One sign in the Georgia locker room said it all. It read: "This one is forever."
Today, top-ranked Georgia played a fotball game its players, coaches and fans will remember forever, beating Notre Dame, 17-10, to win the 47th Sugar Bowl game before a record Superdome crowd of 77, 895 that included President Jimmy Carter, a Georgian who wore a "We're No. 1" button.
Now the nation's only unbeaten, untied Division 1-A team feels it need only wait until the expected votes are in for its first national championship in 89 years of intercollegiate football. Both wire services will release their final polls at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Bulldogs, unranked in the pre-season, got 150 yards and two early touchdowns from game MVP and freshman sensation Hershell Walker. Both scores were set up by Notre Dame turnovers deep in its own territory. In the second half, the defense held on as the Irish, who outgained Georgia, 328 yards to 127 yards for the game, kept coming and coming.
"This is the fightingest football team I've ever coached," said Georgia Coach Vince Dooley, in his 17th season as head coach.
Georgia had help today. Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine, in his last season, watched as his team fell to 9-2-1. The Irish turned the ball over five times, the first time at its own two-yard line on a bizarre kickoff nonreturn, the second time at its own 22.Freshman quarterback Blair Kiel threw three interceptions, two of them picked off by all-America safety Scott Woerner, the last on fourth and one at the Georgia 46 and 3:12 to play.
"The entire second half I thought we were going to come back," Devine said. "Ironically, one of the things that got us here backfired. We have not turned the ball over deep inside our territory. Today, those mistakes killed us."
"They made mistakes, sure," said Woerner, clutching the game ball voted him by his teammates. "But look, all season long we created turnovers (44 coming into this game with a plus 23 turnover-takeaway ratio, best in Division 1-A) because that's the way we have to play defense. We have to go after the ball because we're not as big as some people, especially not these guys."
Georgia scored all 17 of its points in the fight 16:11 of the game, then did very little offensively. Quarterback Buck Belue completed one of 13 passes, the only completion coming with 2:05 left on a third and six from midfield on which he hit Amp Arnold for seven yards and the first down that killed Notre Dame. Then Walker ran for two first downs to kill the clock.
Afterward, there were no signs of Belue's now-famous grin. In fact, the Georgia locker room was almost as quiet as the Notre Dame locker room. There were no shouts, no coaches dunked in the showers.
"We're drained, completely drained," said cornerback Mike Fisher, who had the third Georgia interception. "All we've heard is we're not good enough to beat anybody and now we've beaten everybody."
Georgia won this game during a 6-minute 34-second period of the first half. Notre Dame had taken an early 3-0 lead on a 50-yard Harry Oliver field goal 4:19 into the game. The Irish, with Kiel getting the start at quarterback over senior Mike Courey, came out throwing, which surprised Georgia -- briefly.
Georgia didn't move after Oliver's field goal and had a moment of grave concern when Walker came out after two plays holding his shoulder. The Bulldogs punted and again the Irish began moving, reaching the Georgia 31 before stalling. On came Oliver again.
This time, though, Georgia freshman Terry Hoage broke through and cleanly blocked the kick. Hoage had not played on the field goal unit all season but was promoted by Dooley after the coach saw him block several field goals during drills with the scout team.
Hoage's block, with 5:23 left in the first quarter, set Georgia up at the Irish 49. Walker returned, his shoulder only bruised, and the Bulldogs moved into position for Rex Robinson's 46-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the quarter for a 3-3 tie.
On Robinson's kickoff, deep men Jim Stone and Ty Barber, Notre Dame's return men all season, stepped up in tandem, each looking to block for the other. They watched in astonishment as the ball sailed over their heads, hit on the two and was recovered by Georgia's Bob Kelly at the one.
"I called for Ty to take it but he just didn't hear me," Stone said. "We just messed up."
Georgia scored 41 seconds later, Walker jumping high over the middle of the line for a 10-3 Georgia lead with 1:04 remaining in the quarter.
The teams exchanged punts and Notre Dame started at its 20 in the first minute of the second quarter. On first down, fullback John Sweeney fumbled as linebacker Frank Ros knocked the ball loose. Chris Welton recovered at the 22.
The Bulldog scored in three plays, Walker reaching the corner of the end zone untouched on a three-yard seeep right. It was 17-3 Georgia with 13:49 left in the half.
Now, with Courey at quarterback, the Irish moved to the Georgia 13 on their next series, only to have the 6-foot Woerner outjump 6-5 Pete Holohan for the ball in the end zne on a fourth-and-three lob pass. Kiel tried the same play in the third quarter. Woerner knocked it down.
With a 17-3 lead at the half, the Bulldogs knew they still had a long way to go.And, when they returned, it seemed like an eternity.
Notre Dame cut the margin to 17-10 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter on a one-yard dive by tailback Phil Carter (27 carries, 109 yards for the day), culminating a-57 yard, 10-play drive.
With the Georgia offense producing only two downs the first 25 minutes of the second half -- one a penalty -- the weary defense was on the field almost nonstop.
Notre Dame moved to the 20, early in the fourth quarter, stalled, then Oliver missed from 38 yards. Fisher's interception set up a Robinson 48-yard attempt for Georgia but he was wide right.
Finally, it came down to fourth and one, a little more than three minutes left, at the Georgia 46. "It was play action," Kiel said. "The two tight ends cut across, pick for each other and I try to hit one."
But as Kiel rolled right, tight end Dean Masztak slipped. Kiel threw, Woerner was there and Notre Dame never saw the ball again. When it was over, the on-field celebration was so wild the Georgia players had to fight their way free to reach the dressing room.