Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hard Waves of Nausea

Last Saturday was perhaps the darkest moment in a dark year for Georgia football fans. Leading perennial doormat Kentucky 20-6 at halftime, we turned it over four times in the second half to lose 34-27, despite having outgained the Wildcats by 150 yards. It was our first home loss to Kentucky since the legendary 1977 debacle, when they shellacked us 33-0 – at homecoming, no less! – with Prince Charles in attendance. As an Athenian, I remember well that civic humiliation before royalty. Even James Brown performing “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs” at halftime could bestow no mojo on our lackluster team (Who was the greater eminence in Sanford Stadium that day, anyway, The Prince of Wales or the Godfather of Soul?). Last Saturday’s loss was a fitting end to a depressing week (the entire Bulldog Nation mourned the untimely death of Uga VII) and a depressing season, a revolting spectacle of a talented team shooting itself in the foot with catastrophic turnovers, untimely penalties, and faulty execution.

As the Kentucky game dragged toward its inevitable conclusion, I found myself missing Larry Munson, the radio play-by-play man who retired before last season after 40 years behind the mike. Georgia fans revere Munson. His call of the most famous play in school history, a touchdown pass from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott to save the game against Florida during the 1980 championship season, is part of every fan’s mental soundtrack, along with other well-known Munsonisms: “Look at the sugar falling from the sky!” and “We just stomped on their face with a hobnail boot!” Especially during his later years, Munson was not known for clearly describing the action on the field, but that scarcely mattered to any of us who had grown to love him. The point of listening to his call of a game was not to know precisely what was happening but to participate in the psychodrama of Munson’s experience of the game. He was a notorious pessimist. It we were ahead, there was always too much time left on the clock. If we were behind, Lady Luck was not going to smile on us. For this reason, when things did turn out well- especially if it happened in dramatic fashion – having gone through the game enduring Munson’s angst made the thrill that much more thrilling. Yes, Munson was weak on the details, but when he retired, AJC sports columnist Steve Hummer aptly summed up what the change in the broadcast booth would mean for Georgia fans: “Know more, feel less.”

Munson’s celebratory calls are justly celebrated, and I think they sell well on DVD. But I’m sorry some enterprising person at the UGa Athletic Association has not made a compilation of Munson’s calls of on-field disasters. I regard those as some of his greatest performances. Why shouldn’t they be? Can anyone recite the radio call of a successful docking of the Hindenburg? Munson’s spontaneous imagery was just as vivid, just as memorable when the Dogs were experiencing the agony of defeat. It could even be cathartic. I recall a home game in the late nineties, after we had won an improbable victory over Auburn the week before and finally seemed about to turn the corner and get out of mediocrity. But then fate ordained that we lose to Ole Miss at home. When our failure to convert on fourth down made defeat in that game inevitable, Munson growled, “And hard waves of nausea sweep across the stadium.”

I suppose that’s how it was last weekend after the Kentucky game. Too bad Munson wasn’t there to be the Greek chorus commenting grievously on the nightmare unfolding before him.

This season isn’t over yet, mind you: we face Georgia Tech this Saturday, as we do every Thanksgiving weekend. The tables appear to have turned in this series. After losing to the Bulldogs seven straight years, the Yellow Jackets won 45-42 last year under their new coach, Paul Johnson, with his triple option offense. This year Tech is 10-1 and ranked seventh in the country. The Jackets and their coach are getting great press (A couple of weeks ago, one of the hosts on the sports talk station I listen to in the morning said, “If you’re a Georgia fan, you must be sick of hearing about Paul Johnson.” Yes. I. Am.) While Tech rides high, Georgia is 6-5 and unranked, after several years of top ten finishes. Coach Mark Richt, who revived Georgia’s program after years of mediocrity, is catching hell from the fan base. He will almost certainly have to fire his underperforming defensive coordinator Willie Martinez after the season.

As is always the case in a rivalry game, this is an opportunity for a frustrated team to salvage its season. A victory would be especially sweet this year: the Dogs are 7 point underdogs, and beating Tech would utterly tarnish what has been a magical season for them. Do I think an upset likely? No way. I don’t see how our undisciplined defense is supposed to slow down Tech’s juggernaut offense enough to allow our erratic offense to score enough to beat them. But you never know. Tech does not appear invincible - they barely escaped 4-6 Wake Forest. What if the Georgia defense that stuffed Auburn for three quarters shows up? Quarterback Joe Cox threw two bad interceptions in the second half against Kentucky, but he threw three touchdowns in the first half. If competent Joe shows up Saturday, who knows?

Sic ‘em, Dawgs.

UPDATE, SATURDAY NIGHT, 11:30: In the words of new voice of the Bulldogs Scott Howard, "the earth is back on its proper axis again."

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