Dizzy Dean, the colorful baseball player, who also had a wealth of pitching talent, once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
In 1934, Dizzy, who was born in Lucas, Ark., 90 miles south of Fayetteville, won 30 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, the last pitcher in the National League to reach that milestone. He qualified as a soothsayer.
After dominating Arkansas last Saturday 37-0, the Bulldogs are entitled to a little bragging, but not when coached by Kirby Smart. He knows it was total dominance on the scoreboard and on the field, but he knows there can be pratfalls in the long season. The Razorbacks won the toss and opted to kickoff, which immediately confirmed who the superior team was. The Bulldogs marched 75 yards for a touchdown in the most businesslike fashion as we have seen between the hedges in some time.
That sent a message to the opposing team and to the college football world that Georgia is one of the most dominant teams in the country, convincingly worthy of its No. 2 ranking.
The coach passed out compliments as he always does, but there was that enduring caveat. “Don’t start thinking you are great. Don’t inhale your success, you could choke on it. Keep chopping wood.”
Already with Bulldog fans making reservations for the weekend of Jan. 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Smart is singing a “not so fast” tune. To be a great team, you have to be mentally ready to play every Saturday, no matter the opponent. You must win the close games.
This week, for example, Kirby could tell his team the story of the 1942 Georgia-Auburn game in Columbus. The Bulldogs were nationally ranked, perhaps the best team in the country with the second-best team, the Navy Pre-Flight school three miles across town.
The Navy Pre-Flight School whipped Auburn 41-14. The War Eagles had a very mediocre year, 6-4-1 — but they defeated the Bulldogs, who had Heisman Trophy winner, Frank Sinkwich, and Charley Trippi in the same backfield.
There was good news to follow, however. The Rose Bowl sent word that it would issue an invitation to the winner of the Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Athens on Nov. 28. The Bulldogs destroyed the Jackets 34-0.
Already we are seeing upsets and unpredictable finishes. This Auburn team was lucky to beat Georgia State. However, the Tigers are not afraid of the Big Bad Bulldogs because they also have five-star recruits and relish the opportunity of playing the nation’s second ranked team at home.
From their perspective, rapture took place in 1942 and it could come about again.
The Georgia coaching staff is doing its part, preparing this team to play the best of competition, but the mental part is bailiwick and domain of the head coach. He will never lose a game with his mouth, but he is keenly aware that the best team does not always win. That distinction goes to the team that plays the best. Auburn was not the best team on November 21, 1942 but the record book shows they were the best that day.
Championship teams usually have two distinguishing characteristics. One is that find a way to win when they have an off day and they manage to win the close games. The 1980 national champions won every close game: Tennessee, 16-15; Clemson, 20-16; Ole Miss 28-21; South Carolina, 13-10; Florida, 26-21 and Notre Dame, 17-10.
An interesting circumstance took place before the Arkansas game involving Sam Pittman, the Razorback head coach, a one-time Georgia assistant. It wasn’t Pittman’s fault that the media made such a big deal out of his having passed this way, but you could easily see competitive pride stimulating a best effort with Matt Luke and the offensive line. The players wanted to play well against their old line coach and all the attention focused on Pittman only made Luke work harder.
After the game, Smart told his team to take a knee, then he asked the offensive line to stand and take a bow for their resonating performance. They provided room for running backs who escorted the running backs to 273 yards rushing. This backfield is like a chain. There are no weak links and one link is just as valuable as the others.
In 1942, the Auburn defense heard nothing but discouraging words about how difficult it was going to be for them to contain Sinkwich and Trippi. That the Bulldog offense could only muster 13 points tells you a lot about the outcome of that game.
There is no question that Georgia has an outstanding team with depth and raw talent. Physically, it is capable of winning a national championship, but only if it “keeps its head on straight.” Patting one’s self on the back at this juncture could lead to a broken arm.