It’s been a long time since the Georgia Bulldogs have won a national championship, but Kirby Smart has the program on a level where one can be expected any year now in Athens. Georgia’s biggest problems over the years may have been having really good teams that were blocked by some truly great teams standing in the way. The closest Georgia has come tow inning a national championship since their last title in 1980 was two seasons ago when the Bulldogs were unable to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime to SEC foe Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Vince Dooley had been coaching the Bulldogs since 1964, and Georgia certainly had some great seasons to that point under his leadership. But things finally fell into place for Georgia in 1980 when Georgia opened the season ranked No. 16 in the AP poll and turned in the first undefeated season for the program since 1946. One of the reasons for Georgia’s success was the play of freshman running back Herschel Walker, who took no time at all to introduce himself to the college football world with authority. In the season opener against Tennessee, Walker powered his way through Bill Bates in an iconic moment.
Georgia’s undefeated run included victories over No. 14 South Carolina and No. 20 Florida, back-to-back shutouts of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and a regular season finale victory over rival Georgia Tech to setup a showdown with No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. No. 2 Florida State was going to play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, while No. 3 Pitt lined up against No. 18 South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. No. 5 Michigan was sent to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champion. All the top-ranked Bulldogs had to do was beta the Irish and the polls would fall in their favor, although the Sooners clipping the Seminoles by a point certainly helped cement the case for the national title.
Here’s a snapshot of what was going on in 1980 when Georgia ruled the college football landscape.
Last National Title Season: 1980 (39 years and counting)
Who was President?
Although Jimmy Carter was in office when Georgia was running through their schedule, the Democratic incumbent was defeated by Ronald Reagan in a landslide of epic proportions in November. It would be Reagan who welcomed the Bulldogs to the White Hosue to be honored as national champions.
In 1980, current President Donald J. Trump identified as a Democrat and was married to his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková.
What was on TV?
It was the end of an era on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with the final episodes for the Not Ready for Primetime Players, but that would lead to the introduction of Eddie Murphy in the new cast later in the year. David Letterman also made his debut as host of “The David Letterman Show,” a morning show that did not pan out very well. Surely this would be the end of Letterman’s television career…
One of the biggest questions in television history was asked following the season finale of “Dallas” aired leaving many to wonder who shot J.R.
Respected news anchor Walter Cronkite also announced his retirement. 1980 also saw the launch of cable networks CNN, Cinemax, and BET. Also on cable networks, a network called ESPN aired the NFL Draft for the first time in television history.
What movies were hot?
One of the biggest reveals in cinematic history occurred in 1980 when James Earl Jones delivered one of his most iconic lines to a young Mark Hamil. Yes, Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke’s father, as we all learned in The Empire Strikes Back. Not surprisingly, the sequel to the original Star Wars led the way at the box office in 1980. Hopefully, it wasn’t spoiled for some of you standing in line to see the movie for yourself for the first time.
If thrillers were your thing, then The Shining had you covered with Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles to date. Other popular movies in 1980 included 9 to 5, Stir Crazy, and Airplane!. A sequel to Smokey and the Bandit was released to less fanfare, and The Blues Brothers became a cult favorite for some.
Hollywood paid their respects to the passing of Alfred Hitchcock, who passed away in April. Robert De Niro took home the Oscar for Best actor for his role in Raging Bull.
Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?
Nobody, of course. Not only didn’t the video game franchise exist at the time, but the company that developed the game (Electronic Arts) wasn’t founded for another two years. The polygons needed for a quality video game were still not available anyway. At the time, Pac-Man was just becoming a national icon following his first arcade game in May, while other games taking over the arcade scene included Missile Command and the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were making its way into homes before the video game market would crash in a few short years.
What else happened in 1980?
“Do you believe in miracles?” Al Michaels, who currently calls the action for Sunday Night Football on NBC, delivered his signature call as the United States men’s hockey team was seconds away from upsetting the Soviet Union’s hockey team in the Olympics.
The Philadelphia Phillies won their first World Series title by topping the Kansas City Royals in six games. The Phillies had taken out the Houston Astros in one of the best NLCS to this day. It wasn’t all great for the Philadelphia sports scene in 1980, however. The 76ers were taken out by the Los Angeles Lakers as rookie point guard Magic Johnson took over the series in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Islanders also defeated the Flyers with an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Eagles would go on to lose to John Madden and his Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl at the end of the 1980 season.
Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
Conference champions in college football included UNC (ACC), Oklahoma (Big 8), Michigan (Big Ten), Washington (Pac-10), Baylor (Southwest Conference), and BYU (WAC). George Rogers of South Carolina won the Heisman Trophy. BYU’s Jim McMahon led the nation in pass completions and passing yards and touchdowns. USC’s Marcus Allen led the nation in rushing attempts.
Current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was five years old. Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive backs coach for Ohio State.
Will this be the year for Georgia?
Smart has certainly invigorated the Bulldogs to thinking like a national championship contender once again. While Georgia had been one of the more consistently good programs for years under Mark Richt, they just could not get over the hump and a string of better national title contenders just happened to be playing at the same time during the BCS glory days of the SEC and into the College Football Playoff. But Smart has raised the bar for Georgia, and it would not be shocking to see Georgia making consistent pushes for playoff consideration and getting a shot at a long-awaited national title very soon.