Celebration

Georgia fans at Amici celebrate the Bulldogs' first touchdown in the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night, Jan. 10, 2022, while watching in Monroe, Ga.

The energy was electric Monday night at Amici in downtown Monroe as a crowd gathered to watch what had once seemed an unreachable dream, cursed to slip away yet again, but finally happened in front of cheering throngs of Bulldog faithful: the University of Georgia won the college football national championship.

There was hardly a voice that wasn’t hoarse or an eye that was dry when the clock hit double zeros and the results were confirmed that Georgia had broken its 41-year title drought and defeated the University of Alabama 33-18 to win it all.

While there were some Alabama partisans scattered through the crowd, decked out in crimson, trash talking about the Tide’s dominance of the series over the last several meetings — including the 41-24 win over UGA just a month ago in the Southeastern Conference championship that vaulted Alabama into the college playoff alongside the previously undefeated Dawgs — the crowd was mostly Georgia fans, all of them eager to see Georgia avenge not only that meeting, but the 2018 national championship, the 2012 SEC championship and all the other times Georgia came up just short against the Crimson Tide in its quest for its first championship since the undefeated 1980 season.

Steven Thompson was one such fan and he claimed he was confident UGA would come away with the title it had sought in vain for so many years.

“It’s been 41 years,” Thompson said. “It’s time.”

Others at his table called out confident predictions for the game, including one who went as far as to predict a 28-24 Georgia win.

Thompson demurred on a prediction.

“I don’t care what the final score is as long as we win,” Thompson said.

Clint Connor, at another table, had similar thoughts.

“I think Georgia will win,” Connor said. “We’ll pull away in the second half and win by two to three touchdowns.”

It was a confident prediction but seemed unreachable in the first half as the two teams found themselves locked in a defensive struggle that saw both teams entirely reliant on their kicking games to go into the locker rooms at halftime with a 9-6 score in Alabama’s favor, all of it field goals.

Lindsay Allen was feeling the pressure.

“We’re all stressed,” Allen said, but her husband, Tim, said they had to stay confident.

“There’s a little thing called faith,” Tim said.

The Alabama faithful were riled up, confident themselves in Nick Saban’s 4-0 record over Kirby Smart and eager to see history repeat itself again.

Instead, Georgia showed life in the third quarter, blocking an Alabama field goal, then driving down the field to score the first touchdown of the game.

The crowd went wild.

“This is Georgia’s year,” Suzanne Thompson said as the cheers echoed around the building.

Alabama wasn’t done. Taking advantage of a controversial fumble call, the Crimson Tide scored their first touchdown of the game and took a four-point lead that seemed the nail in the coffin for Georgia’s title dreams.

But this year was different.

“It’s not over,” someone called from the crowd as despair threatened to overwhelm the Georgia faithful. “We’re going to win this.”

And they did. Georgia drove down the field on the ensuing drive to score the go-ahead touchdown, the beginning of a 20-0 run to end the fourth quarter that saw the fans screaming themselves hoarse with each catch, each first down, each sack of the previously elusive Alabama quarterback as desperation rose on the other sideline.

When Kelee Ringo intercepted Bryce Young and sprinted down the field to return the pick for a touchdown and the final points of the game, the crowd exploded as destiny revealed itself at last: Georgia would win the national championship.

Strangers high fived one another. Barks erupted from fraying vocal cords. Tears streamed down some faces. A bottle of champagne was popped and bubbly sprayed over the delighted crowd.

The drought was over.

Chad Needham struggled with emotion as he reflected on what the title meant to him and so many other Georgia fans.

“The last time we won it all was the year I was born,” Needham said.

“We’ve waited a lifetime for this. Go Dawgs!”

The party would stretch into the night. Georgia had won. The Bulldogs were champs once more.

News Editor

Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.

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