Marshall: AU-UGA a College Football Treasure

Phillip Marshall writes about the colorful Auburn vs. Georgia football series.

Mike Bobo chuckled as he remembered that late afternoon 10 years ago.

"I've always thought I should send that Auburn defensive lineman a thank you note," Bobo said moments after leaving the Georgia practice field Monday.

Bobo, now Georgia's quarterbacks coach, was talking about Auburn defensive tackle Charles Dorsey, who played an unhappy role in one of the more memorable games in the Deep South's longest running football show.

Auburn, fighting to get to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, dominated the Bulldogs, winners of just three games, for most of the day on Nov. 16, 1996. The Tigers led 28-7 in the second quarter, 28-14 in the fourth quarter and seemed surely on their way to running their record to 8-2. But Terry Bowden kept calling little Markeith Cooper's number on third-and-short, Georgia kept stopping him and pulling closer and closer, cutting the gap to 28-21.

Finally, though, it was about to be over. Bobo, Georgia's senior quarterback was sacked by Marcus Washington on Auburn's 31-yard line as the clock moved inside 10 seconds. Georgia was out of timeouts. There was no chance to get another play off.

As Bobo hit the ground, the ball rolled out of his grasp, clearly not a fumble. Dorsey picked it up and took a couple of steps downfield. Officials, showing remarkably poor judgment, stopped the clock. Bobo was able to get his team lined up and spike the ball with one second left.

Georgia coach Mike Bobo will be back in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

On the final play of regulation, Bobo lofted a long pass. Amazingly, there was single coverage on Georgia wide receiver Corey Allen, who outfought Auburn cornerback Jason Bray for the ball at the one-yard line and fell into the end zone.

The Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd sat in stunned silence as the extra point sailed through. Auburn and Georgia were about to be the first teams in Southeastern Conference history to play overtime.

Four overtimes later, Georgia had won 56-49, giving first-year coach Jim Donnan his biggest victory.

I would be writing all day if I tried to recount every memorable moment in the Auburn-Georgia series. The 1996 game is a snippet, one of so many stories that have been told and retold over the years.

Year in and year out, Auburn-Georgia is maybe my favorite college football game, in many ways much more fun than the Iron Bowl.

Auburn-Georgia has all the intensity of Auburn-Alabama without all the hostility. It is a game between ancient rivals whose history is forever intertwined.

And that's why anyone who expects anything less than a battle royale Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium is no student of history.

I know Georgia has lost four of its last five games and doesn't appear to be a good football tam. I know Auburn is 9-1 and a two-touchdown favorite with much to play for.

It doesn't matter.

Auburn will get all Georgia has to offer Saturday, and Georgia will get the same from Auburn in return. The records won't matter. The kickoff time won't matter. Who has the most at stake won't matter. What happened last week or last month won't matter. Polls and BCS standings won't matter.

For three hours on the turf at Pat Dye Field, what will matter is pride, toughness and tradition.

Auburn is the clear favorite, but Auburn was the clear favorite in 1996, too. And in 1994, and 1986 and 1970, all seasons of memorable Georgia upsets.

Auburn went to Athens in 1999, Tommy Tuberville's first season, having just broken a five-game losing streak. Georgia was playing to clinch the East Division championship. Auburn was ahead 31-0 at halftime and cruised to a 38-21 victory.

Remarkably, Auburn has won on 10 of its last 12 trips to Sanford Stadium, widely considered one of college football's tougher venues for visiting teams. All-time, Auburn is 18-9 in Athens. Georgia is 12-9-2 in Auburn. In Columbus, where the game was played for more than half a century, Georgia won 21 and Auburn won 16. There were two ties.

So it goes in the series that started on Feb. 20, 1892, with a 10-0 Auburn victory in Atlanta. It is truly unique, a college football treasure.

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