With brown stains in the corners of Clint Madray’s mouth, he growled over his tobacco chaw. His old Bulldog coach, Wally Butts, would have loved listening to his disciple’s locker-room rants. I never saw our coach spit or swallow. He just seemed to roll the Beech-Nut from one side of his jowl to the other. “Hot a mighty,” Clint would preach, “never read your press clippings—never believe how good you are.” The Jesup High football coach didn’t want that puffery stuff inside our helmets, distracting us from our mission—winning.
That’s why I was nervous before the kickoff in Mercedes Benz stadium last Saturday light. I was afraid all the “best-ever defensive unit” hype was going to haunt Georgia in its SEC championship bout with archnemesis, Alabama. I could imagine the Crimson Tide’s $10 million-a-year coach smirking at the thought. Luck didn’t win all those championship rings for Nick Saban and his teams.
No sooner than the Bulldogs jumped to an early 10-0 lead, Saban proved that he is worth every penny Bama pays him. He zeroed in on the Bulldogs’ Achilles’ Heel, the secondary. Our defensive backs seemed flatfooted and out of place—time after time—as Bryce Young’s passes lasered to wide-open receivers.
Meanwhile, the Tide’s “beleaguered” offensive line, if you believe the press clippings, held our much-heralded defensive front in check. Minimal pressure was put on Young, the frontrunner in this year’s Heisman Trophy race. Coach Madray had another warning: “It’s lonely at the top. Everybody wants to knock you off.” How well the Bulldogs know that, following the dismal outcome and their 41-24 tumble from the number-one perch.
So why did Georgia lose in such an embarrassing way?
I believe the Bulldogs went into the game overconfident. Maybe they believed the press clippings about their superiority. For whatever reason, on Dec. 4, Georgia was clearly beaten by a better team on that night. Outcoached and outplayed, the Bulldogs got an old-fashioned butt kicking, courtesy of the Crimson Tide.
But as Yogi Berra advised, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
The Bulldogs might get a second chance against Alabama. One more time in my lifetime, I’d like to beat the Crimson Tide. Wouldn’t you? However, the Bulldog Nation and its team can’t be thinking about a possible rematch in the national championship game on Jan. 10. Heavens no. The only focus can be on beating the University of Michigan on New Year’s Eve. The Bulldogs’ path to Indianapolis goes first through Miami. A victory in the Orange Bowl then buys Georgia’s ticket to Indiana. And that’s if Alabama beats Cincinnati.
Enough of that.
Back to the task at hand—whipping the Wolverines. I think about what Mike Cavan told me—years ago—in the halls of the Butts-Mehre athletic complex on UGA’s campus. The Bulldogs were licking their wounds after an upset. Mike, who quarterbacked Georgia to the 1968 SEC championship, said, “A well-timed loss can be a big motivator.”
I like that.
And Coach Madray would add, “Never read your press clippings—never believe how good you are.”
As painful as it was, our loss to Alabama might be just what we needed.