Wandering through the high-ceilinged halls of the old Fairmont Hotel here, Georgia's football players, circulating in twos and threes, can be spotted easily. Virtually all have been wearing a white T-shirt with red lettering that reads: "Just . . . ONE MORE TIME."
If Georgia does win one more time, perhaps the Bulldogs will be able to silence all the doubters. Perhaps never before in history has an undefeated, top-ranked football team come into a bowl game with more suspect credentials and less reason to believe it can survive.
Notre Dame, Georgia's opponent in Thursday's Sugar Bowl, is 9-1-1 and ranks seventh in the polls, compared with Georgia's 11-0 and No. 1 ranking. Yet, the Bulldogs definitely are the underdogs.
"We feel like we deserve to be No. 1," Georgia quarterback Buck Belue said today. "It gets you down to hear people say that Georgia has played a bunch of pushovers. We just know we "have to go out and show people on New Year's Day."
Georgia, however, did beat a bunch of pushovers this season, playing only three teams -- Clemson, Florida and South Carolina -- with winning records. The Bulldogs barely survived in each of those games, needing a miraculous, 93-yard Belue-to-Lindsay Scott pass in the last 90 seconds to beat Florida.
Georgia Coach Vince Dooley admits his team hasn't overhwelmed anybody. He also points out that Georgia may be the first team in history to finish undefeated even though opponents ran more plays, had greater time of possession and made more first downs.
"We have been a team of good fortune, to say the least," Dooley said. "But I feel right now we deserve to be ranked No. 1, although I would be the first to concede our schedule wasn't the toughest around. We've just been a big-play team."
Georgia also has the consummate big play man, Herschel Walker. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound freshman tailback was the most sensational first-year player in NCAA history, breaking Tony Dorsett's freshman rushing record with 1,616 yards and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Walker was the difference between last year's disappointing 6-5 Georgia team and this year's One More Time team.
"I'm just excited to be playing here," Walker said. "Playing Notre Dame, having a chance for the national championship; it's all like a dream come true."
The final chapter of that dream will only become reality of Georgia's offensive line can neutralize Notre Dame's defensive front long enough to give Walker the little bit of running room he needs to get rolling.
Dooley, meanwhile, has gone out of his way all week to talk about the tremendous size and strength of the Irish, to the point where Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine accused him Monday of trying to con the Irish into overconfidence.
"Going into the year, we were rated fifth in our own conference," Belue said. "We really didn't know what to expect. We came from 15-0 down to beat Tennessee (16-15) and then expected a tough game from Texas A&M. We won, 42-0. That was the day we all realized we might have something special."
It also was the day Walker scored on a 76-yard run on a play that seemed to be going nowhere.Walker continued to get better each week, although the defense weakened the last three games, allowing 63 points after giving up only 64 the first eight contests. Still, the Bulldogs finished with the only perfect record.
Now, even though the clear consensus among the so-called experts is that Georgia cannot compete physically with Notre Dame, there is evidence to suggest that the Bulldogs can pull this thing off.
Georgia's defensive weakness is its secondary, which lacks speed, and its linebacking, for the same reason. It is vulnerble to the pass. But Notre Dame averaged only 83 yards passing per game and freshman Blair Kiel, the starter the last eight games, completed only 38 percent of his passes. The Bulldogs are weak where the Irish are perhaps weakest.
Notre Dame's tailbacks, Phil Carter and Jim Stone, are the key men in the offense. But Georgia quarterback Belue, the 6-1 junior who came back this year from a broken ankle, has improved each game, gaining confidence with each victory. Notre Dame, on the other hand, hasn't even announced whether Kiel or senior Mike Coury will be the starter, although Kiel seems likely. In games like this, the more confident quarterback at the finish often makes the difference.
Although Notre Dame kicker Harry Oliver is a proven winner, having connected on a 51-yard field goal to beat Michigan, Georgia's Rex Robinson may be the best in the country.He kicked 16 of 22 field goals this season, four from more than 50 yards, two of them from 57 yards. In a close game, range like that can decide.
And so, even though they appear outmanned, even though they haven't beaten anybody, the Bulldogs should have the emotional edge.
"There's no doubt that this is the biggest game I've ever been involved with," said Dooley, the Georgia coach for 17 years. "I think the kids feel that way, too."
That feeling may be the reason that maybe, just maybe, Georgia can pull this off, just . . . ONE MORE TIME.