In our first issue of the semester, my co-editor Isaiah Smith and I, two diehard University of Georgia football fans, just needed to get a few things off our chest. Call it venting, call it therapeutic, but the College Football Playoff Final did a number on us both.
I went to the game with my little brother. When we both got tickets, I was nervous about even making the trip to Atlanta. As a lifelong fan, I’ve become almost cynical in my treatment of the Dawgs. We’ll be ranked in the preseason top five, but I know we’ll probably finish 8-4 and lose to UCF in the Capital One Bowl. That being said, there was a palpable vibration in the air among the Georgia fans, a foreign hope and optimism. I could move my hand though the air and almost feel the crackling excitement in anticipation.
For the first half, hell, for the first three quarters, that optimism was validated. The UGA fans showed up en masse, and at times it felt like all that was missing were the hedges. The fans, Isaiah and I included, were finally on the other side of the emotional rollercoaster that is a college football game. The Dawgs were not only leading, they were dominating.
Alabama’s starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who had only lost two games leading up to the final, finished the first half 3-8, for 21 yards. The dominance of the Dawgs in the first half only served to validate the incredible coaching prowess that Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban exercised at the expense of our sanity.
Saban made one move in the game that would go on to characterize the rest of the game: he pulled Hurts in lieu of true freshman lefty Tua Tagovailoa. Tua came out shaky, sure, but he made plays that Hurts just wasn’t making.
Alabama didn’t vary their offense much in the second half. The Tide got in a five receiver set, with Tua alone in the backfield. Imagine, an 18-year-old kid alone in the backfield, with the task of clawing back against one of the nation’s top defenses. But, Tua made plays.
We can talk about the penalties, the questionable play calling on the part of UGA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, and yes, we can talk about how in the world the Georgia secondary gave up a touchdown pass on second and 26.
But, what good would that do? Most of the frustration, at least for me, is that the final was my life as a Georgia fan in a microcosm. It started with every reason in the world for us to win, but in the end we were just not quite there. To say nothing for the fact that I am a huge Atlanta Falcons fan, it has been a tough year for Georgia sports, collegiate and professional alike.
All that being said, the overriding optimism I’ve had that’s gotten me through losses to Georgia Tech, Florida and yes, Alabama, is still there. As Isaiah and I have discussed at great length, the road back to the College Football Playoff Final goes through Athens for once, and for us after all these years, that is all we can ask for at this point.
This year’s College Football Playoff National Championship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured as a sports fan.
The night was supposed to be filled with cheers from fans in red and black and eventually end with the seniors donning the iconic red jerseys and silver britches on the stage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium hoisting the coveted College Football Playoff Championship trophy and getting one final curtain call in their home state in front of the home fans.
Instead, what ensued was a heartbreak of epic proportions for Dawg Nation. When Tua Tagovailoa found DeVonta Smith streaking down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown pass, it was the stuff that rips young children’s hearts out and makes grown men cry.
Watching my team lose a game of that magnitude on a stage that large may easily be the worst thing I have to do this year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way for many reasons.
Watching this year’s team make the journey to that game gave me with one of the best college football seasons that I, and many others like myself, have ever seen in our lives.
And while watching this season, I, and many other fans like myself, rediscovered why we fell in love with college football in the first place.
At the beginning of the season, nobody expected this Georgia team to play for a national title. But this team defied the odds, and they put Dawg Nation on a rollercoaster of emotions that started in Athens and made thrilling pit-stops in Jacksonville, Auburn, Knoxville, Pasadena and Atlanta.
Even though we left more of these stops happy than we did sad, it’s the times we got back on the bus sad that showed us the most about this team and ourselves.
After the tail-whipping we took at Auburn, we learned to use letdown as fuel to keep pushing because there were bigger goals in sight.
Following the first half in Pasadena, we learned what it felt like to bounce back off the mat after being obliterated in the beginning of the fight. As fans, we learned to never walk out on our team until the fat lady sings because this group specialized in the art of the late-round knockout.
Now, in the wake of the National Championship where Dawg fans’ hearts were savagely ripped from their chests, I realize that even though we fell short of the end goal, the journey was well worth it.
The journey, which involved playing an unhealthy amount of emotional Russian Roulette, is so much better than the alternative of never having made the journey in the first place.
As a fan, this journey is why I, and so many others, watch the game and pull so passionately for our teams.
Because even though the pain of losing in the game of emotional Russian Roulette hurts in the moment, they can’t compare to the thrills that the high points on this emotional rollercoaster called college football brings to the loyal and dedicated fans who live and breathe the game.
So to all the Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and even the obnoxious Alabama fans, your snide comments about losing on the biggest stage don’t hurt. They can’t hurt because we, as fans, have already endured the worst, and we’re still back to ride with this Georgia program until the bitter end.
Another piece of advice to all our SEC East rivals: I’d suggest you all start getting comfortable competing for second place for a while because for the foreseeable future, the road to an SEC title and a playoff berth is going to run through Athens.