Chris Welton really, really wants Georgia to win the national championship.
Sure, Welton graduated from Georgia. Sure, Welton played football at Georgia. But Welton has another reason for rooting for the Bulldogs.
“I wish we’d win another one so you guys would leave us the hell alone,” Welton said with a laugh in September.
Welton was a starting rover on Georgia’s 1980 national championship team — the most recent Georgia football team to win such a title. With a win over Alabama in the national championship on Jan. 8, another group of Georgia players would join Welton and his teammates as national champions.
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“Nobody's pulling harder for this team than us,” Welton said on Wednesday.
In the 37 years since Georgia’s last national title, the players on the team have been placed under a microscope of sorts. People care more about the group because they won. Their opinions — especially about football — carry more credibility. They receive more attention than any other past Georgia team.
Once, while on business in Belize, a man wanted to talk about the championship with quarterback Buck Belue. Welton could be sending an email or speaking at a conference or bird hunting in South Georgia, and people will recognize his name. No one on Georgia’s 1980 team minds the fame that naturally comes with being Georgia’s only champion, Welton said, but they’d like to have someone to share it with.
“When you experience what we went through and what it's meant to us personally, unless you're a very selfish person you want to share that experience with other people,” said Frank Ros, captain of Georgia’s 1980 team. “You want others to have that experience. I'd love to see those guys experience what we went through and 30 years from now still feel what we feel.”
The 1980 team is Georgia’s only undisputed, unanimous national champion. Georgia also claims the 1942 national title. But back then, the Associated Press picked its champion before bowl games were played. So before 10-1 Georgia won the Rose Bowl, the AP declared Ohio State as the top team in the country. Not until the mid-1980s, Welton said, did Georgia begin to claim the 1942 title.
However, with the passage of time, Georgia’s 1942 national championship has become more myth than memory. All but one of the players on the 1942 team (Charley Trippi) has died, leaving the 1980 Bulldogs as the only Georgia football team that knows what it feels like to win a national championship.
“We want somebody else to win,” Ros said.
To Georgia’s current students, the 1980 season is something their parents talk about with a dreamy look in their eyes. Young fans have heard stories about the 1980 season, but there’s a disconnect and a longing.
On Monday, that could change. A new flag could be raised in Sanford Stadium next year. Inches would separate the banners on Georgia’s highest flagpole. Decades would separate the teams that won them. A younger generation could experience the elation and pride of a title. Welton hopes they do.
“Hopefully you guys won’t be as interested in us after Monday,” Welton said.