THE FOOTBALL AINT ROUND
That is why the Dawgs lost a tough game to an evenly matched opponent with a razor-thin margin for error. Two instances of the oblong spheroid bouncing the wrong way for the Dawgs: (1) When Brannan Southerland fumbled in the fourth quarter, he was still on his feet. He started after the ball, but his momentum was going one direction and the ball bounced the other. Auburn scooped it up for a touchdown. (2) When Paul Oliver caught Devin Aromashodu inside the five and punched the ball into the end zone, if the ball had kicked to the right, it would have been out of bounds, a touchback, UGA ball on the 20 and we take a knee for the victory. If the ball bounces straight toward the back of the end zone, it likely goes through the end zone before Courtney Taylor gets to it. Instead, the ball kicks to the left and away from Auburn peril.
These two teams could not have been more equally matched. In the most replete statistical analysis on record, Kyle King deftly illustrated this point last Thursday. Both teams played to their strengths. Kenny Irons was a workhorse gaining 185 yards rushing and 2 TDs. DJ Shockley was outstanding in his most impressive game yet (20-36-304 and 2 TDs no Ints.) My man, Leonard Pope was unstoppable (8-102 and 1 TD) except by one curiously petty official ( I don't want to go there!) Thomas Brown actually had more yards per carry than Irons (5.7 v. 4.8) with 13 carries for 74 yards and 1 TD. Aromashodu looked very Reggie Bush-like on two monster plays.
The stadium was electric and the day had lined up perfectly for the Dawgs thanks to an assist from the Evil one. Auburn received a stroke of bad news when LSU outlasted the hobbled Crimson Tide in OT. The weather was a gift from our creator on this perfect night for an epic football battle. In this heavyweight slugfest, each team delivered some mighty blows and received a few in return. In the end, each team had played about as good as they were capable. The difference in the game, two unpredictable bounces that both went Auburn's way.
Since the game ended, I have heard and read varying reactions from Dawgs fans ranging from pride in the effort to utter disgust at some coaching decisions and the officiating. Paul Westerdawg has a very rational take that I agree with almost stem to stern. The Mayor has a spiritual, Christian/Zen take. A more edgy, yet hilarious take comes from Hey, Jenny Slater. That's funny right there. I don't care who you are. And then there is this take from Gunslingers that will be my segue, particularly the part about Auburn fans . . .
SHOWING THE LOVE ON VETERANS WEEKEND
I believe that Vince Lombardi said, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." I guess that makes me a double loser last Saturday. Never have I been so comfortable and content after watching both of my Alma Maters lose.
First, for the 42nd consecutive year, Navy lost to Notre Dame 42-21. At least we covered the spread. I would normally not be distraught over a loss to Notre Dame, and this year was no different from that angle. However, as a Southern male sportsfan, I have hated two teams more and longer than any other: Notre Dame and the New York Yankees. By hate, I do not mean that I wish that their team bus would plunge into an icy river or anything. I just never, ever, ever have pulled for either of these teams to win. There was that year that Spurrier's Gators played Holtz's Irish in the Sugar Bowl and I was utterly confounded. Like when you have a violent stomach virus and run to the bathroom to throw up, but you know you will also spew from the other end and you have to choose real quick which to try first. Anyway, what I did not ever need was a reason to like Notre Dame. Well, forget about it.
Charlie Weis made me a fan Saturday. After the game, as he was walking toward the Navy side of the field and the sideline reporter tried to stop him to ask questions about a BCS bowl berth, Weis abruptly informed him that he did not have time to talk because he and his players were going to join the Midshipmen in front of the Navy band for the singing of the Navy Blue and Gold. When the reporter persisted, Weis reiterated that he was going to join the Midshipmen saying something to the extent that he and his players respect the mission of the Naval Academy and that it was important for them to show their support. I could tell that this man was sincere in his conviction and that he was not merely carrying out a publicity stunt. In fact, it seemed that the entire stadium observed the Navy Blue and Gold with the Middies.
This gesture by Charlie Weis and his players meant a whole lot to my brother (USNA 1986) and I as we watched together in Athens. After all, players at Navy are not competing for BCS recognition. They are playing because they love football. The stark reality today is that some of these athletes will take their competitive fire into the Navy Seals and Marine Infantry (as well as other specialties) to go directly into harms way. But you already know that. Suffice it to say, that despite my fine upbringing at the hands of third generation Bulldogs, I am now a fan of Charlie Weis and to a lesser extent, his football team. I am part Irish, afterall. And though he will not see this blog, I want to thank Coach Weis and his players for showing the love.
Next on my list is the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band and the Auburn University Marching Band. When the two bands formed up together, filling the entire football field to play tributes to each branch of the Armed Forces, I was truly moved. I know this sounds sappy, but I still have a tender spot in my heart for the US of A and I would go back to war for her if my country needed me. When the whole stadium sang God Bless America, I knew overwhelmingly how much God has blessed America and my family as I enjoyed a beautiful night in the stadium with my Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Brother-in-law, Uncle and about 85,000 friends. To these two proud marching bands, thank you for showing the love.
The last group on my list are the Auburn fans. I grew up in Douglas (Coffee County) in southeast Georgia and I now live in Amelia Island, Florida. While growing up, there were only a few Auburn fans in Douglas. Where I now live, I rarely encounter Auburn fans. But, I have been to Jordan-Hare Stadium twice and I have been to the UGA-Auburn game in Athens at least 8 times. That is 10 ball games that have almost all been colossal clashes. Yet, I have never had a negative experience with an Auburn fan. I am sure that there are exceptions, but I personally have experienced only classy, courteous and respectful fans at these 10 games. I have heard a similar sentiment expressed by others, including Gunslingers noted above. For a night filled with true sportsmanship on and off the field, I want to thank the Auburn fans for showing the love.
Now to show that I am no flower child, toting around a tambourine and sporting a dream catcher in my earlobe, I direct your attention to sources of some schadenfreude, the misery of the Gators and Jackets. Also, I still like to make fun of the French and Al Gore.
And I will lash out at some fellow Dawg fans with this velvety sash...
"FIRE RICHT NOW! RICHT IS AN IDIOT! WE DESERVE BETTER! BLAH BLAH BLAH." (Short memories, is what I say.)
Here is the text from an email I sent to a group of friends today regarding questionable coaching decisions under fire.
Yes, Richt has booted a few crunch time decisions. Yes this is the 4th or 5th close game that we coulda woulda shoulda won that we lost since Richt arrived in Athens. S. Carolina 2001, Auburn 2001, BC 2001, Florida 2005, Auburn 2005. But, there are no guarantees either.
S. Carolina 2001, we don't get the delay of game penalty, procedure penalty and a host of other errors with 1st and goal in the 4th quarter and we do get a touchdown. Then Carolina gets the ball needing a TD to win instead of a FG. Well, as it turns out, they did get a TD. I know that we defend it differently if they must have a TD, but maybe they score anyway.
Auburn 2001, instead of running Jasper to the 3 inch line we throw a pass for a touchdown and kick the PAT. 24-24. Overtime. Who wins in OT? We will never know.
BC 2001, we don't punt. Instead we go for it on 4th down. Maybe we get the first down. We still need 50 yards and a TD to win. Maybe we score, maybe we don't.
Florida 2005, instead of the QB sweep, we throw passes on 3-15, 3-10, 4-10. Maybe we complete a pass for a first down. We still have to get a TD on a day when finding the end zone was nearly impossible.
Auburn 2005, we call a timeout and go for a 2 point conversion. We have an historical 43.5% shot at getting the 2 points. If we fail, we lead by 5 instead of 7. If we succeed, we lead by 7. Now, assuming we succeed and the rest of the game follows the same progress, Auburn is 1st and goal at the 4 with 1:52 to play trailing by 3 points (instead of 2.) Does anyone doubt that Kenny Irons could have scored a touchdown in three earnest attempts when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry? Even if they don't score a TD, a field goal sends it to OT. Maybe we win in OT, maybe not. We will never know.
Obviously, every play is mutually exclusive of the previous play and that is the shortcoming of these "what if" scenarios. Also, it is obvious that we all would prefer that our coach make what we think is the right call everytime. My point is that even if Richt had done exactly what we wanted in the 5 scenarios above, there is no reasonable assurance that we would win the games anyway.
So now, the Florida and Auburn game are history. But, with wins over UK, GT, an SEC Championship win and a bowl victory over WVU (probably) and this will be the second best UGA season since Herschel took $16,000,000 to go play for the Donald in New Jersey. (Not assuming 4 straight victories - ever- but illustrating my point and thinking that we could definitely win each of these games with DJ Shockley pulling the trigger.) If we win the SECCG, the banner that they will hang in Sanford Stadium will have no asterisk on it denoting that we should have won more than 9 regular season games. Instead, it will be the only banner of its kind for 2005 flying in any of the 12 SEC stadiums. I'll take that.
If Richt is not the best game-time coach we can get, who could we hire? Pete Carroll ain't coming here. Would you want Mack Brown? Hell no. Beamer told us no at least once before. Or how about the only two current SEC coaches with more SEC championships than Richt? Spurrier (you know you don't want this a-hole!) Fulmer (hasn't won it since 1998 and in December Richt may have as many SECCs in 5 years that Phat Phil has in 14 years.
Furthermore, do you really remember the days of Dooley? I love the man, but other than the Herschel years, we always lost at least one game per year that we had no business losing. Dooley had a 70% winning percentage and he is unassailable. Richt has an 80% winning percentage and people are griping loudly. I know Richt is not perfect, and it would be great if he would hire an OC, but he is better than almost every other head coach in the country. And if he stays in Athens 20 years, he will have as many wins as Dooley had in 25 years. I suppose it is good to be a victim of your own success.
I like Mark Richt. I think he is a solid man in charge of our program. I would not trade him for any other Head Coach in the country (excluding perhaps Pete Carroll.) If he would hire an OC, I would have almost no criticism of him and the job he is doing. Rare will be the year that any team wins them all. With Mark Richt, I like our chances of winning them all for the third time in modern history more so than with any other coach that could possibly replace him. Richt makes a lot of money and should not make the kind of blunder that was made on the two-point conversion opportunity. But, I thinkit is great that we all now have extremely high expectations for this program. That is because of Richt, not in spite of him.
Let's go Dawgs, finish strong!