You know the drill: As the SEC opener for the Dogs, South Carolina almost always provides a tough early-season test and the games usually are close, hard-fought affairs that turn on a key play or last-minute heroics like last year when Rennie Curran broke up what looked like a touchdown pass for the Gamecocks with seconds remaining on the clock.
But as host Bobby Hartin of ESPN Radio 910 in Charleston noted when he and I were talking about the closeness of the games on his “FanTalk” show earlier this week, the border rivalry between the two schools has always seemed to mean more to Gamecocks fans than to the Bulldog Nation. Since South Carolina joined the SEC, I’ve heard Gamecocks fans say the Dogs have become just about as big a rival for them as Clemson. Meanwhile, on the Georgia side, fans tend to rank the Gamecocks behind Florida, Tech, Auburn and Tennessee — unless they live over in the Augusta area, where Carolina looms larger in the debate.
Still, there’ve been quite a few memorable Georgia-South Carolina games — some of which Dogs fans relish and a few we’d rather forget, like the 2007 loss in Athens that cost Georgia an SEC championship and a shot at the BCS title.
It’s not just a recent thing, either. The only blemish on the season for the 1959 SEC Champion Dogs was a 34-14 loss in Columbia that wouldn’t have been that close had Fran Tarkenton not thrown two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Fumbles were the gremlin that day. And then there was the 2000 game at Williams-Brice Stadium that proved to be the first nail in Jim Donnan’s coffin as Heisman Trophy candidate (that’s what they called him at the time) Quincy Carter threw five interceptions in a 21-10 debacle. Noted Donnan after the game: “Obviously, we have some real problems offensively.”
Other SEC championship Georgia teams had more success against Carolina than the ’59 Dogs, but barely. In 1966, UGA won 7-0 on a quarterback sneak by Kirby Moore. In 1968, Mike Cavan threw a touchdown pass to Kent Lawrence to give Georgia a 21-20 win. In 1976, the Dogs fell behind 6-0 before finally prevailing 20-12. In 2005, the Dogs held on for a 17-15 win over Steve Spurrier thanks to a failed Carolina two-point conversion.
And then there were probably the two most celebrated Georgia wins over South Carolina. The first was the nationally televised 1980 duel in Athens between a pair of Heisman-winning running backs, George Rogers and Herschel Walker. On their way to a national championship, the Dogs prevailed that day thanks to two Rex Robinson field goals and a timely Rogers fumble. And then in 2002 David Pollack amazed everyone and made himself a legend with his improbable interception while sacking the S.C. quarterback in the end zone.
A couple of other Georgia-South Carolina games are notable because of major comebacks for the Dogs. The first game I ever watched from the upper level of Sanford Stadium was the 1970 match against the Gamecocks. Georgia was trailing 21-3 when Cavan got hurt and Vince Dooley had to insert the backup quarterback, Athens’ own Paul Gilbert (who later would sit in front of me at Georgia games for many years).
It was a career game for Gilbert, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 283 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions in leading the Dogs to a barn-burning 52-34 victory. Said Dooley after the game: “I have never seen a more tremendous performance than Paul Gilbert gave today. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team or an individual.”
And then there was the 2004 game in Columbia that my son attended. Georgia stunk in the first half and fell behind 16-0. But David Greene engineered a second-half comeback capped off by a 22-yard pass to Reggie Brown for a 20-16 win.
Despite the score, it sort of felt preordained that the Dogs were going to pull it out, as they have most of the time against the Gamecocks. As soon as Georgia began coming back, the noisy Carolina crowd shut up, my son recalls. And watching on TV, you could see it in the faces of the Gamecocks players: They knew they were going down.
Can this year’s Dogs, even without A.J. Green, find a way to similarly silence the Williams-Brice crowd and that amplified rooster call on Saturday? History tells us not to bet against them.
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