Brad Stephens brings his own Southern flavored sports perspective and humor to Bartow Sports Zone. He is a Bartow County native and has his own law office in Cartersville, but he's mostly a Georgia Bulldogs' football fan.
With all of the angst currently surrounding Georgia football, it is a hard task to find any silver lining. Our best player is gone. Our offensive play-calling is as dry and empty as the Gobi Desert, maybe because the quarterback position is in its worst state since 2009. We have lost to three big rivals and we still have two more to go. There are rumors of coordinators leaving, starters being demoted and the recruiting class all but prepared to unravel before our very eyes.
Of course, there is Mark Richt’s future. It is as tenuous as a Miami Marlins roster. The old saying goes, “if there is smoke, there is fire.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is billowing from every corner of the state right now. From the big money donors in the skybox to the casual fans on the couch – nobody is happy. If this was a movie scene, it would be “300” when the sun-blocking Persian arrows are careening toward Leonidas and the handful of Spartans still alive writhing on the sand.
In times like this, I am compelled to remember the good times. For one, I do enjoy Georgia football and I love Coach Richt. Secondly, and more importantly, it keeps me from bashing my skull into a cinder block wall. Last week against Florida was just too much to bear, I could not shake off the negativity. Whatever may happen, my love for my school and this team will never die out. For the sake of my head, old Larry Munson highlights and Youtube clips of the days of yore will be gracing my computer screen.
The best time for me was 2002. It was my junior year at UGA and I was living at 595 Waddell Street with three of my fraternity brothers. Our apartment was the most disgustingly awesome $273 a month I ever spent. It was one of three units in an old house that needed more remodeling than Meg Ryan’s face. It had no driveway, just a dusty gravel parking lot that all tenants shared. We also shared three outdoor trash cans, which was about seven less than were needed. You could see the wharf rats digging in the trash bags on the ground after midnight.
One would walk in our door and think “are homeless people squatting here?” The carpet was a concoction of brown discoloration – a canvas for artwork made of pizza grease, spilled beverages of all types, tracked-in mud and late night vomit. The hardwood floors were last cleaned in 1974. Our bathrooms were petri dishes of bacteria that scientists probably still have not discovered. The sink perpetually overflowed with dishes, the futons in the living room were bent from shenanigans of years past and the walls were covered with road signs, band posters and stains from a variety of unknown (and known) sources.
We did everything we could to keep the management company from inspecting. If anything needed repairs, we would fix it on our own dime. I’m sure they knew it was a zoo, but we paid our rent faithfully so they never complained. Our friends loved the place because our door was always open. We could fill that parking lot with people on a random Tuesday night by simply dropping my tailgate, sitting down and cranking a burned CD complete with The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band and Led Zeppelin. I wore out my camping chair, my speakers and my truck bed liner. Those are the days I will never forget.
That was also Georgia’s best football season since 1980. As luck would have it, a group of us decided before the season started that we would attend every game, home or away. When we kicked off against Clemson on August 31, nobody had the foggiest notion this team would be so good. It was a hard-fought 31-28 victory and Musa Smith sealed it with a late first down dive at midfield. Jon Stinchcomb looked to the stands and pumped his fist, maybe he was thinking what I was – “we used to lose games like this.”
The South Carolina game will always be memorable. We drove out of Athens to Columbia that Friday, six of us piled into a room at a Days Inn in a seedy part of town. Saying “seedy part of town” is a compliment actually. Columbia has no college atmosphere – it is like Atlanta, except about half the size, full of concrete and about 176% humidity.
The Friday night happenings in Columbia are nothing to write home about. We went to the main drag with our Dawg gear on, got a few “you suck!” epithets thrown our way and called it an early night. I had to save my cash for a ticket and a poncho because rain was forecast for most of Saturday. The weatherman was not kidding.
After finding a cheap ticket and tailgating for a couple of hours, I entered Williams-Brice Stadium with a scowl. South Carolina fans are among the rowdiest and we would have to conjure all our strength to outdo them. I saw the tunnel to my section and I climbed the stairs. Then I climbed some more….and more. I was so high up that God actually tapped my shoulder and asked me to scoot over when we kicked off. Well played, Carolina.
As the two offenses stagnated, the ominous cumulonimbus clouds approached on the horizon. Neither team could move the ball, the South Carolina PA guy had to invent reasons to cue the “rooster crow” just to let people know he was still there. The first half was a quagmire of dropped passes, fumbles and missed opportunities. An older Dawg fan, presumably from south Georgia, turned to me at one point and with a “Gone with the Wind” drawl said “Boy, it’s gonna be one of THEM days.” The rumbling in the distance grew louder, Tropical Storm Hanna was about to make her presence known.
Lightning flashed across the sky and right under my nose. God once again tapped my shoulder and said “hey man, y’all might want to head out.” The skies opened and nobody in our section was ready. We herded out of the bleachers, but not before we were all soaked from head to toe. For 52 minutes, we huddled in the tunnel – Georgians and South Carolinians united in dampness and discontent. The rain fell in buckets with the score 3-0, courtesy of Billy Bennett’s reliable foot.
When the rain subsided, we returned to the waterlogged seats and the two teams slipped and slid all over the field. 14 penalties, 13 punts and seven fumbles sounds like a terrible afternoon for everyone. However, this game was not really known for its sloppiness. The fourth quarter became one of those moments etched in Dawg lore forever.
The Dawgs pinned Carolina on the goal line courtesy of a masterful Jonathan Kilgo punt. The running game had been dismal for most of the day. The Gamecocks’ quarterback, Corey Jenkins, backed up to pass out of his own end zone. David Pollack, being blocked by a tackle and a running back, bulled his way to Jenkins and reached for the ball. Jenkins followed through with his throwing motion but the ball was gone, safely in the arms of the Georgia’s most talented defensive lineman.
I did not see the play. Once again, up on my perch at Heaven’s Gate, I was unable to see the end zone below us. The Georgia faithful on the other side went haywire and our section lifted our arms in unison as if to ask “what happened?!?” The scoreboard read 9-0 and the Jumbotron showed the play in slow motion, as if it wanted to stick the knife in the Carolina people and turn it. Once we saw the play unfold, we joined our comrades across the way in celebration.
The game still had 14 minutes to go and Carolina threatened to take the game away at the end. After a long Carolina drive for a touchdown and another Georgia field goal, the Dawgs held on to a 13-7 lead. Carolina drove down to the Georgia 2 yard line with seconds remaining. On a fourth down play, Jenkins tried to pitch to Andrew Pinnock, their large tailback who would likely score to tie the game at 13, with an extra point to win it. As the pitch neared his hands, Pinnock looked up to see Boss Bailey bearing down on him. The ball hit his chest and fell to the ground on the 2, where an unheralded safety from Shellman, Georgia named Thomas Davis fell on top of it.
Our side erupted. Hugs and high fives were exchanged. The old south Georgian proclaimed, “Lawd, this bunch is gonna be the death of me!” Carolina people streamed out of Williams-Brice, defeated but defiant.
“Y’all got lucky!”
“Wait ‘til next year!”
“We gonna win the SEC this year!” (still waiting….)
I smiled. This was a special season already.
Then God tapped me and said “Go Dawgs!”
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