Alabama and Georgia had deeply etched history
Some of the most-revered names in college football history jump out when discussing Alabama and Georgia football.
Coaches with legends attached to their names. Heisman Trophy recipients. National championships. Little UGA, the name for Georgia’s bulldog mascots, with the curly tails. “Roll Tide” chants heard from daybreak to the last rounds, when bars and taverns close in Tuscaloosa.
And now, this season, two schools from the Southeastern Conference playing for the hotly debated national championship.
Along with Tennessee and Louisiana State, Alabama and Georgia have been at the mountaintop of Southern football for longer than anybody.
Wallace Wade had a 61-13-4 record for the Crimson Tide from 1923 to 1930. Along came Frank Thomas, who coached the Red Elephants to a 115-24-7 record from 1931 to 1946.
And then Paul “Bear” Bryant ambled in from Fordyce, Arkansas, and Alabama wrote its own folklore while he was prowling the sidelines in his porkpie hat with a stare that would melt most of the ice in Antarctica.
Coach Bryant went 232-46-9 for an .824 winning percentage. His fistful of national championships brought him to unparalleled heights in his adopted state. He coached from 1958 to 1982.
Gene Stallings won a national championship in his seven-year stint, but there were some too-lean years and scrambled coaching changes before Nick Saban, the product of little Monongah, West Virginia, came to town.
Saban had a national championship at Louisiana State. But his few seasons with the Miami Dolphins were mostly forgettable.
It was in 2007 that Saban came to the Heart of Dixie to fracture the hold on SEC football claimed by Florida and Louisiana State.
It wasn’t too many years later that appreciative football fanatics placed a bronze statue of Saban near the one of Bryant at Denny-Bryant Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Four national championships and a lengthy string of seasons with at least 10 wins will bring you mythical status in Dixieland.
Going into last Monday’s national championship game, Saban’s record at Alabama was a cool 131-20 and a crisp .868 winning percentage.
The Tide has seen running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry win Heisman Trophy awards in recent years.
At Georgia, once-rickety Sanford Stadium and its splinter-filled wooden pews have been replaced by a new shrine to Southern football that strains at the seams of its 92,000-seat capacity when the red-clad Bulldogs stream onto the field and swat another opponent “in between the hedges”.
Frankie Sinkwich and Herschel Walker are Georgia’s Heisman winners.
While Georgia was usually a willing participant when bowl bids were being passed out, it never reached the stage where it was a colossus or could boast of a national title.
Wally Butts had trouble with neighbor Georgia Tech and Coach Bobby Dodd. Butts went 140-86-9 from 1939 to 1960, but people groused about his inability to tame Georgia Tech or Alabama.
Along came Vince Dooley, and the Bulldog stock rose like that of current-day Bitcoin.
Dooley commanded Georgia fortunes from 1964 to 1988 and produced a career record of 201-77-10 and a .715 winning percentage.
Mark Richt assumed control in Athens town in 2001 and lifted the Bulldogs to a .740 winning percentage with his 145-51 record. He didn’t satisfy many in the season-ticker masses and was ushered out of town following the 2015 season.
In his two years at Georgia, Coach Kirby Smart – an assistant under Saban until he was brought in to be a thorn to his one-time boss – has a 20-6 record and tried for the national championship with a freshman quarterback and an underdog status.
The title game was in Atlanta, and finding a ticket on StubHub would have cost $2,600 to watch from the domed stadium’s sold-out seats.
Georgia and Alabama. Southern football royalty for decades. History and never-fading memories of the delicious seasons they have lived through and reveled in.