Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry: 122 Years Renewed

2014 will mark the thirteenth straight Auburn/Georgia football game that I will have attended. The streak dates back to 2002. The only time it was ever really in n the balance was during the 2011 season as I was living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the time. Fortunately, I was able to fly back south for the game and keep the streak alive. I believe that this is one of the great cross state rivalries in college football. Two schools, only 178 miles apart.  The rivalry begin 122 years ago in 1892 with Auburn leading the all time series 55-44-8. So many great players and coaches have had an opportunity to take part in this rivalry: Pat Dye, Vince Dooley, David Pollack, Shug Jordan, Cadillac Williams, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson just to name a few. One thing I think that makes the rivalry great is the number of Atlanta Metro area kids that go to Auburn. With UGA nearly impossible to get into, you got to imagine there's a little bit of spite from the Atlanta kids who grew up wanting to go to school in Athens, but were shunned away. Similar to my case as a cross state Birmingham dawg fan growing up wanting to go to school in Athens, but there is no spite held.

I grew up a big Georgia fan, which made going to school and converting to an Auburn fan difficult at first. Through my years at Auburn I was able to make the transformation though. I always pull for Georgia though, except for when they play Auburn. Taking a look at the games in scope since 2002, there have been some all time classics. The implication of some of the games have propelled both schools into SEC Championships and further. In my opinion during the twelve year period, I would say 2002 was the most meaningful game for Georgia and 2013 for Auburn. Let's take a look at the high stake classic rivalry games over the past twelve years:

2002

Georgia travels to the Plains ranked seventh in the Nation, Auburn ranked twenty fourth. Georgia came into the game needing a win in order to win the SEC East. This is probably one of the more memorable Auburn/Georgia games I have been to. At the time I was 13 and a huge Georgia fan; this was the first Auburn/Georgia game I ever attended. It was a cold rainy day in Auburn and we were sitting up near the top rows of Jordan Hare's upper deck; what almost seemed to be another zip code. It was a classic rivalry game, both teams battling all day. Georgia was down 21-18 facing a fourth down and goal from the Auburn 19. David Greene lofted a pass to Michael Johnson in the right corner of the end zone for what became on of the memorable catches in Georgia football history. Larry Munson's call:


Georgia would go on to beat Arkansas in the SEC Championship and Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The lone blemish on the schedule and the only thing that kept them out of an appearance in the National Championship game was a 20-13 loss against the Gators.

Michael Johnson goes 'over the top' to snatch the SEC East title for Georgia in 2002.



2005

Maybe the best year to sum up a classic rivalry game. Two good football teams battling through the crisp, cool November Athens air. Faced with a 4th and 10 and the game on the line Brandon Cox found Devin Aromashodu (great football name) who took the ball all the way down to the Georgia one yard line.



Originally the call on the field  was a touchdown. However it was then moved back to the Georgia one yard line. This actually worked completely against Georgia's favor as Auburn was then able to bleed down the clock to a few seconds and kick a field goal for a 31-30 victory. As a not yet converted Auburn fan, I remember this loss really stinging.

2007

November 10, 2007 Georgia calls for a blackout against Auburn. Wearing black jerseys for the first time in their programs history, and asking their fans to wear all black; Auburn never really had a chance. I have been to a lot of games in Athens, and this was possibly the loudest I have ever heard Sanford stadium.

My view from the blackout game. A see of black. I was pretty easy to spot in orange. 
The Dawgs were able to match the pre-game hype. Georgia would put up a 45-20 victory in a game that was never really close. I think this was one of Georgia's most talented teams in the past decade plus lead by Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi. Fast forward to 2008, Georgia was ranked number one in the Nation at the time, and welcomed Alabama into Athens. Georgia decided to pull out the black jerseys for this game. Alabama came into Athens and shocked number one Georgia. Black jerseys have since been retired.

2013

This one is still fresh on Auburn and Georgia fans alike. Auburn came into the game 9-1 still in contention for an SEC East Title and potentially  a National Title if their cards fell right. Auburn roared out to a commanding lead, holding a 37-17 lead a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Momentum quickly changed and Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and company had comeback upset on their mind. The Dawgs chipped away and the Auburn offense could get nothing going in the second half. With a little over 2 minutes left in the game Georgia faced a 4th and goal from the Auburn 5 yard line. A gutsy fourth down run by Murray gave the Georgia the lead and left the Auburn faithful stunned from Georgia's comeback.


Auburn got the ball back with a little under two minutes. Time ticked away and Auburn faced a 4th and 18 at their own 27. Only a miracle could keep Auburn's dreams alive. And so it ensued:


It is one of those plays that almost just leaves you speechless. The ball was poorly under thrown by Marshall, but it ended up being the perfect pass. The only thing Georgia really got out of 'The Miracle at Jordan-Hare' is a heavy dose of irony. The two Georgia defenders who tipped the pass to Louis no longer play at Georgia. Tray Matthews transferred to Auburn and Josh Harvey Clemons transferred to Louisville to join former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

What is often overlooked is Aaron Murray nearly led Georgia back down the field for a come behind victory after the Ricardo Louis touchdown, but the Dawgs fell just short. The 'miracle' victory for Auburn propelled them to an SEC Championship and an appearance in the National Championship game. It was a fitting end to a magical season for Auburn.


2014

With all the great games over the past 12 years, it's hard to believe the SEC considered breaking off the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry after the expansion of the SEC adding in Missouri and Texas A&M. The conference reshuffle did see Auburn host back to back games in 2012 and 2013. I would say 2012 was the worst game to watch over this time period; the Dawgs put a 38-0 pounding on Auburn in a year in which Auburn failed to win an SEC game.

With Auburn's loss to Texas A&M last week, their hopes of an SEC West title have faded significantly, but are still alive.  Georgia is still in serious contention for the SEC East and a victory over Auburn compiled with a Missouri loss would send them to Atlanta in December.  2014 is setting up for another potential classic. Two good teams with a lot to still play for, leaving us with one simple question:

 How will the 122nd chapter of this rivalry unfold?

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