Chris Conley is in a bad way. In the SEC Championship Game nine years ago, instinct took control. Georgia had stunned Alabama with a BCS Championship Game spot on the line that day.
Midway in the third quarter, the Bulldogs were up 11 points. With less than a minute remaining and a four-point deficit, Georgia found itself driving for the game-winning touchdown.
Conley finished his Georgia career with 117 receptions and is currently in his eighth NFL season. That day in 2012, though, with 9 seconds remaining and time running out, his catch was the very worst thing that could have occurred to the Dawgs. Conley immediately grabbed quarterback Aaron Murray’s deflected throw at the Alabama 5-yard line while seated on his backside. Conley, Georgia, and Dawg Nation watched time run down once again with no timeouts left.
Murray recently said, “It wasn’t Chris’ fault.”
That day, Alabama coach Nick Saban stated, “I’m ready to have a heart attack here.”
This week’s matchup against Florida brings Georgia heartbreak once again. Dawgs all throughout the world have had enough.
After 40 years, it’s never anyone’s fault. At this point, Georgia’s desire for a title is ingrained in its DNA. The desire of the devout can practically be felt as a devoted, ardent, engaged, wild-eyed fan base wonders whether this is finally the year.
With four decades having gone since Georgia’s last national title in 1980, there is an unsaid worry — maybe even anticipation — that something would go wrong.
When the aim is always an SEC title and, more often than not, a national championship, this occurs. This occurs when the objective is not met on a regular basis.
But we already know that this year’s squad is unique.
It’s already commonly assumed that these No. 1 Dawgs are, at least for the time being, the finest in the country — and maybe the greatest at Georgia since Herschel Walker ran for 150 yards with a dislocated shoulder in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to help UGA win a 12-0 season and the last national championship.
If Georgia fans can endure Tua Tagovailoa’s heartbreaking defeat to DeVonta Smith in the College Football Playoff National Championship game four years ago, they can overcome anything.
Murray, Georgia’s all-time leading passer and now a CBS Sports commentator, bemoaned, “How many times have we had it in our hands and it slips away in the eleventh hour?”
Several. Maybe Georgia supporters are no different than everyone else when it comes to their desire. Anyone, especially a “outsider,” would be arrogant if they claimed to know the genuine amount of anguish. But, like a Jake Fromm pass, we get as near to the target as possible.
There always seems to be something going on in the wonderful college town of Athens, Georgia. Georgia may have won three consecutive national crowns if it hadn’t lost back-to-back Sugar Bowls after the 1980 season.
In the 1982 Sugar Bowl, Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino delivered the game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining. Todd Blackledge of Penn State tortured the Dawgs with a fourth-quarter touchdown bomb a year later. No. 2 Penn State defeated No. 1 Georgia 27-23 that night. Walker was awarded the Heisman Trophy in his last game, although he did not win the title.
For the next 20 years, Georgia did not win another SEC championship. In the meantime, Georgia Tech won in overtime against Georgia in 1999 when referees judged Dawgs RB The Yellow Jackets’ Jasper Sanks fumbled at the 1. He didn’t, according to replays. Ray Goff and Jim Donnan, for example, gave it their all. In 2002, Mark Richt ended the SEC championship drought and lasted for 15 years, although he wasn’t good enough in the end.
In 2007, No. 7 LSU overtook No. 4 Georgia to finish second in the BCS rankings, going on to play in and win the BCS Championship Game. The notorious Prayer in Jordan-Hare occurred in 2013.
Nothing, however, compares to how the 2017 season ended. Georgia broke through in coach Kirby Smart’s second season, winning the SEC and defeating Oklahoma in possibly the finest CFP semifinal ever. It led Alabama by 13 points twice in the championship game before Tagovailoa produced a comeback to remember.
Saban said, “I’ve never been happy in my life.”
The jaws of the Dawgs have never been lower in amazement. Even the following season, when Jalen Hurts took over for Tagovailoa and led a comeback from a 14-point deficit to defeat Georgia in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.
It’s maybe appropriate that Georgia tries to keep their champion image versus Florida the day before Halloween. The game by which these programs are judged is the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
After losing 44-28 last season, the Dawgs have won three of their previous four games. From 1990 through 2016, Florida has a 21-6 record in the series.
Only five schools in the country have won more games than the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators since 1980. Georgia is in sixth place with 374 victories. With 371, Florida is in sixth place. Neither team has ever won a national title without defeating the other in the same season.
Georgia comes into the game as a two-touchdown favorite, their biggest pregame lead since at least 1995. There’s still a long way to go. It’s just a victory and a loss for Kentucky to capture the SEC East. However, this is one of those years when an SEC championship would be insufficient.
For these long-suffering Dawg supporters, it’s nearly impossible to contemplate. Georgia has won at least a share of five SEC crowns and finished in the top ten of the AP Top 25 13 times since 1980. That isn’t precisely how pain is defined. Despite this, Georgia has mainly been a bystander to actual greatness for the most of those four decades.
In 2006, Florida began their current run of SEC domination. In three years, the Gators have won two national titles (2008). Alabama’s run began in 2009. In 2010, Auburn received one. Since 2003, LSU has won three times.
“It always seems like there’s one SEC club that’s on a three- or four-year winning streak,” Murray said. “On top of that, Alabama is on a 12-year winning streak.”
Georgia would be content with just one to put an end to 40 years of agony.