Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Making of Champions
Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023
It doesn’t matter about the championship team; research confirms
that most of them had a close call during their season of glory. In the last
20 years, half of the teams which became national champions lost one
In 2007, LSU won the title, but lost two games, which is very unusual.
Dating back, when the polls were used to determine the national
champions, there were some regional influences that affected the final
vote. There were multiple champions by different polls in a given season.
Then came the BCS format which segued into what we have today.
In 2011, LSU defeated Alabama during the regular season, 9-6 in
overtime at Tuscaloosa, but the No. 1 Tide dropped only two places to No.
3 when the next BCS rankings were released, bringing about an
opportunity for Alabama to remain in the hunt which ended up with a
rematch in the Sugar Bowl when Alabama defeated the Bayou Bengals,
Georgia, in 1980, went unbeaten and won the national championship
by defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, 17-10. The Bulldogs won
every close game. To win that many close games is something miraculous.
Champions also find a way to win when they have an off day. Recall
Georgia versus Missouri on Oct. 1, 2022, at Columbia when the Dawgs
came back to eclipse a pesky Tiger team, bent on upsetting the nation’s
No. 1 team. UGA fortunately came from behind to prevail, 26-22.
If you become familiar with the philosophy of Gen. Robert Neyland,
the Tennessee coach, who has the best winning percentage of all the
coaches who spent time in the SEC at 82.9, you conclude that he may
have been the greatest scheduler of all time.
His view was that you could not get your team up for a peak
performance more than once, perhaps twice, in a given season. Talk about
“scheduling victories”—the Murray States, the directional schools in
Louisiana, Ball State, New Mexico State, Chattanooga, and Samford
among others—General Neyland was the champion of all time when it
came to such scheduling. When he signed the contract to play William
and Mary, he knew he could count that game in the win column.
One of his cardinal rules was that you never played two tough
opponents back-to-back. A team just can’t get up for an emotional peak
two weekends in a row, was his seasoned view. A classic case of this
challenge came when Georgia played South Carolina before Florida in
- The Gamecocks, led by George Rogers, were a very good football
team but the Bulldogs were better playing at home, winning 13-10.
Even with Herschel Walker performing more dramatically than
Rogers, the Bulldogs, nonetheless, had to play a peak game and left a lot
on the field before heading to Jacksonville the next week. You know that
story. The Gators played their best game of the year. However, Georgia
did what championship teams do—the ‘Dawgs found a way to win, 26-21,
but it took a miracle play, the widely celebrated Bellue-to-Scott touchdown
pass of 93 yards in the closing minutes of play.
For the record, Georgia had six games in which the Bulldogs’ margin
of victory was seven points or less: Tennessee 16-15; Clemson 20-16; Ole
Miss, 28-21; South Carolina 13-10; Florida 26-21 and Notre Dame 17-10.
And remember, the Bulldogs had Herschel Walker in the backfield.
What the 1980 team had in abundance was a selfless bent in which
they believed in themselves and did not care who was honored with glory.
That included Herschel, who could have destroyed the team if he had been
a prima donna. He was exactly the opposite—the guy who praised his
teammates, shunned the spotlight, never cut a class; and said things like
“the ball ain’t so heavy” when ABC’s Joan Lunden asked if he got tired
carrying the ball so many times during a game?
It was a kumbaya, serendipitous and Hallelujah season in which the
team, led by Captain Frank Ros, who was born in Spain, made sure there
would be no miscreant behavior and any shenanigan that violated team
unity was nipped in the bud. The disciplinarians for this team were the
players themselves. Here again, Humble Herschel, led by example. All his
teammates followed suit.
In the four-year period, 1980-1983, Georgia posted a 43-4-1 record
the most successful era in Bulldog history which now is in jeopardy as the
current Bulldogs are chasing history with visions of another unblemished
season on their minds.
Talent is the first step, but next is harmony in the locker room. You
must enjoy a generous overflow of each to win a championship. You gotta
have heart, but even with all that, you gotta have a lot of luck.