The hugs, prayers and kind words of congratulation were all commonplace and expected. The tears were something new.
Throughout the years, Georgia coach Mark Richt has been nothing if not emotionally consistent. He is soft-spoken, evangelistic, dry, and he always uses the word right as a conversational placeholder during press conferences and television interviews. After wins he embraces his players, leads them in a post-game prayer, smiles and says, Good job. After losses, he embraces his players, leads somewhat more solemn prayers and frowns.
Thats it. Thats all you get.
In 13 seasons at Georgia, Richts sideline serenity has earned him both praise and criticism depending on the scoreboard. He is called cool when the Bulldogs win and detached or passionless when they lose.
But he was none of those things after Georgias victory over LSU. For the first time in recent memory, Richt cried openly. Granted, the 44-41 down-to-the-wire win was one of the more thrilling games of the 2013 college football season, but the Bulldogs have been in a lot of barnburners over the years and none of them had quite the same effect.
Perhaps it was the emotional return of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a young man Richt recruited and signed, one whose mother still works in the Georgia athletic offices; a man Richt had to dismiss from the team following a March 2010 arrest. Or maybe it was the play of his own quarterback Aaron Murray, who led the final Georgia drive and distanced himself from the cant win the big one labels. Or it could have been a holdover from the early-week death of former Georgia defensive back Paul Oliver, who shot himself in his Marietta home the previous Tuesday, an act Richt said crushed him. I havent been able to keep it off my mind, the coach admitted before the LSU game.
More likely, the emotions stemmed from a combination of those things.
But euphoria has a downside. Its draining. As anyone who has gone through a life-changing event can attest, the exhaustion that follows is full and complete.
Therein lies a potential problem. The Bulldogs have no time off. They travel to Knoxville for a Saturday meeting with the Tennessee Volunteers, a team that would love nothing more than to upset their SEC East rivals.
The Vols have lost their last 18 games to ranked opponents and were embarrassed by No. 2 Oregon a couple weeks ago, but their young secondary has improved. The defense is tied for first in the FBS with Virginia Tech for interceptions (11), while running back Rajion Neal had a career-high 169 rushing yards last week against South Alabama.
On paper, Georgia should win handily. As much as Butch Jones has done to improve the sagging program, Tennessee simply doesnt have the athletes.
But you dont play the game on paper. Energy and emotion are always factors in football, and on that front the edge goes to the Vols. Georgia is to Tennessee and its fans what LSU was to Georgia and its fans a week ago. This is their biggest game so far. They know that upsetting the sixth-ranked team in the nation would be a high point for their season.
For Georgia, the heavy lifting should be over for a while. Walking away with a 3-1 record after facing three top-10 teams has put the Dawgs in the drivers seat. Win out and they will play for an SEC, and perhaps a BCS, title. Because of that, every opponent will be gunning for them.
As Nick Saban so aptly puts it, when youre on top, youre everybodys big game.
If things work out as expected, Georgia should win on Saturday and Murray should become the SECs all-time leading passer, supplanting former Bulldog David Green. That isnt guaranteed, though. If Richt and his team are still drained from last week, the Vols could sneak in with an upset.
It happens all the time. Thats why emotions are so fickle in football. They can certainly propel you to greatness, but they can also get you beat.