ATLANTA -- This is getting old. No, this is just the latest example of sports entities from within these state lines fulfilling their fate. Somewhere among the land filled with sports demons, it's mandated that Atlanta-area teams must embarrass themselves before a national television audience in the strangest of ways, turning certain numbers into infamy.
If it's not "2-0" (you know, after the Braves did the rarity of taking the opening games of the 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium before Jim Leyritz and his home run came along), it's "28-3." Surely you remember how the Falcons didn't win the Super Bowl last season after they choked away that third-quarter lead to the New England Patriots by somehow losing in overtime.
Speaking of OT, you can add "20-7" to that list after the University of Georgia saw its blowout in the making during the third quarter Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium evolve into a 26-23 loss in the College Football Playoff national championship. All of that kept the Bulldogs from grabbing their first national championship since 1980 despite a bunch of stuff. They didn't win despite Jake Fromm resembling a senior disguised as a freshman at quarterback. They didn't win despite running back Sony Michel alternating with wide receiver Riley Ridley for huge plays. They didn't win despite Roquan Smith having another superlative game to inspire others throughout one of the country's top five defenses. They didn't win despite the majority of the packed house cheering like crazy for the Bulldogs, whose home is barely 70 miles to the east.
There are so many other "despite" things to mention here, but I'll just add a glaring one for the moment: Georgia lost despite Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos failing in regulation to seal Nick Saban's fifth national championship with the Tide and his sixth overall after he hooked a 36-yard attempt with no time left. Just like that, the Bulldogs had another chance out of many, but they really didn't. Atlanta-area teams aren't meant to go away during these situations without inflicting misery on themselves and their fans.
Consider that after Georgia opened the overtime with a field goal, Davin Bellamy and Jonathan Ledbetter sent the place into a barking madhouse after they sacked Tua Tagovailoa for a 16-yard loss on Alabama's first play of overtime. It's just that the freshman quarterback promptly spent the next play imitating a senior himself by delivering a perfect throw to DeVonta Smith streaking into the end zone for the game winner.
What's up with this?
"You have to give them credit," said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, sounding like Braves manager Bobby Cox after the Yankees rallied in 1996 to take that World Series in six games. Smart also channeled Dan Quinn trying to explain why the Falcons hadn't a clue of how to keep Tom Brady from becoming Tom Brady on the way to 31 unanswered points. Then Smart added, "I think everybody can see that Georgia's going to be a force to be reckoned with."
I guess. It's just that I've lived in the Atlanta area since 1985, and despite (there's that word again) the Bulldogs' lengthy national title drought, folks around here act as if Georgia football is Alabama football or something.
The Bulldogs aren't the Tide, by the way. They came close, at least for this season and for much of this night. Their run along the way to 13-2 this season during Smart's second year coaching his alma mater after years as a defensive coach or coordinator for Saban begins and ends with Fromm. After he ignored the Notre Dame ghosts for a huge victory on the road, he continued to impress. He helped the Bulldogs beat an equally undefeated Mississippi State team before they smashed Florida to end a three-game rivalry losing streak. Then they destroyed in-state foe Georgia Tech, avenged an earlier loss to Auburn with a whooping of the Tigers in the SEC championship game and surged from a 17-point deficit to take a double-overtime thriller against Oklahoma during the semifinals of the College Football Playoff in the Rose Bowl.
This was the national championship game, though, and Alabama had a defense with a reputation of frustrating even veterans, which is partly why Fromm fired an interception on the third play of the game. Even though the Tide stormed downfield, Georgia defenders held them to a field goal try of 35 yards. It was good, but then it wasn't. False start, Alabama. No problem. Pappanastos had been nearly automatic from 40 yards, but he missed from that distance before he would do even worse than that later in the game, and it sort of got you thinking: Maybe, just maybe, this wasn't Alabama's night.
For sure, it wasn't Alabama's first half. The Bulldogs dominated on both sides of the ball (223 total yards to Alabama's 94), with Fromm recovering nicely from that interception and Michel managing a couple of dramatic runs to keep drives going on third-and-long. Heading into the second half, Georgia led 13-0, but it felt like 133-0 since Alabama's offense was a combination of listless and clueless.
Then along came hope for the Tide in Tagovailoa, when Saban benched starter Jalen Hurts after halftime in favor of the backup from Hawaii. He completed five out of six passes to push the Tide 56 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, Georgia's lead was 13-7, but Fromm responded by floating a pass over the head of an Alabama defender to Mecole Hardman, and the wide receiver was off to an 80-yard touchdown catch and run.
Surely, with Georgia up 20-7, that would be enough.
"We didn't do a good job of finishing," said Nick Chubb, the other half of Georgia's dynamic duo of running backs with Michel, but Chubb rushed for just 25 yards against Alabama to Michel's 98. "We had some drives and were out of momentum, and we ended up punting the ball. That hurt us, the momentum. That was a great defense we went up against. A lot of respect for what they do. A lot of big bodies up front makes it hard to run. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to us not executing well."
So true, but was Chubb talking about Georgia or the Falcons or the Braves or the Hawks or Georgia Tech or Georgia State …