Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs stood in disbelief.
After dominating the first half of Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship against Alabama, it looked like the Bulldogs would waltz their way to the team’s first national title since 1980.
Instead, the Crimson Tide — led by dynastic mastermind Nick Saban — rallied behind true freshman Tua Tagovailoa to take a 26-23 overtime win in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Alabama walked off the field cherishing its fifth national title since 2009, while the Bulldogs were left wondering what happened.
The loss also begs the question: Could the state of Georgia be the new Cleveland in the sports world? Prior to the Cavaliers’ NBA Championship run in 2016, the city of Cleveland had gone without a national championship-winning sports team since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964 — a span of 52 years.
The Peach State’s drought hasn’t lasted that long, but it has been a while since one of its teams has felt the glory of hoisting a championship. Georgia’s last national title in a major sporting event came in 1995 — more than 22 years ago — when the Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
And this comes after two bonafide attempts to end the drought over the past two years.
First it was Super Bowl 51 in February, when the Atlanta Falcons saw their 28-3 lead over the Patriots turn into a 34-28 overtime defeat. It was just the Falcons’ second Super Bowl appearance since joining the NFL in 1966.
Then, it was the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday, when the Georgia Bulldogs blew their two-touchdown lead against Alabama.
As for the state’s other teams:
▪ Since moving to Atlanta in 1966, the Braves have made five World Series appearances, with the most recent in 1999.
▪ The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA have won five divisional titles since moving to Atlanta in 1968 — most recently in 2015 — but never advanced past the conference finals in the playoffs.
▪ The Atlanta Dream of the WNBA has won conference titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but fell short in the finals during each of those years.
Barring a massive turnaround, the droughts will likely remain for at least two teams. The Hawks are in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-20 record. The Braves finished third in the NL East last season with a 72-90 record.
But for the state as a whole, there is a chance that fortunes could turn around soon.
The Falcons are favored against the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs this weekend. A win there puts them one game away from another Super Bowl berth.
And the Georgia Bulldogs have an opportunity to build on their 2017 season. Smart heads into his third season with his alma mater. Starting quarterback Jake Fromm will be with the team for at least two years, as well.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Smart said.