It was the 1977 Tangerine Bowl. Florida State played Texas Tech, and Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden was wired to a microphone for the television feed of the game. Florida State won convincingly, Bowden offered a bevy of his trademarked Southern colloquialisms, and the program made a big impression on a 16-year-old quarterback still making up his mind where to play college ball.
“Jimmy Jordan was throwing balls, and Jackie Flowers was making catches, and I was like, ‘Wow, man. I like that place,’ ” Richt said. “A game like that can really make an impression on a kid.”
Richt didn’t end up going to Florida State for college, but that’s another story altogether. The memories of watching that game, however, stayed with him and played into his decision to add this week’s trip to Arizona State to Georgia’s schedule.
Back in 1977, there weren’t national sports networks broadcasting dozens of games every Saturday, so the opportunities to get a glimpse of non-local programs were rare. Today, nearly every team has an opportunity to be in the national spotlight, but that can make it even harder for a program to stand out.
So when college football added a 12th game to the regular-season schedule, Richt and Georgia athletics director Damon Evans decided they wanted to use the opportunity to schedule a BCS opponent from outside the Southeast region.
Last year, Georgia hosted Oklahoma State. The year before, it welcomed Colorado to Sanford Stadium. This season, however, it’s the Bulldogs who will be traveling, making their longest regular-season road trip since playing Southern California in Los Angeles in 1960.
“The bottom line is we wanted to get out of our region, play a game on the other side of the country, give our players and fans the experience and allow the rest of the country to take a little bit more notice of Georgia and not look at them as such a regional team,” Richt said.
The popularity of the program didn’t seem to be much of an issue for the Bulldogs during the preseason. Georgia opened the year atop both the coaches’ and Associated Press polls, and players graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine.
The polls can be fickle, however, and despite winning their first three games, the Bulldogs have tumbled to No. 3 in the country.
The national attention can waver, too. ESPN failed to run a highlight of Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno hurdling a defender two weeks ago, and fans created a firestorm of criticism aimed at the network’s supposed bias against the Bulldogs.
While Richt isn’t saying poll voters have ignored Georgia and certainly doesn’t think ESPN is out to get his team, the Bulldogs’ game against Arizona State provides an opportunity to erase a few doubts for good measure.
The game will be nationally televised on ABC and provides Georgia with an opportunity to beat an upper-tier opponent and impress voters.