Oh, Georgia. Poor, suffering, blew-a-13-point-second-half-lead, Georgia: How close you were to a College Football Playoff national championship.
You were an overtime away, an impossible 41 yards (on second down and 26) away, what would have been a #collegekickers 58-yard field goal away.
You were so close, the dozens of sportswriters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium had written thousands of words about your title; your Tide-like defense; your glowing freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm; your steed-like tailbacks, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
And then — we don’t have to relive, “and then.”
But, Georgia. Sweet, delicate, heartbroken, Georgia, you bawled all night to Nick Saban’s baritone singing the call to victory in the Alabama fight song: “Go teach the Bulldogs to behave.”
You are not national champions.
But if you were, here’s what readers around the country would have awoken to in newspapers and online. We asked some of the nation’s top sportswriters to send us whatever they wrote and couldn’t publish because things didn’t go your way.
In some cases, it was one paragraph. In others, it was practically half a column. In others still, writers imagined several iterations of your win.
What follows is pretty nearly a master class in the perils of writing on deadline. An example: Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star (who regrettably deleted his wasted copy before we got around to asking for it) wrote three versions of the opening of his story: Georgia winning in regulation, Alabama winning on the final-play field goal and Georgia winning in overtime.
And, Georgia — you adorable little dog, you — a fourth was necessary when the inevitable struck at 12:09 a.m. on Jan. 9. Here are the stories, unedited and still bearing the Xs that mark journalistic uncertainty, that didn’t make that day’s newspaper. Linked are the stories that did appear in print and online.
If Georgia won:
ATLANTA — A fresh beast has unshackled itself and come stomping out of the rambunctious American Southeast. It wears red but, curiously, not crimson. It’s fast, brutish and self-assured with its whiplash rise and its renovated sense of itself. It even can resort to the odd and magical 80-yard pass at times of hyperventilation.
Georgia, that longtime near-giant from a talent-lush state, won a vivid College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shouting that its present is giddy and its future is daunting for its neighbors and its countrymen. As it mastered the dynastic Alabama by xx-xx before a rowdy 77,430, it became Georgia’s first national champion since 1980 and the fifth team this century to bolt to the big trophy after losing five times the previous season.
Through the high-brow display of cave-man football that marked much of the game, Georgia proved the superior smasher of mouths, moment upon moment upon moment. Yet it also spiced the vivid game with an astonishing play, just when things got hairy and scary.
If Georgia won:
ATLANTA –It has been 27 years since the University of Georgia football team won a national championship, and when it happened in 1981 [sic], it was a freshman running back from Wrightsville, Georgia named Herschel Walker who led them.
Players like that are rare and it took nearly three decades for another Georgian teenager to appear in a Bulldogs uniform and lead his team to a title.
That player is Jake Fromm, a 19-year-old true freshman from Warner Robbins, about 100 miles from Atlanta, the city where he and the Georgia Bulldogs upset the University of Alabama, xx-xx, in the College Football playoff championship game Monday to finish a remarkable season with a 14-1 record.
But it did not come easily.
In the fourth year of the current four-team playoff format, Alabama has played in two of the last three of the championship games, including last year’s loss to Clemson. But it has only won once, stifled last year by Clemson’s junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. This time, it was a highly precocious freshman.
With Walker watching inside the stadium as a fan and honorary captain, Fromm, who has played with the composure and skill of an older, more experienced player while the Georgia defense stifled and frustrated Alabama’s offense.
The Crimson Tide attack was so unproductive in the first half that Head Coach Nick Saban removed starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was 25-2 as a starter coming into the game, and replaced him with his own freshman, Tua Tagovailoa.
Saban needed a spark to ignite Alabama (12-2) in its quest to win a fifth championship in nine years, all under Saban. Instead, his protege, Kirby Smart became the first former Saban assistant at Alabama to beat the mentor. Smart was an assistant at Alabama for nine years before taking over at his alma mater Georgia in 2016 and recasting the program in a crimson hue.
If Georgia won:
For the first time since 1980 on Monday night, the Georgia football team won the national title. They won it in Atlanta, releasing a cathartic cheer that reverberated from Augusta to Albany, Augusta to Athens. And they did it by staring down the greatest modern college football juggernaut and not flinching.
Quick note: Thamel says a lot of his “Georgia wins” story got repurposed into a column on the Bulldogs’ ascension back to the college football elite. Read that story here:
If Alabama won in regulation on a field goal:
Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench at halftime for Nick Saban and the freshman quarterback led a Crimson Tide comeback, capped by Andy Pappanastos’ xx-yard field goal with xxx seconds left, to give No. 4 Alabama a 23-20 victory against No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night.
The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled struggling quarterback Jalen Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii to start the second half. Tagovailoa threw two [cut off]
If Georgia won :
Nearly 40 years after Georgia last won the national championship, another freshman led the Bulldogs to a long awaited title.
Jake Fromm stared down Alabama’s sturdy defense, connecting on an 80-yard touchdown to Mecole Hardman that stemmed a rising Crimson Tide rally, and guiding the No. 3 Bulldogs to a xx-xx victory Monday night in an all-SEC College Football Playoff championship game.
The all-Southeastern Conference title matchup drew President Trump to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a half [cut off]
Georgia (14-1) is national champions for the first time since 1980, when a freshman named Herschel Walker was running through tacklers for coach Vince Dooley. The two Georgia heroes were watching together in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a new breed of ‘Dawg.
These Bulldogs had been run-first for most of the season, too. But in the biggest game of the season, with star tailback Sony Michel and Nick Chubb squeezed by ‘Bama’s big defensive line, the Bulldogs weren’t afraid to let Fromm sling it. The former Little League World Series hero from Warner Robins, about an hour south of Atlanta, threw more passes in the national championship game then he had in any game this season.
Alabama reached the playoff without even winning the SEC West, getting the nod from the selection committee despite a less-than stellar resume. The Tide proved it belonged by eliminating Clemson with a fierce defensive performance in the Sugar Bowl, setting up an [cut off]