ATLANTA -- There are so many Georgia fans with their hearts broken right now, and it's OK. It's good. It really is. That gnawing, gaping pit in your stomach, the one that you hoped would be feeling better the further away from the game you got but totally isn't, that's the thing that's going to keep you going. That feeling means you're still alive.

This loss, this brutal sadistic monster of a loss, snatched away from Georgia once, twice, three times, fates tugging the string again and again, is just about as difficult a way to lose a football game as you can possibly lose it. And that's probably fitting, too. This season has been the Dream Season for Georgia in every imaginable way, from the meticulous, relentless crushing of its traditional rivals to the revenge on Auburn in the SEC championship game to the once-in-a-lifetime trips to South Bend and Pasadena to a College Football Playoff semifinal that is still ringing your ears. This season couldn't end with a whimper, with a ritualistic slow Alabama suffocation. It had to explode. There was no other way. It had to end like this. It had to break your heart.

This was not a game that Georgia itself lost; there is nothing about this game that the Bulldogs should not be proud of. This was a game they won, several times, and, perhaps most relevant for everything that will come next, it's a game they (almost! almost!) won on their own terms. So much had been made coming into Monday night that few teams had ever beaten Nick Saban's Alabama playing the way Nick Saban's Alabama played. You needed pace, you needed a freewheeling quarterback, you needed chaos. The only way to topple Saban was to gimmick him up.

These Dawgs put the lie to that, and they put the lie to that immediately. From the beginning, after Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a chip-shot field goal, a phrase that was just getting warmed up, Georgia punched Alabama in the face repeatedly. The vaunted Alabama run game, the way Alabama, as SB Nation writer Spencer Hall put it, "picks you up and lets you kick your legs in the air until you die," was held to 73 yards in the first half, and it was undeniable that Alabama was shook. Crimson Tide players started hitting Jake Fromm after the whistle; there were fights on the sideline; even Saban himself looked flummoxed. Georgia was beating Alabama at its own game. It was thrilling to watch, even revelatory. It felt a little like a changing of the guard, but mostly, it felt like Kirby Smart and Georgia drawing a line in the sand. We will beat you the way we have beaten everybody. They bullied Alabama. We have seen Alabama lose, but we have never, ever seen that.

And -- and this is important, this is a key thing to hang onto, Dawg fans, through all those tears and primal screams -- Saban blinked. In the second half, Saban switched to freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, exactly the sort of dynamic dual-threat quarterback that we were all told was supposed to confound mighty Bama. Saban, in a move that was both born of panic and wisdom, realized it was his only chance against the team pushing his around. Saban has lost before, but he has never seemed so weak, so desperate. Bama was bleeding. And if it bleeds, you can kill it.

And Georgia damn near did. Freshman Jake Fromm, who has clearly had moxie all season but was rarely asked to do more than trust his running backs and provide temporary and timely distractions, had several ascendant moments, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman to give Georgia a 20-7 third-quarter lead that couldn't have been placed more perfectly had Fromm simply handed it to him. But with Tagovailoa giving Saban an element he hadn't had all season -- the element that usually beats him -- Bama kept coming back. The Crimson Tide are relentless by nature. It is their fundamental state of matter.

Still, Georgia fought the charge, because of course it did. But every time, Tagovailoa and Saban pulled a rabbit out of their hat, including a pinpoint perfect seven-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley that seemed to avoid Georgia defenders' hands as if controlled by joystick, on fourth-and-four with under four minutes left. Alabama got the ball back and then, as it does, began to slowly choke the life out of Georgia. It was described here "like watching a train come at you at 15 mph and you can't move," and you clicked your tongue and shook your head because it was so true, it's always so true, Bama always finds a way, even in your dream season.

Pappanastos lined up for the kick as time expired, and Georgia was going to go out fighting, but it was going to go out. Another cruel Georgia sports moment. Another Alabama conquest. The Bulldogs took a different route than usual. But they got there.

Then he missed. And here is where you need to freeze it, Georgia fans. This is where you have to remember, despite the depravity that would come later, where you were and what you were thinking. When Pappanastos missed that field goal, you thought Georgia was going to win that championship. No: You knew it. In that moment, the Dream Season was exactly that. You were brought to the brink, and then you were released. Now is the moment. This is what all that pain was for.

That feeling you had, that you were released from your suffering ... that's what you have to hang onto. That you believed, that you hung on long enough to have a chance to believe, that's what's going to keep you going. You saw it all snatched away. And you stayed. You believed. After he missed that field goal, there was clarity. It was going to be different.

So you've got to remember that it was. I know that's hard to do right now. I know that to have that game end like that, with Tagovailoa pulling off a head fake that so few NFL quarterbacks can be trusted to make that you can count them on one hand, feels like the end of the story. You will hear the naysayers, the malcontents, the fatalists: Same old Georgia. Breaking our hearts in the big one again.

But it wasn't the same old Georgia, and don't pretend you don't know it. This was not a team falling short in the big game. This was just a fantastic game between two fantastic teams that only one of them could win. This was still a Dream Season. It is the prologue.

That's why it's so important to remember how you felt after Pappanastos missed that field goal. You could have told yourself you knew this would happen, that this is just Georgia forever pushing the ball up the hill, but no one could believe that after that miss. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so packed with lunatic Georgia fans all night, erupted with that miss. It was a sound of hope. It was a sound that believed that this was going to be different. It was a sound that revealed all those fatalists to be apple-cheeked optimists all along. True believers.

It didn't turn out that way. But then again, this was only Monday. "Georgia's going be a force to be reckoned with," Smart said after the game. "We're not going anywhere." He said it, but it could have been anybody. Smart saw it. Saban saw it. We all did. So don't start pretending like you didn't believe because it turned at the end. You did. You know you did.

And that belief is what you must hang on to. The pain you feel … that's how you know it's working. That's how you know you still care. We try to remove ourselves from pain, but it's only through pain that we can find solace. The minute you lose that pain, you've lost everything. Hang onto it. You're going to need it down the line. Someday, it's going to fall right. Not tonight. But someday. When it happens, you'll be glad tonight happened. You'll be glad it hurt.

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