With Clemson the media pick to win the ACC, Georgia the media pick to threepeat as SEC East winner, both teams likely to have preseason Top 10 rankings, and a national television audience watching, the Aug. 31 game in Death Valley between the Bulldogs and Tigers may well rank as UGA’s toughest season opener ever.
A win by the Dawgs might well put the game up there with all-time favorite openers ever for UGA, alongside Herschel Walker’s debut at Tennessee in 1980 and the shocking flea-flicker upset of defending national champion Alabama in 1965.
Of course, there’ve been other very tough openers for the Bulldogs, including big games Georgia hasn’t won. Besides the more recent examples of the debacle in the Power Rangers uniforms against Boise State in the Georgia Dome in 2011 and the 2009 team’s flop opener on the road against Oklahoma State, there was the opening game of the first “Junkyard Dawg” season in 1975, when the Bulldogs faced Johnny Majors’ Pitt Panthers and running back sensation Tony Dorsett in Athens. Georgia lost that game 19-9. (In three games against Dorsett, the best Georgia could do was a 7-7 tie in his first collegiate game in 1973, another season opener.)
But in order to find a Bulldogs season opener that ranks with this year’s in terms of media hype and the teams’ stature, you have to go back to 1982 and, ironically, another Georgia-Clemson clash.
The two teams had agreed to meet on Labor Day night at Sanford Stadium, and the nationally televised game, which took place at the height of the storied Georgia-Clemson rivalry, matched the two previous seasons’ national champions. It marked Georgia’s first night game in Athens in many years under newly installed lights.
The Bulldogs came into the game ranked No. 7 nationally and the Tigers were either No. 9 or No. 11, depending on which poll was cited. Jim Nabors was on hand to sing the national anthem, and adding to the drama was the fact that the Dawgs’ star tailback, Walker, had an injured thumb and wasn’t even certain to play.
When Walker entered the game as a decoy in the second quarter, the Tigers’ focus on him allowed Tron Jackson to score on a 41-yard reverse, though the score was wiped out by a penalty. But the Georgia defense rose to the occasion, intercepting Athens native Homer Jordan four times and blocking a punt that turned into a touchdown for the Dogs. And Kevin Butler kicked two field goals. The Dawgs won 13-7.
A classic Georgia-Clemson game and one of the Dawgs’ greatest openers ever.
Will we see another one this year?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg