By now, you’re fully aware of the what’s on the line for the Georgia Bulldogs when they meet the Alabama Crimson Tide for the College Football Playoff championship tonight. The program claiming its first national title since the Jimmy Carter administration would be a godsend to Dawgs fans everywhere, but it’s even much deeper than that.
This is about personal affirmation for UGA.
Georgia has been considered one of the SEC’s blue bloods since head coach Wally Butts took them to the Rose Bowl in 1942 but its seen its fair share of “close, but no cigar” moments on the national stage in the modern era. Desiring to weaponize its proximity to elite talent and willingness to financially invest in football, the program tabbed Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to take over the program in 2016 and, well, turn them into something on par with Alabama.
And they’ve come so, so close.
Since 2016, Georgia has recruited on levels above 99% of the sport, they’ve invested money into elite facilities, they’ve pumped out NFL Draft selections left and right, and even got state open records laws changed to benefit the program. As a result, Georgia has ruled the SEC East with an iron fist and has had the fortune of being one of four or five teams that are automatically considered as a serious College Football Playoff championship contender.
And yet, it hasn’t fully paid off. It hasn’t paid off because Alabama, the very program that it molded its image after with the arrival of Smart, has denied them of their glory.
Seared in our brains are the images of a freshman Tua Tagovailoa hitting DeVonta Smith for the game-winning touchdown in the 2017-18 title game. Images of the Tide once again burying UGA’s hopes and dreams in the 2018 SEC Championship Game the following year. And, of course, Bama derailing what had been a perfect season last month in Atlanta.
Everything from the past six years have led to this moment and finally slaying the monster it mirrors would re-affirm everything that has been built in Athens, GA, throughout the Smart era. If the Dawgs fall once again, then they’ll once again be staring into the abyss with questions about the purpose of all of this.