to the Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
However, if Georgia wins, it will become pure pandemonium inside the stadium with fans celebrating amid endless confetti. Back on the streets of Athens, it will be a booze-filled party that won’t end until the tap runs dry in the Classic City.
Every Georgia fan should enjoy this experience and the joy of being associated with a winning program. The Bulldogs might play win the national title again next season.
Or, as fans have learned, hoisting the trophy as the best program will be decades away.
Just don’t focus on the future of the Georgia football program right now. There’s plenty of time for that later.
Fans need to just bask in the process of watching Georgia make it to the championship game.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com or @Bill_Murphy379 on Twitter.