Seven days after Reggie Ball called a loss (his fourth) to Georgia “just another game, dog,” he played a dog of a game in Jacksonville. He threw 29 passes. He completed nine. He threw two interceptions. His team didn’t score a touchdown and lost the ACC championship game to Wake Forest 9-6.
We mention because Georgia Tech again plays Wake Forest today, and pretty much everything has changed. Ball is gone. (Indeed, he didn’t play another game for Tech after the Wake loss.) Chan Gailey, who arrived in Jacksonville calling it “a business trip,” was given the sack not quite a year later. And the Jackets are again poised to return to the ACC title game. And this time they’ll win.
In the cold light of hindsight, those two egregegious losses were the best thing that ever happened to Tech. There was a ceiling on Gailey’s achievements, and even if the Jackets had won the 2006 conference championship and reached the Orange Bowl, they’d have been back to the old seven- and eight-win seasons soon enough. (Didn’t Dave Braine, in extending Gailey’s contract, say Tech couldn’t expect to win big as a matter of course?)
Had Tech won either of those two games — the 15-12 loss in Athens to a four-loss Georgia team or the drudgefest in Jacksonville — Gailey would still be in place. Because he’d have either dislodged his Georgia impediment or he’d have won the ACC. And Dan Radakovich couldn’t in good conscience have moved to fire him in November 2007. And if Gailey were still here, Paul Johnson wouldn’t be.
I remember well how crushed Tech backers were back in 2006. Their best team under Gailey had managed 18 points in the two games that mattered most. He’d gotten the Jackets so far but no further, and a better season seemed unlikely. And the Wake loss was, by most objective standards, the worst football game ever played. But look now.
Tech is in the Top 10. It figures to reach both the ACC title game and the Orange Bowl and will surely whip Georgia again. And the coach now is Paul Johnson. Moral of our story: Sometimes things do work out for the best.
And with that, I invite you to join me here — figuratively, if not literally — at historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd stadium for Tech-Wake 2009. I’m as certain as I can be that PJ’s offense will muster at least one touchdown, and I invite your comments, questions and favorite Reggie Ball memories. I’ll be here all day, dog.