ATHENS, Ga. - Thirty-one years later, Buck Belue can still feel the pain of watching Auburn's Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley combine to make Nov. 13, 1971, a certified nightmare for Georgia followers.
Belue was only a 12-year-old then, "but I was in front of that TV every Saturday" watching his beloved Bulldogs. The Tigers' 35-20 victory that day - which denied Georgia a share of the Southeastern Conference title - went over about as well as losing a childhood pet.
Through history, it's been a familiar feeling for Bulldogs backers to have their SEC title dreams dashed by Auburn. Since the conference formed in 1933, the Tigers have kept Georgia from winning or sharing the championship seven times.
The No. 7 Bulldogs will visit the No. 24 Tigers today (3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12) in another high-stakes meeting. Georgia can punch its ticket for the Dec. 7 SEC Championship game with a victory. An Auburn win would keep the Tigers in contention in the SEC West and - if Florida beats South Carolina today (6 p.m., ESPN) - would deny the Bulldogs their first SEC East title since the league split into two divisions in 1992.
Belue, now a sports-radio talk show host in Atlanta, knows the flavor of the Deep South's oldest rivalry more intimately than most. He lived and died with the Bulldogs as a child and experienced the exasperation and exhilaration of the game as a quarterback for Georgia from 1978-81.
The sights, sounds and smells from the losses seem more profound than the spoils of victory. In 1979, the Bulldogs entered the game 5-0 in the SEC and needed a win to forge a tie with Alabama for the league title.
Georgia was still seething from the 22-22 tie at Auburn the previous year that denied the Bulldogs a share of the SEC crown, but everything began to unravel when Belue suffered a broken leg on his team's first play from scrimmage.
The Tigers pounded Georgia 33-13 thanks to a combined 366 rushing yards from running backs James Brooks and Joe Cribbs. Belue didn't need any updates while his leg was being set in the bowels of Sanford Stadium.
The raucous cheering from Auburn's fans said everything.
"That was the biggest nightmare I've ever had," Belue said. "It was ugly. ... It seemed like Auburn's fans were cheering a lot, and it wasn't because they were throwing the football."
The Bulldogs made up for the disappointment from 1980-82, winning a national title and three straight SEC championships. Belue said the losses to Auburn in 1978 and 1979 kept the team focused while it was amassing a 22-2 record in his junior and senior seasons.
The Bulldogs achieved monumental wins over Florida both years - Belue's 93-yard pass to Lindsay Scott in 1980 gave them a 26-21 triumph for the ages - but the postgame party didn't last long.
"We were celebrating those Florida wins in '80 and '81, but on the flight home what happened next sort of tempered it," Belue said. "It was like impending doom: 'Oh, no. Here comes Auburn again."'
The Bulldogs broke the hex with three straight victories over the Tigers, and their 33-3 record over the three-year stretch established the program as a minidynasty in the SEC.
The agony at the hands of Auburn resumed in 1983, when the Tigers snapped Georgia's 23-game SEC winning streak and denied the Bulldogs their fourth straight league title. Georgia also had a chance to win its second national championship four years, but Auburn killed those hopes with the 13-7 win in Athens.
In 1987 and 1988, the Tigers soured coach Vince Dooley's 24th and 25th seasons by denying Georgia a share of the league crown, winning the games by a combined score of 47-21.
The Bulldogs have claimed their share of big games against Auburn. Since 1933, they've won the SEC seven times by beating the Tigers.
The losses, however, seem to stick the most. Belue doesn't need a video tape to remind him of the dejection he experienced sitting in front of the television as a youngster in 1971.
His mind replays it all for him.
"Sullivan and Beasley just picked us apart," he said.
Since 1933, Auburn has denied Georgia the Southeastern Conference crown seven times. A recap:
1933/14-6/The Tigers ruin the Bulldogs' chances in the SEC's first year.
1971/35-20/The Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley showcase.
1978/22-22/The tie was the only blemish on Georgia's league record.
1979/33-13/James Brooks and Joe Cribbs run wild in Athens.
1983/13-7/The Tigers snap Georgia's 23-game SEC winning streak.
1987/27-11/Winning would have given the Bulldogs a share of the league title.
1988/20-10/Auburn sends Vince Dooley out as runner-up in the SEC.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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