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Kirby Smart’s life must have been flashing before his very eyes Monday night and into Tuesday morning.
Weary eyes, by the way.
“I didn’t get to bed until probably 3:30 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and back up early,” the Georgia coach said Tuesday morning at a post national championship press conference in Indianapolis.
“The hotel was wild and crazy,” he said. “And then seeing the pictures of Athens (from a cell phone), that really moved me to see the number of people on the streets downtown. You just don’t know the impact that it has. That part was special. To start the celebration in the locker room was pretty incredible, to be in there with those men.”
It took Smart back to his youth on April 18, 1998, when the Widespread Panic rock band of Athens, Georgia, staged a memorable release party/concert for its live album, “Light Fuse, Get Away” in downtown Athens. And 100,000 people came.
Smart, 22 at the time, was a junior defensive back on the Georgia football team and somewhere near Washington Street, where it all happened. The scene in Athens Monday night after Georgia’s first win over Alabama since 2007 reminded him of that Widespread Panic scene more than 22 years ago.
“I was blown away. First thing I thought of was Widespread Panic in ’94, or whatever it was,” Smart said. “I was like, there’s people on street signs. There’s people on poles. You can’t see the street. I didn’t even know where it was. But was pretty blown away. Hopefully, everybody was safe.”
But what about property?
Moments after the game, Smart channeled another Bulldog memory – the 93-yard catch and run by wide receiver Lindsay Scott with 1:03 to go for the 26-21 win over Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 8, 1980.
After the play, the beloved voice of Georgia football Larry Munson famously said, “Man, there’s going to be some property destroyed tonight.”
Smart was just 4 years old at the time and living in Montgomery, Alabama, before moving to Bainbridge, Georgia, at age 7. But he knows his Georgia lore.
“There’s going to be some property destroyed in Indy tonight, baby,” Smart said jokingly moments after the win in reference to Munson, who died in 2011 in Athens at 89.
Smart ran into a coach he idolized as a kid the night before the championship game at the hotel elevator – Vince Dooley, now 89 who won Georgia’s second of now three national championships with a 12-0 season in 1980 that climaxed with a 17-10 win over No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
“I thought it was a sign when the elevator opened on the 15th floor, and Vince Dooley was sitting on a bench locked out of his room,” Smart said. “I thought, ‘God put him there for me to see him the night before the game when he was waiting on his key for his room.’ I think about hugging his neck after the game, and I’m in tears. And he’s in tears.”
Smart, 46, became a Georgia fan in about 1980.
“I hope they don’t have to wait that long again,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, that’s a long time. I know as a young child, moving from Alabama at the age of 7 or 6, I didn’t know much about Georgia. The years that I got to come to Georgia, those were the first memories – the ’80-82 teams.”
Smart grew up like most in Montgomery and throughout Alabama and Georgia as a fan of the Atlanta Braves, who won their first World Series since 1995 last November.
“There were a lot of battle cries throughout the year that our guys really kind of personified for the state and for the people of the state,” he said. “And that and what the Braves did, made it a special year.”
Smart saw former Georgia coach Ray Goff, who signed him out of Bainbridge High School in 1995. He saw former Georgia coach Mark Richt, whom he replaced in 2016 and coached under in 2005.
“He got so close so many times,” Smart said. “There’s a lot of people that this means a lot to. And I, for one, am happy for them and that so many of them are also so happy for me.”
Smart even remembered his brief stint as a non-drafted free agent rookie defensive back in 1999 with the Indianapolis Colts under coach Jim Mora with a quarterback named Peyton Manning.
“Had a brief stop in Indy, where I stayed about three or four months and got cut,” he said. “I don’t remember much about the place.”
He always will now.
“Didn’t really start sinking in for me personally until last night, seeing the families of the young men and seeing all those kids,” he said. “It really hit home and got emotional for me watching those guys with their families, which is what it’s all about.”