ATLANTA – Lewis Grizzard would not want to talk about this.
“Somewhere there is a great party going on, and I’m missing it,” the late great Atlanta Journal scribe and diehard Bulldog used to say.
Unfortunately, that party will be happening in Tuscaloosa – again.
The Georgia Bulldogs appeared poised to bury 37 years of frustration watching all of its regional rivals collect championship hardware, holding a 13-point lead in the third quarter. All it needed to do was hunker down with its trademark defense and the College Football Playoff national championship trophy would have come back to Athens for the third time.
Alabama, however, found a secret weapon of its own hidden on the bench.
Nick Saban decided to pull his starting quarterback who led the Tide to consecutive championship games and put in a true freshman of his own – Tua Tagovailoa. Given Georgia’s 13-0 lead, you had to like the chances of the true freshman who’s been playing since September and not since 10 p.m.
These kids today, however, know no fear. Tagovailoa injected sudden life into a foundering Tide.
Then he delivered the kill shot in overtime – a 41-yard heave to a wide-open DeVonta Smith – to lift the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 victory on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The late Larry Munson might have called it a hobnail boot to the face of a devastated Bulldog Nation.
Georgia (13-2) had dodged a bullet at the end of regulation when Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed his second field goal of the night from 36 yards as time expired to give the Bulldogs new life after letting a 20-7 lead slip away.
Tagovailoa was the catalyst who stole the thunder that Jake Fromm had been building all season. The Tide’s freshman scrambled his way out of a third-down stop and taking Alabama on a seven-play, 56-yard touchdown drive that shifted the mood inside the Benz.
When Fromm answered with a perfect 80-yard deep strike to Mecole Hardman to reclaim its 13-point lead and Deandre Baker made a leaping interception of Tagovailoa soon after, all seemed well in hand.
But the magic on Georgia’s fairytale season had run out in the gleaming new home of the Falcons team that blew a historic 25-point lead in the Super Bowl last season. A suddenly conservative playbook yielded no more scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs while the Tide’s Tua kept slinging it to bring Bama back to tie it up.
Even Georgia’s scoring drive in overtime went for negative 9 yards before kicker Rodrigo Blankenship bailed them out with a 51-yard field goal that creeped over the cross bar.
You could almost hear Munson’s gravelly voice saying “He kicked the whatchamacallit out of it.”
When the Bulldogs sacked Tagovailoa for a 16-yard loss on Alabama’s first play in overtime, Georgia fans could sense a happier ending. Munson would have pleaded the call.
“I know I’m asking a lot, you guys, but hunker it down one more time.”
All hope, however, was crushed the next play when Smith breezed behind Malkom Parrish and hauled in a perfect strike from Tagovailoa.
Any property getting destroyed last night would be in a big party stretching from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa as Saban’s Tide takes home its fifth title in nine seasons – an embarrassment of riches that only makes it more painful for Georgia fans.
Unfortunately for Georgia, Grizzard’s account from his 1981 Sugar Bowl coverage still stands.
“Children laughed and grown men cried.”
Too bad it wasn’t for the same reason.