As a graduate and fan of the University of Georgia, this loss hurts. It hurts because of the way the game ended. It hurts because you don’t know when Georgia will again be so close to a National Championship game. It hurts because you saw a group of guys leave everything they had on the field and give a championship-level effort, but come up a little short. And it hurts for me because I know it hurts so much more for them.
But as the game ended and the Alabama players stormed the field and the confetti began to shower the Georgia Dome, I was immediately filled with a great sense of pride. I was disappointed in the outcome, but I was proud of the way the football team from my university represented us. They were not perfect, but they were resilient and fought with everything they had.
When it looked like the Crimson Tide had seized the momentum at the end of the first half, UGA battled back and opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive. When Alabama asserted its will and punished the Dawg defense with its power running game on two consecutive touchdown drives in the 4th quarter, Georgia returned the favor by throwing its own punches and putting the ball in the endzone again to retake the lead.
In this SEC Championship game, the Dawgs came ready for a fight.
As I think back about it, this is why I’m so proud of UGA and how they performed Saturday night. This is what I, and many UGA fans, have been dying to see from Mark Richt and his teams. If you consider yourself a Georgia fan, ask yourself: In the past 12 years of Coach Richt’s tenure as UGA’s Head Coach, have we ever seen one of his teams fight harder in a game than they did Saturday night?
When things were difficult earlier this year against South Carolina, the Dawgs were overcome by the environment and appeared to panic. When LSU gained momentum in last year’s SEC Championship game, Georgia couldn’t get out of its own way. Look back at the Florida game in 2008, the Alabama "Blackout" Game in 2008, or the Tennessee games in 2007 & 2006 - all games in which the Dawgs were destroyed. It’s not that Georgia lost these games - they were playing against great competition - it was that it felt like they didn’t really compete. No one could make that statement on Saturday night.
This is not meant to be a criticism of Mark Richt - at all. I’ve decided there is no one I want more as Georgia’s head football coach. Many people would disagree with me, and I understand that, but I want Mark Richt to be the face of our program because he stands for more than wins and losses. He stands for integrity, compassion, and for developing young men. He takes a lot of criticism for offering opportunities to guys who end up not being worth the risk. He also receives criticism because he chooses to run a program that disciplines its players when they don’t make good decisions. Overall, I’m prouder to have him as a coach more because of what he represents off the field than what he does on the field.
Yet, there have been times when I’ve wondered why our team didn’t show up for big games. I’ve wondered what else Coach Richt could have done to have them more prepared and motivated. Talent has never been a question...effort has.
Against Alabama, we saw a Georgia team that was prepared and motivated to play at the highest level for a full four quarters. Ultimately, they came up on the losing end of the game, but we saw their heart and their resolve to, as Coach Richt so often says, “Finish the Drill.”
This is the heart Georgia fans want to see from their beloved Dawgs. This is the mentality it takes to reach the level of elite programs in college football. If Mark Richt and UGA can learn to consistently play with this type of effort, there will be many moments in the future where they are the ones storming the field in celebration as the confetti rains down on the field. And us fans will be right there celebrating with them, just as proud as we are right now.