After waiting 41 years for a national championship, Bulldog Nation was ready to celebrate this weekend.
Five days after the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the rival Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18 in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Indianapolis on Jan. 10, there was a gameday atmosphere in Athens as thousands of Dawg fans clad in red and black waved signs and flags, cheered and barked on Saturday, Jan. 15 during a championship parade down Lumpkin Street and trophy presentation in Sanford Stadium
“You guys have been tremendous,” Head Coach Kirby Smart told the stadium crowd. “You travel wherever we go, and you take over stadiums. I have a lot of appreciation for that. It makes this a special place. We have a tremendous group of different prospects here, and when you have that, they acknowledge a fan base that loves its university, loves its state, and these players do the same thing. You make it special.”
The CFP Championship, the university’s third claimed national title and the state’s second in 69 days after the Atlanta Braves World Series win, was a long time coming for a fan base who had not seen a championship since 1980, back in the days of names like Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker and Buck Belue.
But, on Saturday, fans flooded Lumpkin Street just to catch a glimpse of the champions and to cheer new names like Smart, Stetson Bennett, Brock Bowers, Jordan Davis, and Kelee Ringo, whose late-game interception for a touchdown put the finishing touches on the rematch against the Tide and the Dawgs first title in four decades.
After near-misses and heartbreaks in recent years, several delivered by Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, Saturday’s celebration was a vindication for Dawg fans, a chance to celebrate with friends and family –including those no longer with us – and, for at least one couple a perfect time to propose.
It was also a celebration to the end of talk of statewide curses and the perception that, despite top-ranked recruiting classes, bowl game wins and recent domination of rivals like Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech, the Dawgs could never win the big one.
In the words of the head coach, “You’re either elite or you’re not.”
During the ceremony inside the stadium, championship trophies were presented, speeches were given and members of the 1980 team raised the 2021 National Champs flag over Sanford Stadium, while in the stands and across town, fans congregated with strangers, each sharing their stories about where they were when the Dawgs won it all and how long they had been waiting for the moment.
But through the day the biggest sentiment on Saturday was the same as a cheer heard at each home game: “It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog."