Just when we believed there could never be a greater game than the Rose Bowl last week, the National Championship provided something even more tremendous. It was college football at its very best, with the two best teams in the sport fighting it out to the very end.
The only difference in this game and the Rose Bowl is that Georgia lost, and it will sting for a long, long time. This will hurt like the Falcons’ loss last February or Georgia’s loss to Alabama five years ago. This will not be easy to get over.
There is solace in knowing that Georgia is getting there. They have gone from good to great in only two years under Kirby Smart as head coach. Smart said as much after the game on Monday. Georgia is here to stay and will be a power in college football.
There is a parallel I want to make that seems appropriate. This Georgia season reminds me of the 1991 Atlanta Braves season. The ending on Monday for Georgia made this a perfect comparison, unfortunately.
The 1991 Braves were not expected to do much. They had been a last place team for several years, but in Bobby Cox’s second season as manager the team turned it around. The went from worst to first and made it all the way to the World Series.
It was a magical season, and even though the Braves would win a championship four years later, many look back on that 1991 season as the most special. That was when the Braves became relevant and became contenders.
The Braves lost to the Twins in the seventh game of the World Series – in 10 innings. It took extra time to lose. The Braves got as close as you can get to winning a championship before Minnesota won it in extra innings.
It was an awful loss. However, with the season the Braves had, it was hard to complain too much. There was so much positive, so many great memories, but the only thing that went wrong was the end of the final game of the season.
Does that sound familiar?
Georgia had a tremendous season. They won at Notre Dame. Their eight conference wins were won by an average of 28 points. They blew out the in-state rival once again. They won the best Rose Bowl ever. And they got to the national championship game for the first time in 35 years.
The only thing that went wrong? They lost their last game of the season, the championship game, at the very end in overtime. Just like the 1991 Braves.
After the Braves lost that World Series, there was a feeling that they would be back. With the talent the Braves had assembled, you knew at some point they would win a championship. And they did in 1995.
You’ve got to have that feeling now about Georgia. For weeks, pundits have said that this year’s roster might be the least talented of the next four seasons. They’ve got the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and the momentum has never been more positive for this program.
Beating Alabama would have silenced a lot of Georgia’s longtime critics. They’ll still chirp about how Georgia isn’t ready for the big time and how they can’t play with Alabama yet. That’s fine. They’re unfortunately right. But everyone knows, and perhaps even fears the direction this Georgia program is headed.
Look back on Georgia’s season and relish the memories. Even when the Bulldogs do win a championship, and it is coming soon, this 2017 season will always be special. It will always be the year Georgia turned the corner and became what we always thought this program could be.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org