Originally created 11/07/02

Georgia receiver tries to bounce back from one that got away



ATHENS, Ga. -- Terrence Edwards emerged from the locker room holding copies of several e-mails - all from Georgia fans telling him to keep his head up.

Then again, he knows there are plenty of folks who view him as the Bill Buckner of Bulldog Nation, the guy who blew the biggest game of the season by dropping a potential touchdown pass against Florida.

Like the one who left an anonymous message on the answering machine shortly after Saturday night's game, sarcastically commenting on Edwards' status as the leading receiver in school history.

"I just want to congratulate you on losing another game for us," the caller said.

"It was a cowardly thing to do," Edwards said. "But I can walk around this campus with my head up high. People like that just want to be in my spot. They're jealous because I'm playing football for the University of Georgia."

Edwards has endured his share of condemnation even while breaking nearly all the school's major receiving records. This past weekend was especially traumatic.

No. 7 Georgia, which was undefeated and looking to clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game, trailed Florida with 2 1/2 minutes to go. Edwards faked out a Florida safety and found himself open in the middle of the field, no one within 10 yards. David Greene delivered the pass, but Edwards - thinking someone was behind him - jumped for the ball and had it bounce off his fingertips.

Florida held on for a 20-13 victory.

If that wasn't bad enough, Edwards came off the field to news that his mother, Jeannette, collapsed in the stands. He rode in the ambulance as she was taken to a Jacksonville, Fla., hospital.

Edwards' mother spent three days undergoing tests, which failed to determine the reason for her collapse. She was released late Tuesday, still bitter about the way her son has been treated by the fans.

"Boy, I cannot wait for him to get out of there," she said Wednesday in a telephone interview from her east Georgia home. "I hope he can stay healthy the rest of the year, then say bye-bye to Georgia."

The ordeal after the game provided Edwards with a new perspective on his dropped pass.

"I'm perfectly fine," he said. "I know there's bigger things than football. I'm not happy that my mom got sick, but that may have been the best thing for me. I know that football is just a game."

Shortly after the game, Edwards was vilified by the what-have-you done-for-me-lately worlds of talk radio and the Internet - not to mention the brazen fan who called his home.

In response, the Georgia athletic department received an outpouring of e-mails in support of Edwards. Several of them were copied by the sports information department and left at Edwards' locker for him to see as he came off the practice field.

"More people are with me than against me," he said. "But I guess there's some people who've never made a mistake."

Obviously, the critical comments have struck a sour chord with Edwards and his family, who remember the way his older brother was treated at Georgia.

Robert Edwards was a running back who had fumbling problems early in his career and was plagued by injuries. Both situations caused some grumbling among the Bulldog faithful, even as Edwards played well enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick.

"I've been through nine years of it," Jeannette Edwards said. "This is my last year of it."

She'll encourage her younger son, Chris, a freshman track star at Washington County High School, to attend another college.

"I hope they'll find someone else to pick on," she said. "I'm not going to stop him from going to Georgia, but I'll voice my opinion."

Robert Edwards, now with the Miami Dolphins, also was stunned by the negative reaction toward his little brother.

"I've never known Georgia fans to be so up and down like that," he said after practice Wednesday. "But being on the outside looking in now, I can see a lot of them aren't loyal. They're on the bandwagon when you win."

Terrence Edwards' teammates have rallied to his cause. It wasn't his fault the offense went 0-for-13 on third-down conversions. It wasn't his fault the team missed two field goals. It wasn't his fault that Florida returned an interception for a touchdown.

"As much as he's brought to this program over five years, it's amazing that he could be remembered for one play," offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "He's won so many games for us, and he didn't lose this one."

Edwards has been through this before. Last season, he dropped a sure touchdown pass in a 14-9 loss to South Carolina. Midway through the year, he was demoted to second team for failing to work hard enough.

Edwards changed his attitude and earned the respect of coaches, teammates and the media for the straightforward way he addressed his problems.

Now, he's going through it again.

"If this had to happen to anybody, I'm glad it's me," Edwards said. "I know how to handle it."