Everything is amplified as No. 1

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ATHENS, Ga. --- How to act like a No. 1 football team?

There is no manual on the subject. Teams and coaches who have done it rarely understand the formula well enough to repeat.

How to be a Gentleman author John Bridges certainly wouldn't suggest that defending your girlfriend from male conversation with an eye-socket shattering punch is appropriate.

Fashion critic Mr. Blackwell might approve of red jerseys complementing silver britches, but he can't suggest how best to dress to ensure victory over a presumptive patsy that claims six national titles of its own.

Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, certainly wouldn't approve of sanctioned unsportsmanlike conduct as a motivational ploy, yet she's never endured ritualistic heartbreak at the chomping hands of obnoxious Gators.

This is unfamiliar territory for Georgia, which hadn't been ranked No. 1 since Jan. 1, 1982, before losing the Sugar Bowl to Penn State in Herschel Walker's last college game. This was the first time in the school's illustrious football history that the Bulldogs had ever entered a season as the preseason favorite to win it all.

With that buildup, a common refrain around Athens over the last months of the summer break was that the Bulldogs weren't acting like prospective national champions. Six players were suspended for the season opener (and another dismissed), but bad and undisciplined behavior hasn't stopped other No. 1 teams.

So, without an established precedent or set list of do's and don'ts to download off the Internet, the Bulldogs will have to make this up as they go along.

"We're like everybody else and kind of feeling our way," coach Mark Richt said after the opening 45-21 victory over Georgia Southern.

Apparently, the Georgia plan starts with a monumental traffic jam the likes of which has never been seen on a game day in Athens. The disorderly ingress from every artery was as much a topic of conversation as the suffocating heat inside Sanford Stadium. It seems the troopers and police who normally keep the flow moving at the major intersections were casualties of state budget cuts.

The plan continued with a dog and Sonny show that got everyone worked into a froth. Seiler introduced Uga VII between the hedges to more applause than you get for a Georgia Tech or Florida losing score update. Even university president Michael Adams was cheered when he put the famous spiked collar around the new mascot's considerable neck. This No. 1 thing really has softened the hearts of Bulldog Nation.

From there, the validation process began in earnest. The defense snuffing Georgia Southern for minus-4 yards on the first possession was a worthy introduction.

Then, it was the offense's turn.

Heisman Trophy hopeful Knowshon Moreno opened with a jazzy 13-yard run on his first touch. Then, Matthew Stafford showed off both his arm and Georgia's new talent in freshman A.J. Green with a 36-yard strike to the goal line.

In the next series, freshman place-kicker Blair Walsh displayed his range with a 52-yard field goal that would have been good from 62. That brought a sigh of relief from the Bulldog faithful assured that a key element to any No. 1 campaign was on solid footing, so to speak.

Throw in a second-quarter goal-line stand, and this whole No. 1 thing was going swimmingly.

But there were a few late campaign strategies I'm not sure Karl Rove would have suggested. Jeff Owens' knee injury was disturbing. Then came the real hold-your-breath moment at the end of an impressive two-play touchdown drive that opened the third quarter. On what seemed like a simple, walk-in 24-yard touchdown, Moreno started clutching his right hamstring at about the 10-yard line and held his teammates at bay on the celebration.

It turned out to be just cramps, but it was enough to draw gasps.

"I wasn't smiling until I knew for sure what it was," Richt said.

The whole Day One, No. 1 party dragged on as many often do. After the Bulldogs led 38-0, the numbing heat settled in, as the visitors put up some feel-good touchdown drives.

In the end, 45-21 is the score that will be dissected around the country. Did Georgia do all the things a No. 1 team is supposed to do?

"We came out with a fire and made some big plays and came out the victor," Moreno said. "That's all that matters."

That's true. Even the last Georgia man to coach a top-ranked team offered that advice when asked.

"I'd say be proud, but do it with class," Vince Dooley said of playing with a 1 on your back. "And you better win."

For any No. 1, it really is as simple as that.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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