Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Making of Champions

Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

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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

  1. 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.