Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The pure joy of winning

Friday November 10, 2006

We’re cynical and hardened here in SEC country. Where college football has become big business, every play and decision is scrutinized like a performance metric. Wins aren’t impressive enough, losses aren’t acceptable, and the CEO coach goes from hero to bum from week to week and season to season. It’s not an entirely irrational reaction – the investment put behind these programs is serious stuff, and the passion behind it all is second to very little. When a program with the capital and human resources, talent base, and expectations that Georgia has loses to a program with much less in all of those areas, it leads to questions about how well those resources are being used. Business metrics again, and every fan is a McKinsey consultant with an answer.

Every so often though we’re reminded that all of this overhead is about a game played by college students. Complex thought behind schemes, state-of-the-art training methods, millions of dollars in investment, and huge national audiences all come down to how well 85 college students execute. That unpredictability is a lot of what makes college sports so maddening and also so enjoyable and superior to anything else.

We saw the kind of innocence and pure joy that just comes from winning that those of us who treat each game as an exam forget about. The fans had fun, not giving up on their team after a 15-point deficit. They unashamedly sang "We Will Rock You" as if hearing it for the first time. The players swelled with pride and emotion.

We see that kind of environment a lot in "traditional power" land, perhaps enough to dull us. Georgia might be down this year, but the environment for the Tennessee game earlier this year was as good as it gets in college football. The West Virginia game last year was just another game, but to the Mountaineers, it was everything – and they played like it. The hustle and passion shown by Rutgers last night is what impresses people more than a complicated scheme or true superstars.

We see this kind of story a lot in sports when fans get treated to a rare taste of winning. Atlanta went nuts over the Braves in the early 90s. Now they yawn and barely notice when they don’t make the playoffs. Kentucky beat a 6-4 Georgia team, but they tore down the goalposts in jubilation as if they had beaten Ohio State. Georgia baseball fans made Kudzu Hill a household name in 2001. That kind of pure enjoyment in the new experience of winning is what we saw last night, and it looks great every time we see it because we remember when we’ve had times like that. It’s what it felt like to be at Auburn in 2002 or in Jacksonville in 1997. Over time, we become used to or harden to those experiences and lose just how much it meant to have that innocent and even naive moment of pure joy after a win. It will be interesting to see how Rutgers fans go through this process in the coming games and seasons.

But what few are talking about while enjoying the Rutgers movie-script season is the complete collapse and bed-wetting by Louisville. Their 25-14 halftime lead wasn’t insurmountable, but any team worth a spot in the national discussion can’t let that get away. Louisville’s most frequently-used play in the second half was "QB scramble for his life left". They had a double-digit lead and one half separating themselves from a good chance at a spot in the national title game.

How fleeting it all is. Lousiville has a staff full of Certified Offensive Sooper-Geniuses™, but their unit looked lost and impotent in the second half. Even Jeff Bowden was chuckling. This week, he Again, full credit to Rutgers and their coaches and players. They had to make the plays and, most importantly, not fold early when they got embarrassed a bit in front of the home crowd. Once they settled down and were able to channel the evening’s emotion, they were fine. Now Schiano is the "it" guy…enjoy.

How would this be – say home field holds and West Virginia beats Rutgers in the last week of the season. Who wins the Big East and goes to the BCS?

Last night’s events certainly gave new life to many teams and threw open endless national title scenarios. Florida especially has to perk up at the prospects of moving up to #3. But Mark May’s caution is very apt here – there’s a ton of football to play yet. Call it the Virginia Tech rule – how many times in recent years have we seen them start out undefeated and then swoon in November? Or name it after Tommy Tuberville whose Auburn team got drubbed the week after complaining about the BCS. Play the games. There’s likely to be controversy this year, and that’s a topic for another post, but the cast of characters will surely change and be thinned between now and then.

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