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G-Day: A Celebration

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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At Georgia’s last practice before today’s spring game, Head Coach Kirby Smart implored his players to put on a show for the fans, come G-Day -- to put on a show for the fans that travelled to Atlanta (twice), that hijacked South Bend, and even trekked to Pasadena.

At Georgia’s last practice before today’s spring game, Head Coach Kirby Smart implored his players to put on a show for the fans, come G-Day -- to put on a show for the fans that travelled to Atlanta (twice), that hijacked South Bend, and even trekked to Pasadena.

Regardless of what was to transpire during the actual game, that was well past accomplished by the time the teams took the field.

For the really early crowd, a number of former UGA greats took part in flag football game. The subsequent 20 minutes, following the conclusion of said contest, were comprised of a sort of season-in-review video montage, fit with all the requisite spectacular catches, big hits, celebrations, and crowd shots.

Each game from the 17-18 campaign was introduced to reactions of varying volume… Appalachian State, a polite murmur… Notre Dame, audible yells… Florida, borderline laughing… Auburn (the first time), silence… Georgia Tech, renewed stirring… Auburn (the second time), thunderous roars… Oklahoma, frenzied madness.

Yes, they showed the Alabama game, too. It began as one might expect, but ended much different than that game did. The final two shots of the montage were one, Georgia, heads down, wallowing in their defeat as Alabama celebrated in the background, and two, Kirby Smart addressing the media, post game.

Smart concluded his statement that day by, in no uncertain terms, hinting that that was only the beginning. The half, maybe 60%, full Sanford Stadium cheered almost as loud as it had for the SEC Championship clips, undeterred by a still relatively fresh wound. They cheered because it’s true -- because he’s right.

Construction in the West end zone prevented Georgia from taking its usual Dawg Walk route. For today’s festivities, they walked past the book store, through a sea of fans -- the other 40 to 50% not yet inside -- entered the stadium through Gate 2 and proceeded down the steps, betwixt the bleachers, high fiving every lucky fan along the edge of that section. It was unique, to say the least.

“The new pathway that we took on the Dawg Walk was really neat,” Smart grinned. “There were tons of people there, lining it. I know our players enjoyed it. I just want to thank our fans for being out there that early.”

It wasn’t just the players that were competing today, either, that walked through section 102. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Roquan Smith joined their former teammates, each of them met with the sort of holler that will send a chill down one’s spine when the camera flashed them on the big screen -- the fancy new one that is part of the reason Georgia was even taking this alternate route in the first place.

“What an awesome atmosphere,” Smart said to begin his postgame presser. “We say that every year, but I certainly think that was an incredible atmosphere.”

About 45 minutes later, Michel and Chubb, the most prolific running back duo in the history of college football, “called the Dawgs”. The ball was kicked off about ten minutes later. Those two, along with all of that senior class were honored on the field after the end of the first quarter. And nothing else mattered.

Jake Fromm’s two interceptions were inconsequential. So was Justin Field’s pick. There were a couple of dropped passes here and there. No one cares about those, either. Georgia didn’t need some glorified scrimmage to know that it has a good team. Contrary to what their incessant media coverage might suggest, position battles aren’t decided in these exhibitions.

“There were parts of it that were sloppy. Some of that is by design. I know y’all will never believe it,” Smart joked. “If you watched closely you would realize that there was not an intent to rush the ball a bunch. That’s not the purpose of our spring game.”

There’s not much to be learned from these things. This wasn’t for Kirby Smart or Mel Tucker or Jim Chaney. This was for Tucker from Macon and Jim from Augusta. This was for the fans. This was a reward, a thank you, and a promise, all at once.

Georgia’s 82,148 fans at its spring game were the second most in college football this year, and that number was effectively today’s capacity, given the construction. It was also Georgia’s second largest spring game crowd in school history.

“I just think that people like Georgia football,” Smart explained. “If I lived anywhere in the state or within a five hour radius, I’d be dying to come. Get the kids out of the house, come watch a game, and see the new guys.”

He’s being modest. He knows he’s got something special brewing. He proved it last year, probably a year earlier than even the more optimistic fans figured when he took the job. But he also knows that playing what looked like home games at Notre Dame, and in the Rose Bowl was an integral part of that success. So, he rewarded the fans with an air show between the two quarterbacks that everyone is so excited about.

However, this was also a show of strength. All the hype videos, all the former players, all the pomp and circumstance were an example of what Georgia was in 2017, will be in 2018, and can be for the foreseeable future.

There may not have been a school in the country, last season, that enjoyed a better, more well-travelled fan base than Georgia. G-Day was their thank you.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP