I’ve always felt a slight sense of amusement in reaction to some fans’ assessment of Mark Richt’s career at Georgia not measuring up because of his failure to win a national title, as if that is some sort of natural state for a school that’s won the MNC once in my lifetime. The reality is that ours has been a program which has enjoyed good stretches of national prominence sprinkled in with a legitimate chance or two a decade to grab the brass ring.
That’s not meant as a criticism. There are plenty of programs out there that can’t say nearly as much. But in a conference as tough as the SEC, a lot of things have to break right for a school to get that opportunity. You think back on the years that were near misses – 2007 and 2002, 1992, 1982 and 1981 – and you think about the dropped pass here, the half a dozen points there, the turnover fest in Clemson, etc. – and realize that there’s been a very tight window to negotiate.
That’s what makes Georgia’s 1980 season so remarkable. You think about all the things that had to fall in place that year and did. A team that had to grow up and put a disappointing 6-5 season in ’79 behind it, that had to dodge its share of bullets several times from start to finish and that had to deal with the distraction of its head coach pondering a job offer from another school in the days leading up to the bowl game that would clinch the MNC proved it possessed the mental toughness to succeed.
And having the greatest freshman in the history of the sport as a catalyst certainly didn’t hurt.
It’s a great story, even from the perspective of a fan looking from the outside in. I was lucky enough to attend the games in Jacksonville and New Orleans and they’ll always be two of the greatest experiences of my life as a sports enthusiast. But if you’ve ever been interested in hearing how the players on that team felt as they went through the program’s greatest year, that’s not a story which has been told. Until now, that is.
Now there’s “1980 Dawgs”, which bills itself as “The Inside Story of the National Championship Season”. It’s a 2 DVD set of interviews from players, coaches and others close to the program that season along with footage.
But more than that, it’s a labor of love. There’s a lot of pleasure taken in the retelling of what went on that year and you can sense that from the beginning, which is a look back at how the team regrouped after 1979 and how Georgia landed the most sought after recruit in the country. Herschel Walker isn’t interviewed, but you’ll hear plenty from people like Frank Ros, Mike Cavan and Scott Woerner. The lack of ego is refreshing; the sense of accomplishment is palpable.
You’ll get a kick out of the segment on the tracks (1980 was the last season before that end of Sanford Stadium was enclosed). You’ll no doubt learn some things that you may not have known or forgotten long ago, such as Dooley electing to burn Terry Hoage’s redshirt for the bowl game because of his great week of practice on the kick block team (Dooley’s judgment was rewarded, as Hoage blocked a Notre Dame field goal attempt). And trust me, you won’t want to miss Freddie Gilbert’s observation on why Auburn was a bigger rival than Florida.
There’s plenty to savor – the set runs about three and a half hours in all – and in the end, you won’t ask yourself why it was done, just why it took so long for anyone to put it together (that’s especially true as you listen to the tributes to Munson, McDuffie, Erk and Jimmy Payne). “1980 Dawgs” is a must have for any Dawg fan of my generation, but it’s a joy to watch to regardless of age if you follow Georgia football. Plus, you might learn something about what it takes to get that ring.