To say Monday’s national championship game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide is the biggest championship game since college football decided to employ a playoff system starting in 1998 is debatable. Where there is no debate is that this game is the most important in the Dawgs’ storied history.
Certainly, some can say the 1980 National Championship was the Georgia Dawgs’ zenith, and certainly it was — for its time — but that was before the best team on the college football landscape was decided on the 120 by 53.33 yard field of play.
It has story lines that would be hard for any other two teams to duplicate. Both are from the Southeastern Athletic Conference. That’s special, it has happened only once before in the Bowl Championship Series era. In 2011, Alabama met LSU in the Superdome in New Orleans, with the Tide besting the Tigers 21-0. The SEC is touted as the best in the nation when it comes to football and has the statistics to back up the claim.
The two head coaches, Kirby Smart for the Dawgs and Nick Saban for the Tide, have a long history. Smart coached defensive backs for Saban at LSU in 2004 and then returned to the Dawgs as running backs coach in 2005. Saban lured Smart away in 2006 when he spent a short stint as head coach for the NFL Miami Dolphins. Smart would then follow Saban to Alabama in 2007. While there he was named the best assistant coach in the country in 2009 and would remain at Alabama until heading home to Georgia at the end of 2015 where he played defensive back in the late 1990s.
Now it is the teacher meeting pupil in the almost brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta that could be called the Dawgs second home having beaten the Auburn Tigers for the SEC Championship in that arena on Dec. 2 , 28-7. However, Tuscaloosa, Alabama is a fairly short car trip for Tide fanatics. The only thing standing in the way of most fans has nothing to do with distance, rather, the price of admission.
Ticket prices ranged from $1,291 for a single ticket. However, if you wanted more than one seat in the nose bleed section of the stadium, the lowest price on Thursday was $1,759. Interesting note: Ticket prices on the Alabama side of the field cost less than on the Georgia side. A lower level Georgia ticket cost $5,631. In a corresponding section on the Alabama side, the cost was $2,779 less. Of course the schools had a certain number of tickets they dispensed lottery style.
What is also interesting about this game is the manner both teams arrived at this pivotal point where they will finally clash. Alabama, after two straight appearances in the National Championship game, both against Clemson, (this will be the Tide’s fifth appearance since 2009) was rolling through its 2017 schedule, ranked No. 1, until game No. 12. That’s when, on Nov. 25, the Tide ran into an Auburn buzz-saw and lost 26-14. It would be Auburn, the team that also took Georgia to the woodshed 40-17, that would play for the SEC Championship in a rematch against the Dawgs. Could Alabama not make the final four?
Georgia would get its revenge on Dec. 2 by beating Auburn 28-7. Now it was up to the BCS selection committee. Which teams would make the top four? Auburn said it had beaten both Georgia and Alabama, but no, the Tigers didn’t make the cut and would have to settle for the Peach Bowl where they lost to the University of Central Florida (who?) 34-27. The final four would be Georgia versus Oklahoma, and for the third year in a row, Alabama would have to take on Clemson.
While Alabama made easy work of Clemson 24-6, it took Georgia two overtimes to best Oklahoma, 54-48. The Dawgs owe the victory to its 12th man. From the thunderous sound from the large Georgia contingent on kick offs, one would have thought they were in Sanford Stadium in Athens, not the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Each team has motivation. Pupil wants to beat teacher. Teacher knows if he wins the National Championship no one will remember, or care, that he didn’t win the SEC Championship . He will have coached six championship games counting his LSU title in 2003. Smart has already raised Georgia’s profile immeasurably which will help recruiting for years to come. If anybody still thinks coaching doesn’t matter. Think again. Would Georgia be in the National Championship game under Mark Richt? Who knows?
We could give the standard platitudes: We hope for a good game or that both teams are great and are all winners. True enough. But all we really want to say is: Go Dawgs.