Just as I imagine it will take a while for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs to shake off the hurt from their close call with destiny Saturday night in the SEC Championship, the disappointment of the so-close loss to Alabama also is going to linger with the Bulldog Nation.
Talking to and hearing from fans Sunday, the overall mood was one of profound sadness over just how close this team came to playing for a national championship mixed with immense pride over the never-say-die effort the Dawgs gave in the Georgia Dome against the most elite of college football programs.
Only the most ignorant of so-called fans were expressing anger toward the coaches and players over the Bulldogs’ loss. More representative were those UGA students and fans who were on hand in Athens late Saturday night to greet the returning team buses with cheers, applause and chants of “It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog!”
Such a classy display of support filled me with what the folks at Butts-Mehre like to call Bulldog Pride.
But now many of us just feel drained. Several fans said they found they actually felt worse about the loss Sunday, once the adrenalin generated by the exciting match had worn off, than they did immediately after the game ended. I know I woke up at 5:30 a.m. Sunday and couldn’t get back to sleep because the game and its many turning points and near misses kept replaying in my mind.
Fortunately, there was a bit of good news Sunday afternoon to buoy Bulldog spirits as the feared fall to a lesser bowl in the wake of the championship loss didn’t happen. The Dogs might not be getting the other BCS spot in the Sugar Bowl, as even Bama coach Nick Saban said they ought to, but Georgia got the next highest available spot in the Capital One.
Hopefully, the resilient support for the program will translate into UGA selling all its tickets to the Orlando game, because as was pointed out on the postgame show Saturday night on the Bulldog radio network, how well a fan base travels factors into future bowl selections. (Tickets are now on sale to the general public.)
Likewise, let’s hope the players — even those who stuck around for another year of college ball just to try for a shot at the BCS, didn’t make it, and soon will be departing Athens — are able to rededicate themselves to ending this season on a high note. Win the bowl game, do it in the same impressive fashion that they took the battle to the Crimson Tide, and they’ll be rewarded with a Top 5 finish and the designation of a great team that fell just short of winning it all.
The Dawgs didn’t achieve their season-long goal of making it to the BCS game in Miami or winning Richt’s third SEC title, but as I’ve said before, anyone who considers this season less than a rousing success already deserves a dose of cold, hard SEC reality such as has been experienced in recent years by the loyal followers of the Tennessee Vols.
As Sanders Commings said after Saturday’s loss, “Any time you win 11 games in the regular season and go play for the championship, and lose the way we did, it’s a good season.”
He added: “We’re sad but we can’t be disappointed.”
Let his attitude provide a model for fans as well.
The Bulldogs did not fail against Alabama. They gave it everything they had and nearly beat a team that was already stamped with greatness. To paraphrase the UGA players’ motto for the season, our team “ran out of time,” as Richt said Saturday. But we should have no regrets.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg