Countdown to Kickoff: Remembering a very special group of Georgia Bulldogs

The play that made David Pollack a UGA legend. (Associated Press)

The play that made David Pollack a UGA legend. (Associated Press)

The signs that football season is almost upon us are coming thick and fast: The Georgia Football Media Guide arrived in the mail this week, a few days behind the annual Bulldog Club packet (which this year includes both red and black “I Commit to the G” pins), and the Countdown to Kickoff day put on by Matt and Jon Stinchcomb and David Greene will see players past and present mingling with fans Saturday at the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens from noon to 3 p.m.

(Admission is $25 per person or $75 for a family four-pack and benefits the Georgia Transplant Foundation and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, among others. This year, Countdown is expected to top $1 million in total money raised over the past eight years.)

The 2013 Countdown to Kickoff fan day honors the 11th anniversary of the 2002 SEC champions (OK, so they’re a year late!), of which Greene and Jon Stinchcomb were prominent members.

The 2002 team is one of my favorite groups of Bulldogs and, like many UGA fans, I have a lot of very fond memories of that special season.

With starter Greene and backup D.J. Shockley splitting time behind center, Georgia opened the season at home with a squeaker 31-28 win over Clemson, hanging on despite a late game-tying attempt by the Tigers with a 46-yard field goal attempt that fell just short. Fred Gibson had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in that game.

The next week the Dogs hit the road to play South Carolina. I remember it was a stormy Saturday in the South and the power at our house went out in the first quarter, just before a rain delay of nearly an hour interrupted the game at Williams-Brice Stadium. The kids and I hustled over to our family’s nearby office to catch the rest of the CBS national telecast on an old TV there.

And what a game! The Bulldogs won 13-7 without the offense scoring a touchdown. Shockley broke his foot in the fourth quarter, putting him out of action for a month. And David Pollack entered the Bulldog pantheon with one of the most improbable interceptions in college football history, batting down and then somehow snagging a Corey Jenkins pass in the Gamecocks’ end zone to add a touchdown to the pair of Billy Bennett field goals that made up Georgia’s scoring. But it wasn’t over yet. On their final possession the Gamecocks drove to the Georgia 2 before fumbling the ball — and the game — away. Another close escape.

After devouring a couple of cupcakes in Athens, with a 45-7 win over Northwestern State (who?) and a 41-10 rout of New Mexico State, the Dogs traveled to Tuscaloosa for a game that was hyped considerably by the presence of ESPN’s “GameDay” and former Bulldog player (and Auburn head coach) Pat Dye declaring that week that he didn’t think the Georgia team was “man enough” to beat the Crimson Tide.

Musa Smith was a big part of the 2002 Bulldogs offense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Musa Smith was a big part of the 2002 Bulldogs offense. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Georgia managed to build a lead thanks to a spectacular Gibson catch of a 42-yard TD pass from Greene, another long one to Terrence Edwards, and Musa Smith scoring in the first quarter (he ran for 126 yards that day), but Bama fought back, helped by a Greene pick 6. Georgia won the game 27-25 thanks to a Bennett field goal with just 42 seconds left.

It’s one of the more underrated important victories of the early Mark Richt era. As my son put it, this was the type of game Ray Goff and Jim Donnan usually lost, but the Dogs somehow pulled it out. Although I was scared of saying too loudly at the time, it was at this point that I became convinced the 2002 Dogs were a team of destiny.

Another season highlight came in beating Tennessee for the third year in a row, an 18-13 win in Athens. Bennett again was the clutch player, accounting for more than half the Dogs’ points.

After 48-17 and 52-24 whoopings of Vandy and Kentucky, respectively, the season’s lone disappointment came, and it was a big one: losing to an obviously inferior Florida team in Jacksonville. In a game carried by ESPN rather than the usual CBS pairing, Georgia led 13-12 and the two teams were scoreless in the third quarter before Florida scored on a 10-yard Rex Grossman pass. It certainly didn’t help that the Dogs were 0-13 on third down that day and a wide-open Edwards dropped a sure TD pass from Greene. (Still, Edwards, who had a superlative career at UGA, didn’t deserve the flak he caught after that game from some of the more moronic elements of Bulldog fandom.)

Georgia bounced back, however, with a 31-17 win over Ole Miss in Athens and then made the trip to Auburn, where so many previous key SEC games had been played in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Michael Johnson makes the catch that gave Georgia the SEC East title. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Michael Johnson makes the catch that gave Georgia the SEC East title. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The Dogs looked a bit flat in the first couple of quarters and Auburn led 14-3 at the half, prompting a fiery halftime speech from Jon Stinchcomb, who followed that up by falling on a Greene fumble in the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown.

Then came the game’s exciting ending: Still trailing with 1:25 left on the clock, Greene called 70-X-Takeoff and launched a fourth-and-15 pass from the Tigers’ 19-yard line that found a leaping Michael Johnson, subbing for an injured Edwards, in the back left corner of the end zone, giving the Dogs a 24-21 win and the SEC East title. (The relatively unsung hero of that game was safety Sean Jones, who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery that led to a Bennett field goal.)

The perfect victory lap came a couple of weeks later in Athens, where the Dogs seemingly beat the Yellow Jackets by a million points (actually 51-7) before another CBS national audience, with tailback Smith, a key performer in that year’s offense, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the season, first time for a Dog back since Garrison Hearst in 1992. One of my favorite days ever in Sanford Stadium!

The SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome saw the Dogs come out of the gate fast and pounding Arkansas 30-3 to take UGA’s first conference title in 20 years. Then, with Smith running for 145 yards, Bruce Thornton returning an interception 71 yards and Bennett kicking four field goals, the Dogs wound up the season beating FSU 26-13 in the Sugar Bowl to finish 13-1 and No. 3 in the nation, at the time the program’s highest final ranking since 1980.

If not for the stumble in Jacksonville, that team probably would have played for the BCS national championship, but nevertheless it was the season that announced to the nation that a new era was underway in Athens — one that continues today as the 2013 Dogs prepare to try and notch their third consecutive SEC East title.

It’s a team definitely worth celebrating at Countdown to Kickoff.

What are your favorite memories of the 2002 Dawgs?

Got something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or UGA athletics? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

87 comments Add your comment

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
9:27 am

“After devouring a couple cupcakes..”

SEC! SEC!

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
9:27 am

“the first SEC! SEC! title is 20 years….”

What a program.

Rhino

July 12th, 2013
9:32 am

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
9:40 am

Hey Bucky…..did you watch the 1992 citrus bowl??? Could share your thoughts on the game?lol

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
9:52 am

35,

Add the 0 and you’ve got 350.

Remember that number?

It’s more recent.

DawgNation

July 12th, 2013
10:06 am

What a tool. ^

DawgNation

July 12th, 2013
10:09 am

Bill, My fondest memory of that season was the Auburn win. I was stuck at work and found a T.V. that had the worst reception and caught what I could around what I was doing until the final drive. The whole work area knew the dogs had won buy the celebration noise coming from my office.

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
10:22 am

Bucky I knew you wouldn’t answer the question…just like always….what a cop out! At least we made it to the seccg and were not on probation! That citrus bowl has haughted you for years and you will never get over it. Dang sucks to be you

Realistic Dawg

July 12th, 2013
11:04 am

Enter your comments here

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
11:06 am

I went to CDTK a few times….in 2006 it rained so hard for a few minutes…I had to put my signed ball in my shirt! Lol. The best sig I got was probably from jake Scott!

Realistic Dawg

July 12th, 2013
11:06 am

Buckeye

How is Ohio St doing vs the SEC????

0-9 is well not too shaby; at least you were competitive in a few of those games LOL

UGA vs the Big 10 9-2 8-1 in Bowl games

Give us a ring when you’ve done something meaningful against real competition sometime ;)

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

July 12th, 2013
11:07 am

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
11:31 am

realisitc,

OK. You too.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

July 12th, 2013
11:35 am

Buckeye

Still wonder when Ohio St will play a top 10 team; 2009 was the last time

And you want to talk about cupcakes really??? LOL

Tatman

July 12th, 2013
11:37 am

You got to feel real bad about your team when you’re on another’s team blog talking trash and to top it off it isn’t like the other team that you’re talking trash about is even within the same conference…my thoughts is that ole Bucky here is really a GWreck fan….

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
11:40 am

The sec is king of CFB…..it is what it is!!

Desert Fox

July 12th, 2013
11:47 am

Bill. According to the official GA web site, the 2013 football media guide is not available to the public yet. when you say it arrived in the mail but not for distribution att? can you clarify?

Skokie Dog

July 12th, 2013
12:10 pm

About the win in 2002 over ‘Bama, Bill wrote about the early Mark Richt era, “As my son put it, this was the type of game Ray Goff and Jim Donnan usually lost, but the Dogs somehow pulled it out.”
Bill, your son was right about that, and I have been waiting for the past six seasons (the more recent Mark Richt era) for the ‘Dogs to resume that habit of finding a way to win more games against the more formidable opponents.
Okay, flame away.

ARdawg

July 12th, 2013
12:40 pm

Buteye loves to discuss cupcakes with anybody, anytime. Unless of course you are asking about Ohio St’s cupcakes

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
12:52 pm

ar dog,

I hate cupcakes. Anytime cupcake show come on the food network I click.

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
12:54 pm

35,

And the thing is, the dogs ain’t the king of the SEC! SEC!. After Bama and LSU, the rest of you are ain’t as good as you think you are,

BigDawg

July 12th, 2013
12:59 pm

Yes Bucky and if the “refs” had been calling all of the flagrant holds on Bama IMHO we would be talking the defending National Champion Georgia Bulldogs.

USC Jimi

July 12th, 2013
1:23 pm

I remember the 2002 South Carolina vs Georgia game very well. It took over four hours to play. South Carolina shot itself in the foot at almost every turn. David Pollack made one of the most amazing plays I have ever seen. Tropical storm Hanna made it almost unbearable in the stadium. And Lou Holtz called a pitch sweep from the two yard line with a wet ball and only seconds to play?
A great football game it was not. A hell of a hard fought game it was!

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:25 pm

Skokie Dog – I’m just going to lay this out and make of it it what you will. Mark Richt is a very good football coach. He was brought in to “blow the lid off of the program” and he did that. He went to the SEC CG 3 times in 5 years and won twice. He made some mistakes too. But Georgia was on the map again.
After the 2005 season 2 things happened. Van Gorder left and Coach Richt handed the reigns of the offense over to Coach Bobo. Bobo has had his ups and downs but for the most part he has been a really good OC. Willie Martinez did not have the temperament to be a DC. He was a good secondary coach but the details and motivational aspects of the job surpassed him. But the real damage came when Coach Richt decided to become a CEO-style head coach.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:30 pm

He has always been hands on in the game planning but he stepped back and stepped back too far for fear of casting his shadow over Coach Bobo. He lost the feel of the game because of it. His laid back demeanor, coupled with his operational detachment, left the program adrift. His OC and DC were not ready to step up and take control either. So you had the down period.
2007 was an aberration. 2008 was doomed before it started because of the paper thin depth on the O-line. If Sturdivant had not gotten hurt it is possible that year would not have been as big a disappointment but they wouldn’t have beaten UF so the season would have been a bust from that standpoint anyway.
They say that every organization takes it’s personality from the top. Now was the spirit of the early years a reflection of Coach Richt… yes it was. He is far more of a competitor than you might think. Ask his players sometime. They’ll tell you he is a really nice, sincere guy but he wants to win badly. That is what made the “going CEO” move hurt so much. The team lost touch with it’s head and heart. And boy did it show.
Once Coach Richt had taken over the administrative duties that Coach Dooley had been shouldering during his stint as AD, there was no putting it down. And the team fell into disarray.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:32 pm

He has always been hands on in the game planning but he stepped back and stepped back too far for fear of casting his shadow over Coach Bobo. He lost the feel of the game because of it. His laid back demeanor, coupled with his operational detachment, left the program adrift. His OC and DC were not ready to step up and take control either. So you had the down period.
2007 was an aberration. 2008 was doomed before it started because of the paper thin depth on the O-line. If Sturdivant had not gotten hurt it is possible that year would not have been as big a disappointment but they wouldn’t have beaten UF so the season would have been a bust from that standpoint anyway.
They say that every organization takes it’s personality from the top. Now was the spirit of the early years a reflection of Coach Richt… yes it was. He is far more of a competitor than you might think. Ask his players sometime. They’ll tell you he is a really nice, sincere guy but he wants to win badly. That is what made the “going CEO” move hurt so much. The team lost touch with it’s head and heart.
Once CMR took over the administrative duties Coach Dooley had been shouldering during his time as AD, there was no putting them down. And the team fell into disarray.

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
2:32 pm

Bucky..sec is king buddy…deal with it! I know UGA can beat Ohio state…..and that’s all that matters to me!!! Ha! Bucky move back to Ohio…you will be happier old fellow

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:33 pm

damn… it isn’t posting the rest of what I had to say… thats 2X it’s failed.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:34 pm

He has always been hands on in the game planning but he stepped back and stepped back too far for fear of casting his shadow over Coach Bobo. He lost the feel of the game because of it. His laid back demeanor, coupled with his operational detachment, left the program adrift. His OC and DC were not ready to step up and take control either. So you had the down period.
2007 was an aberration. 2008 was doomed before it started because of the paper thin depth on the O-line. If Sturdivant had not gotten hurt it is possible that year would not have been as big a disappointment but they wouldn’t have beaten UF so the season would have been a bust from that standpoint anyway.
They say that every organization takes it’s personality from the top. Now was the spirit of the early years a reflection of Coach Richt… yes it was. He is far more of a competitor than you might think. Ask his players sometime. They’ll tell you he is a really nice, sincere guy but he wants to win badly. That is what made the “going CEO” move hurt so much. The team lost touch with it’s head and heart.

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
2:34 pm

big dog,

You are another in a long line of shoulda woulda coulda dogs.

And you blame the refs.

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
2:35 pm

35,

You’re a hypothetical dog.

The worse kind.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:35 pm

He has always been hands on in the game planning but he stepped back and stepped back too far for fear of casting his shadow over Coach Bobo. He lost the feel of the game because of it. His laid back demeanor, coupled with his operational detachment, left the program adrift. His OC and DC were not ready to step up and take control either. So you had the down period.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:37 pm

2007 was an aberration. 2008 was doomed before it started because of the paper thin depth on the O-line. If Sturdivant had not gotten hurt it is possible that year would not have been as big a disappointment but they wouldn’t have beaten UF so the season would have been a bust from that standpoint anyway.
They say that every organization takes it’s personality from the top. Now was the spirit of the early years a reflection of Coach Richt… yes it was. He is far more of a competitor than you might think. Ask his players sometime. They’ll tell you he is a really nice, sincere guy but he wants to win badly. That is what made the “going CEO” move hurt so much. The team lost touch with it’s head and heart.
Once CMR had taken up the administrative duties Coach Dooley had been shouldering during his time as AD, there was no putting them down again. And the team fell into disarray.

TheBuckeye

July 12th, 2013
2:37 pm

35,

Alabama, LSU and FL have been king.

dogs are second place and second tier.

Claim your SEC! SEC! but know you’ve done nothing to have earned the right.

Buzz-off

July 12th, 2013
2:37 pm

Buckeye @9:27

Yes indeed, cupcakes like: Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M.
Oooooops, those are OS’s first 3 home games. Then the SUPER CUPCAKES hit the schedule ie.Little 10 teams!!!! :)

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:38 pm

2007 was an aberration. 2008 was doomed before it started because of the paper thin depth on the O-line. If Sturdivant had not gotten hurt it is possible that year would not have been as big a disappointment but they wouldn’t have beaten UF so the season would have been a bust from that standpoint anyway.

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:46 pm

It wasn’t until McGarity came in and set Coach Richt free of the administrative duties that he had mistakenly taken up that the program began to right itself. CMR has been scrambling to get his feel for the game back. It’s hard when you were doing something and then stepped away to step back into the flow. But I think he has that look again.
Check out his face during the SEC CG. I haven’t seen that intensity since the UF game in 2007. And I am anxious to see what happens this year. Is he a screamer? NO. But you don’t have to be. You just have to be confident in what you are doing. He got his Mojo back. And I think we will see that this year.

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
2:47 pm

I hope dawg night will bring us some commits tonight! If we pull in out top targets…this might be the best class in the Richt era! Even better than the dream team! Rest assure we are going to finish with a top 5 class. Anybody know why Sony dropped from a 5 star to a 4 star! It just don’t make any sense

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:50 pm

Nobody will probably ever be able to piece that all together as a whole… oh well. I hate these blogs sometimes… they eat perfectly legitimate posts all the time.

UGA Insider

July 12th, 2013
2:51 pm

UGA 45
Clemson 10

Book it!

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:51 pm

I think he dropped to a 4* because he either didn’t participate in or do well in the SPARQ tests. That’s why Chubb jumped up to a 5*.

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
2:52 pm

Buckeye

We have won the sec 12 times! So man you can’t say we are 2nd tier in the sec! That’s more than Lsu and fla have won it! Deal with it or move back to Ohio!

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
2:52 pm

Or it could just be the recruiting services playing games… can’t have Georgia getting 2 5 stars backs now… no that would be bad.

NYCDAWGFAN

July 12th, 2013
2:53 pm

Hey Buckeye, check out this link… I could understand you talking smack if you were Bama, or even UF for that matter… But, well, just check the link…
http://collegefootball.about.com/od/schools/ig/Ohio-State-vs–The-SEC/Todd-Boeckman-2008-BCS.htm

Red and Black til Death

SC2001

July 12th, 2013
2:53 pm

USC Jimi and others –

I also saw the 2002 GA – SC game live. It was lousy weather.

If not for Pollack heroics and end of game fumble by SC’s 250 lb fullback Andrew Pinnock – that would have been the 1st time in history SC beat GA for three consecutive games.

I don’t think the play call was the main issue for Holtz. It was the fact he had a strong safety playing at the QB position…Corey could throw the ball ok the prior year but before the 2002 season he over-worked in the weight room that he had about as much finesse as a jumbo jet…

Aside from that and the rain, it was just good ol’ SEC football where points are hard to come by.

NYCDAWGFAN

July 12th, 2013
2:54 pm

Remember to click through all 6 photo’s to refresh your memory! Get outta our state!

Red and Black til Death

Bulldawg35

July 12th, 2013
2:57 pm

Ncdawg,

I can’t believe they would drop him for those reasons…..oh well I’m starting to believe their is not much difference between a 4 star guy and 5 star. Sony will be a beast for us anyways…plus if we get joe mixon out of California! We will have the best backfield in the sec! He has shown a lot of interest in UGA from his twitter comments

OhioState home of the taboo tatoo

July 12th, 2013
2:57 pm

Hey Buckeye –

How does it feel to have such a classy coach? Class former school President?

Were you and Maurice Clarette in the same class for History? How about charm school?

Flame on Buckmeister / Techie in Drag / whatever you are bc you are funnier than you must realize.

NYCDAWGFAN

July 12th, 2013
2:59 pm

To all my brethren of the Dawgnation.. We need your support.. Please vote!! We have a squad that should win this competition!

http://espn.go.com/college-football/features/ultimateteam

Red and Black til Death

NCDawg

July 12th, 2013
3:12 pm

BullDawg35 – Gurley was only 4 stars… shows what those guys know…