Like a football Lazarus, Georgia had risen from the dead.
Given up for dead on a tipped ball interception, Alabama players celebrated on the field, the Crimson Tide’s trip to Miami to take on Notre Dame for the BCS title all but assured. In the stands Bama fans began their celebration, the crimson and white pom-poms twirled, girls in sundresses and cowboy boots jumped for joy, Bama men tried not to spill their whiskey and cokes.
Roll Tide Roll, they screamed.
Meanwhile Georgia fans turned and stared at the jumbotron, watching with clenched teeth and tightly bound fists as the play replayed over and over again in excrutiating slow motion. Interception or no interception, football death or football life, the nose of a football touching the Georgia Dome turf or another devastating loss for Coach Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs.
With 45 seconds left on the clock it appeared a classic SEC title game, the best of them all, a blackjack in the 21st title game, was over.
And then…Georgia got a reprieve from the Bama football executioner.
Aaron Murray, the quarterback who couldn’t win the big game, and Mark Richt, the coach who couldn’t win the big game either, had a second chance, back from the dead with a BCS title so, so close.
Immediately Murray completed passes for 15 and 23 yards.
Rather than spike the football as the Dogs should have done, Georgia allowed ten precious seconds to melt off the clock and then Murray hits tight end Arthur Lynch for 26 yards to the Bama eight.
The Georgia Dome is wild with noise, a cacophany of sound rains down upon the field. Murray elects not to spike the football and drops back to pass, the ball is tipped at the line of scrimmage and caught by Chris Conley for a three yard gain.
But the clock ticks to zero, the game is over.
Just like that.
The ending feels abrupt, unplanned, completely unexpected, an anti-climatic end to a game full of climaxes, a misfired cannon of a play call, an all too common ending for a game steeped in greatness.
Georgia receiver Tavarres King, slams his helmet to the ground so hard that it explodes. King is immobile, standing as the streamers begin to fall from the ceiling. This is how fine the line is in the SEC between a national title and the Peach Bowl, between Georgia’s first SEC title in seven years and a team that will slowly fade into football oblivion. In a game for the ages with just eight yards separating them from a touchdown that would echo throughout Georgia history forever, the Bulldogs choked on their own bark.
Somewhere, you just know it, Larry Munson was cursing a blue streak.
Down on the field King brushed off a blue and yellow streamer as it alit on his shoulder, sighed deeply into the raucous roar of the Alabama faithful.
So tantalizingly close. So amazingly far, the distance between Atlanta on New Year’s Eve and Miami on January 7th.
In his post-game press conference, the usually mild-mannered Richt lost his temper, overwhelmed by the painful loss, the latest big game defeat for a coach who has had many more than his fair share.
Questioner: “There are some people whether it’s fans, media, or whomever else that will maybe want to make further conclusions about you or your quarterback, specifically, in big games. Would you have any response to those people?”
Richt stared straight ahead, squinted his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re saying,” Richt said, “Why don’t you just say it straight up what you’re trying to say.”
Questioner: “People will say that you and Aaron Murray specifically come up short on the biggest stage against the biggest opponents.”
Richt bristled anew, leaned forward. “Is that what you’re saying or everybody else — if that’s what you’re saying — are you saying that?”
Questioner: “No, I’m saying I hear that every day —“
Richt cuts off the questioner “Well, that’s for you to worry about then. If that’s what you say, then I’ll answer the question. If you think other people are saying that, I’m not worried about that.”
Standing up Richt stormed to behind the Georgia Dome curtains, slammed his can of Coke down to the ground behind the curtain.
Twenty seconds passed, the Georgia Bulldog helmet was removed as well as Richt’s name tag. Then, Richt stormed back onto the podium. He pushed down Saban’s nametag and stood, addressing the media, “I want to say something else, if anybody thinks our guys didn’t play their tail off and Aaron Murray didn’t play his tail off, they’re crazy. That’s unbelievable somebody would even bring that up.”
A few minutes later Nick Saban sat the same podium.
His Crimson Tide had just claimed their 23rd SEC title. In 37 days Bama will take the field against Notre Dame, where his Crimson Tide team will earn the seventh straight BCS title for the SEC.
Make no mistake, tonight was the BCS title game. If the Fighting Irish had traveled to Atlanta tonight, they would have lost by double digit to both these teams. The Irish are not stopping Eddie Lacy or T.J. Yeldon with a full month to get healthy from the rigors of the SEC season. The Irish are not stopping Nick Saban with a month to get ready for their weak offense.
Asked about preparing for the BCS title game against Notre Dame, Saban was succinct, “It’s a one game season,” he said.
A one game season that the SEC will win.
A one game season that Bama will win by double digits. A one game season that Georgia probably would have won by double digits as well.
That’s what made the loss so difficult, it was for all the Monopoly railroads and Georgia went straight to jail.
Congrats to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 BCS title champs.
Stare at this picture, Notre Dame, the Tide is about to roll all over your puny excuse for a national title winning football team.
Because the SEC plays grown man football.
And Notre Dame, who would be the 7th best team in the league, flat out doesn’t.