Just when you think it's safe, somebody wearing red and black will shout in your ear, "How 'bout them Dawgs!" True devotion runs so deep that in place of "Good morning," these folks greet each other with the passwords to football heaven, "Go Dawgs!" A man in a Confederate Air Force captain's jacket said, "Our Dawgs gonna sit on Pitt!"
Georgia's Bulldogs can win a second straight national college football championship New Year's Day by beating Pitt in the Sugar Bowl. The No. 2-ranked Dawgs would need help in the Orange Bowl, played simultaneously, where a Nebraska victory over No. 1 Clemson likely would make Georgia the eighth and last No. 1 team of this topsy-turvy season.
"That our game is for the national championship is an assumption we'll have to make," said Georgia Coach Vince Dooley, whose Dawgs lost early in the year to Clemson, 13-3, but won their other 10 games.
"We can't win the national championship," said Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill, "but we can have a say in who does." No. 1 after 10 straight victories, Pitt fell to eighth and 10th in the polls by losing to Penn State, 48-14.
Nearly 80,000 spectators, most of them from the Dawg pounds and barking proudly, will be in the Superdome to see if Georgia can become the ninth team in 46 years to win back-to-back national championships in the Associated Press poll. Only two teams have repeated for United Press International.
To win, Georgia needs a spectacular game from--take a guess at who.
You're close with Herschel Walker. The top Dawg could run for 200 yards. That's not likely against a Pitt defense allowing 62.4 yards rushing a game, the best in the country.
You're close, too, with Jimmy Payne, a defensive tackle who is 6 feet 4 and 243 pounds of mean. "Payne is the best football player I've ever seen, outside of Hugh Green," Sherrill said, naming last year's Pitt all-America. If Payne can discombobulate quarterback Dan Marino, the Pitt offense is mediocre.
But Georgia can win only if quarterback Buck Belue passes for more than 200 yards.
He can. Not that anyone who saw last year's Sugar Bowl believes it. In the 17-10 victory over Notre Dame, Belue threw 11 incomplete passes before finally getting his last one caught for seven yards.
"Buck is a vastly improved quarterback now," said Dooley, who said the Belue-to-Lindsay Scott combination is "the most productive quarterback-receiver combination we have had at Georgia."
Belue completed 114 of 188 passes this season. His average game was 10 of 17 for 145 yards. Scott, a flanker, caught 42 passes for 728 yards. No other Dawg catcher had more than 18 receptions and 380 yards.
"Georgia will play two split ends more than ever," Sherrill said. "And they'll throw more than ever."
Belue's ability to keep drives alive by passing over the immovable Pitt defensive line is only slightly more critical than Georgia's work against Marino.
Sherrill calls Marino "the greatest quarterback" he's been around. Sherrill played at Alabama with Joe Namath. "The passing game back then wasn't what it is now," Sherrill said. "Danny is the best at knowing where all the dots are."
That is chalk-board talk for knowing where the defenders were when Marino threw his 339 passes this season. He completed 200 for 2,615 yards and 34 touchdowns. His average day: 18 of 31, 238 yards, three touchdowns.
Along with its defensive line, Pitt has an offensive line good enough to allow only seven sacks this season (16 in the last two years on over 750 passes).
Georgia ranked last in the SEC in pass defense while ranking No. 2 to Pitt in national rushing defense. Dooley says the pass defense is poor because of a weak pass rush.
"The combination of our pass rush being bad and their pass protection being the best I've ever seen worries me," Dooley said.
"We'll have to put pressure on Marino to win," said Payne, the defensive tackle who led Georgia with 12 sacks this year. "We'll have to frustrate him. I anticipate an offensive game. They know that teams have moved the ball on us by throwing it and dumping it off. We'll just have to make something happen."