Lough: Dawgs Finish the Drill

Columnist
Posted Nov 19, 2005


ATHENS — Mother Nature liked senior football players on Saturday, because she ordered up a fall afternoon that was just made for such weather.

Crisp, in the 50s, soft clouds and mostly blue skies.

It was made for celebrating a national championship, with some of the biggest legends in program history on hand, a black "1980" painted underneath each 25 yardline.

This isn't about some first-half Bulldog silliness, from needing a fake punt to keep alive a drive, or UK eating up eight minutes of the first quarter, or another moderately slow start.

Nor is it about lingering concerns about playcalls and strategy. On this day, Georgia did what it rarely does, and took care of enough business early enough in the 45-13 win over Kentucky to start using backups before the fourth quarter started.

This is about seniors, seniors like center Russ Tanner.

Tanner was among more than two dozen seniors playing their final game at Sanford Stadium, and it was quite the day.

For defensive end Will Thompson, it was his second Senior Day. He went through the ceremony last year even though he knew he'd return with a sixth year of eligibility.

"I wanted to go out last year with the guys I came in with," said the Northside High grad. "But you still feel it out there."

This is about a unique class that ranges from the big hitter to the center who went from walk-on to co-starter to the quarterback of exceptional patience and maturity.

It had a runningback who was highly recruited, then homeless, then welcomed to Athens and stuck it out despite a lack of playing time. And it’s about a touted speedster who battled injuries so regularly that he was never able to battle defenders.

It's a class with members ranging from Sacramento to Kenner, La., to Miami and many parts Georgia, one that's perhaps been overshadowed.

"I think this senior class didn't get the attention last year's group got," said coach Mark Richt. "You had guys that had played well for a long time and had national reputation.

"Then everybody's like, 'Oh, when these guys leave, what're we going to do?'"

Keep on truckin', for this class is currently 42-8 with three bowl wins and solid national rankings.

"I knew there was going to be strength in numbers," Richt said of this class, about three times larger than last year's. "And I knew we had a real solid group of guys."

This is about a class that fittingly played its last home game on a day Georgia commemorated the team that won the 1980 national championship.

There was Erk - Erk Russell, to some - in a navy jacket and gray slacks, just watching and smiling, and Herschel smiling for more cameras than Jennifer Anniston.

Before the halftime ceremony, Walker was surrounded along the home-side hedges signing autographs, from hats and programs to stuffed bulldogs.

Walker? Tanner? Wrightsville and Johnson County representin' two generations of Trojan and Bulldog.

"It's just the harmony," Tanner said with a smile, "of Georgia football."

Soon enough, the current Bulldogs emerged from the locker room to finish the clinching of the division.

It's almost unfair to honor a senior class while paying tribute to the 1980 team. Then again, that year is why one wants to come to Georgia.

"There are so many references to it," said Thompson of something that happened when nobody on this team was born yet. "You use that as the model of what you want to achieve."

This is about the first full senior class of the Richt Era, one that leaves with another division championship.

Which, in these parts anymore, is known as finishing the drill.


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