Monday, June 22, 2009
No one wants to say it was more important than any other game. In fact, as far as the standings were concerned, it was less significant. But darned if Georgia's players aren't reminded about that loss to Georgia Tech nearly every day.
"I have a lot of friends who go to Tech, and I'v heard it, but I don't really pay attention to it," offensive lineman Vince Vance said.
"It was very hard at the time and it's still tough to get over now," said defensive end Rod Battle. "I've got an uncle that likes Georgia Tech, and I'd like to shut him up a little bit."
The 45-42 loss to the Yellow Jackets was a first for Bulldogs' head coach Mark Richt, and the defeat stung for a myriad of reasons.
The defense was abysmal in a disastrous third quarter. Big plays abounded for the Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs blew a big lead on their home field. Tech celebrated by tearing limbs from the famed hedges surrounding Sanford Stadium's field. It was an embarrassment, and one that the players are reminded of often.
And yet, the coaches of both teams aren't fueling the fire.
Before the season, Tech coach Paul Johnson listed beating his in-state rival as a top priority. Now he's backed away from that claim.
"Our players circled that game," he said.
At Bulldog Club meetings, Tech has been as big a topic of consternation as the annually reviled Florida Gators, but Mark Richt isn't acting as if it's any different.
"Our fans have never gotten to the point in my opinion where that games wasn't real meaningful," he said.
Even the future of the rivalry has been downplayed a bit. Richt said things have always been intense between the two schools, no more so now. He even pointed out that, due to their divergent styles of offense, last year's loss won't have much impact on recruiting since the two schools rarely go head-to-head for the same recruits.
Johnson gives the win a bit more significance, but he said it meant more to the fans that it did the team.
"It's the in-state rival, the two biggest schools in the state. It's an important game, and we approach it that way," Johnson said. "It was more important to the fans and the alumni than anything else. We hope we're going to be here for a while, and hopefully that won't be the last time."
But for all the sugar coating, the bottom line remains the same: This offseason has come with a heaping helping of gloating by those in-state rivals, and that's a dose of reality the Bulldogs haven't felt in a long time. So while they may want to downplay the desire for revenge, they're not ignoring it.
"I wouldn't even say it's in the back of my mind," Vance said. "It's there. We ain't forgot."