I was fortunate to grow up in Athens during the 1980s with a father – a faculty member at UGA passionate about his university's athletic program – first encouraging my interest in Georgia football when the two of us sat down in front of an old radio at my grandmother's in North Carolina and listened while "my God, a freshman" ran over Tennessee in Knoxville.
In other words, I was lucky enough to be introduced to UGA football during the program's greatest period.
So, maybe you can imagine, after so many consecutive wins, enduring your team's first defeat. For me, it was when Georgia fell to Clemson 13-3 in 1981 at Death Valley – the Bulldogs' lone loss in 43 straight regular-season games from 1979 to 1983.
From that very moment, at six years old, listening to the very same radio in the same house in North Carolina (now that I think about it), I grew to despise the Clemson Tigers, for they had dealt my Bulldogs, in my mind, their first loss of all time.
With the recent announcement of the scheduled games for Georgia and Clemson in 2013 and 2014, I was reminded of my opinion of the Bulldogs' biggest football rivalry for more than a decade; a one-time rivalry that perhaps some newer Dawg fans are unfamiliar with, particularly, the venom that once existed between the two schools.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, if Georgia and Georgia Tech is recognized as clean, old-fashioned hate, the Georgia-Clemson football rivalry was simply plain hatred. (As one Georgia banner read in the '82 season opener vs. Clemson, alluding to the Tigers' national championship from the year before, "You might be Number One but you smell like Number Two.")
With Clemson's radio broadcast in the background, here's some footage of Georgia facing the eventual "Number One" team of 1981. Besides a great performance from the Bulldogs' defense and a few good runs by my God, a sophomore, there wasn't much to choose from...
I have indicated for quite some time that, in my opinion, the 1981 Bulldogs, despite two losses, on paper are perhaps the greatest UGA football team of all time. If they were to play the great 1980, 1982, or 1983 team, let's say 10 times, the '81 Dawgs would win at least seven games against each. Nevertheless, the 1981 Clemson contest is the perfect example of how turnovers are detrimental to even the best of the best teams, especially when you have nine of them.
Georgia held a good Clemson offense to a season-low 236 total yards and a strong running game to a mere 2.0 yards per rush (and that excludes any sacks on Homer). However, the Bulldog offense, especially its quarterback, must have been experiencing the heebie-jeebies in the Valley.
Inexplicably, Buck Belue threw five interceptions in 26 pass attempts (he was intercepted just 4 times in 162 attempts in the 10 other regular-season games) and had an ugly, blooper-like lost fumble, which literally dropped out of his hand while in mid-throwing motion.
Herschel, who had lost just one fumble in his 14 previous games as a Bulldog, surrendered two while Steve Kelly added a fourth on a punt return. Georgia lost just 10 combined fumbles in its 10 other regular-season games.
Four years earlier, the Bulldogs had been shocked at home, losing for the first time to Clemson in 18 games played in Athens since 1914. For other Georgia followers, true hostility for the Tigers might have started two years later when the Bulldogs, playing on the road as more than a field-goal favorite and donned in red britches, suffered a 12-7 setback in 1979. Little older Dog fans may remember 1974 when Georgia had not lost to Clemson in 10 consecutive games, but were stunned with a 4-point loss as a 10-point favorite.
Personally, I recall 1981 when I was first introduced to this one-time bitter rivalry while learning a valuable life lesson: You can't win 'em all (but it sure does stink when you lose).