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November 12, 2013

The Terrible, but Notable, Turkey Sandwich

For Stinchcomb, the memory of the Miracle on the
Plains includes a turkey sandwich, cartwheels, and
perhaps most astonishing, gracious Auburn fans.
One of the reasons why GAME OF MY LIFE Georgia Bulldogs is likely my most favorite of all my book projects is that I got to hear intriguing anecdotes firsthand from 25 former players beyond each individual's story, including aside from what they considered the game of their life.  Perhaps most notably, All-American offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb, who was my final interview for the book, told a true gem of a side story to his most memorable game.
 
Just when I thought I'd heard about everything, I was informed of a bad turkey sandwich from Newnan which brought a 6-foot-7, 280-pound giant to his knees.  But, in the end, the experience added to the unbelievable irony of what was the Bulldogs' "Miracle on the Plains."
 
Stinchcomb recalls the 1996 Georgia-Auburn game:     
 
The Auburn game my sophomore year was not only the most important game I played in while I was at Georgia, but also likely my most memorable because of many different things.

Seemingly, half of my college experience was in Auburn, Alabama.  For whatever reason, not only did a lot of my buddies from high school go to Auburn University, but so did my girlfriend at the time, who eventually became my wife.  While I was at Georgia, there often seemed to be a persisting rumor that because of my friends and girlfriend, I was thinking about transferring to Auburn.  I remember on more than one occasion having to sit down with one of our staff members and dispel such rumors.  It was never going to happen — I’d never leave UGA — unless the school somehow mysteriously disappeared and the football program was discontinued, maybe then, but not until.

On road trips to Auburn we’d stop in Newnan [Georgia] on the way to visit with the city’s Bulldog Club and would then stay in a hotel near the state line.  [Senior offensive tackle] Adam Meadows and I roomed together on the road that year and that Friday night, we ate some food in our room we had gotten from the hotel.  Whether it was food poisoning or some sort of bug, I was up most of the night and into the next day getting sick from a turkey sandwich I had eaten.  Before the game, our trainers pumped me full of IV fluids, allowing me to play. And, thank goodness, because who knew we were about to embark on a four-overtime game, lasting about an hour and a half longer than anticipated.

A side story going into that game was the benching of quarterback Mike Bobo and tailback Robert Edwards.  Mike had struggled for several consecutive games while Robert had been susceptible to fumbling the ball.  Another “story” occurring early in the game was something most Bulldog fans are familiar with: mascot Uga V, who honestly was rather ornery, lunged at Robert Baker after the Auburn wide receiver scored the game’s first touchdown and then touched [mascot handler] Charles Seiler.  As most of us are aware, Uga tried to “dismember” Baker.

Suddenly, we were down 28-7 late in the second quarter, but Torin Kirtsey gave us a little bit of hope by scoring a touchdown with less than a minute remaining until halftime, pulling us within two touchdowns.

In the second half, we somehow found our way back into the ballgame.  By this time, Mike and Robert had come off the bench and I can’t stress enough how much it meant to have a new, live arm at quarterback and fresh legs at tailback at that point, especially considering how long the game would wind up lasting.  However, our offensive line suddenly had to play “musical chairs,” of sorts, in the second half.  Meadows, our starting left tackle and probably the most athletic lineman Georgia has ever had regardless of the era, suffered a concussion late in regulation.  I was forced to move to left tackle, right guard [Antonio] “Jake” Fleming moved to my regular position, right tackle, and backup Kenley Ingram took over at Jake’s right guard spot.

Our defense made some tremendous stops of a really good Auburn offense in the second half.  They gave the offense the ball back with just over a minute remaining.  We had to go 80-something yards with no timeouts remaining and trailing by a touchdown, 28-21.  Nevertheless, in about five or six plays we moved the football down to around Auburn’s 20-yard line.  Here’s where things got a little weird.

At this point with 15 to 20 seconds remaining and no timeouts, you can’t give up a sack or the game is over.  Well, I gave up a sack.  I was blocking a defensive end to my left when Mike just happened to be flushed to the left directly into my man for the sack.  As an offensive lineman, we have ways of justifying that the quarterback getting forced into the defender you’re blocking might result in a sack, but it’s one that cannot be helped (chuckling); regardless, I yielded the sack and it was evident time was going to run out with us stranded at around Auburn’s 36- or 37-yard line.  However, there is often an element of luck in winning a football game and we certainly had it when a Tiger defensive tackle (Charles Dorsey) picked up the football following the sack, thinking the game was over.  So, the officials had to retrieve the ball and, in the process, stop the clock with about five or six seconds remaining.  Then, the ball wasn’t marked where Mike had literally gone down on the sack but about five or six yards closer to the 30-yard line, where apparently his progress had stopped in being sacked.

Mike then spiked the football, the ball was spotted, and one second and one last chance to tie the game remained.  On the final play of regulation, Mike flung the ball towards the front, right corner of the end zone, just beyond the goal line, where Corey Allen caught an unbelievable touchdown.   Hap Hines’s PAT tied the score 28-28 and we had miraculously forced the first overtime game in SEC football history.
 
Taken from the CBS telecast, circled Smith begins his
cartwheeling on the plains as Orantes Grant (right)
celebrates following the four-overtime marathon. 
In overtime — all four of them — it was, simply put, the “Robert Edwards Show.”  We repeatedly ran our counter trey running play, where the backside guard and tackle pull.  Interestingly, most of the “pulling” was by Jake from his new right tackle spot, allowing Robert to run wild.  I think he gained nearly all of the 100 yards we totaled in the four overtimes.  In the first three extra periods, touchdown runs by Robert were matched by Auburn touchdowns.  In the fourth overtime with the score tied 49-49, our defense forced a fourth down and three and then defensive tackle Jason Ferguson stopped their quarterback [Dameyune Craig] short of the first down.  I don’t know how, but we had defeated Auburn and, man, did we celebrate.  Perhaps, nobody celebrated more than noseguard Jermaine Smith – all 280 pounds of him – who immediately and unforgettably began doing cartwheels in the middle of the field after the stop of Craig.

Ironically, I got to celebrate that night with, of all people, Auburn fans.  The coaches determined that because of the food poisoning, or the bug I had gotten, I probably couldn’t tolerate the bus ride home and shouldn’t be amongst my teammates.  So, I got to stay with my Auburn friends and my wife-to-be that night.  Everything worked out nicely from my standpoint.  There were really no hard feelings on their part, but instead they were gracious in defeat — a four-overtime defeat, might I add, in a game where we trailed by three touchdowns at one point!

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