The Dawgbone ©2009. All Rights Reserved 
Darrell Huckaby is a syndicated columnist and author of twelve books including two about Georgia football, Need Two and Need Four. He writes a column for the site each week during the season. E-mail him at dhuck008@gmail.com or visit his website: www.darrellhuckaby.net.
1.12.2022

​Frank Sinatra had a hit song.  My Way.

It was Sinatra’s signature song, even though Elvis covered it and sold hundreds of thousands more copies than old blue eyes. That’s not what’s important here. It’s the lyrics that resonate so much in the aftermath of Monday night’s National Championship game in Indianapolis.

Let’s look at a few.

And now, the end is near. (of the season, y’all, the season)
And so I face the final curtain
My friends, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few (maybe the game plan for the SEC championship game?)
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each chartered course
Each careful step along the byway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew  (SEC Championship game?)
But through it all, when there was doubt (over who should play quarterback)
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

I've loved, laughed and cried. (all in three minutes Monday night!)
I've had my fill, my share of losing (That one game was enough)
And now, as tears subside (I cried, Stetson cried, so did you!)
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh no, no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say all the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
But I did it my way

Kirby Smart did it his way. But most importantly, he DID IT his way. He finished the drill. He kept chopping long enough to get the job done. He did, indeed, burn the boats and move forward, never looking back, and never glancing over at the sideline to see if J.T. Daniels, the Wally Pipp of the Southeastern Conference seemed ready to fill the shoes of former-walk-on Stetson Bennett. 

Kirby Smart determined way last fall that his team’s best chance to win a national championship was by playing historically good defense and by playing offense to control the ball well enough to stay on the field and keep the defense on the sideline long to enough to stay well rested enough to continue to compete at the highest level come what may. We wanted a competent office that could grind out yardage on the ground, throw when necessary—and when not expected--control the ball, and therefore the clock and the game—and score enough points to win, which, if the defense played to expectations, wouldn’t be a remarkably high number. 

That was to be the Georgia Way—and this the Kirby Smart Way—for 2021.

There were no complaints when the Dawgs, led by former—5--star transfer from Southern Cal—beat Clemson 10-6 in the opening game of the season without a touchdown being scored by either offense. It was an intense game—the most intense game, play for play, that I have ever witnessed, including the recent one that concluded around midnight on Jan. 10.

J.T. Daniels completed 22 of 30 passes for 135 yards with an interception but no TDs. His QB rating was 59.7. Nobody was clamoring for Kirby Smart to make a change. Nobody was asking—or demanding—that he be replaced with our number two guy at the time, Carson Beck. Certainly, nobody dared suggest that perhaps our number three signal caller, Stetson Bennet be given a look.

But when J.T. was determined to be injured after the Clemson game, it was Stetson Bennett and not Carson Beck who received the call to start the game. He responded by completing 10 of 12 passes for 288 yards and 5 TD and a QB rating of 100 in a 56-7 win over the eventual Conference USA and Independence Bowl Champions. 

It made people smile and retell the story of how Stetson, the walk-on, so impressed his teammates by imitating Baker Mayfield in the weeks leading up to the 2018 Rose Bowl game. They would go on to talk about he how he went away to junior college and then came back to Georgia to be a part of the program and how he had to fill in last year after the craziness of Jamie Neuman transferring and J.T. Daniels not being cleared to participate until after the Florida game. And thank goodness J.T. came back to rescue the season after Georgia had lost to Alabama and Florida, leading us to wins over Mississippi State (4—11), South Carolina (2—8), Missouri (5-5) and Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl.

But after the expected win over UAB, the Dawg Nation was ready for Kirby to roll out J.T. again so we could get this championship train back on track.  

But game after game after game, it was Stetson Bennett that got the nod to start for Georgia, even after J.T. was able to come in once or twice and do mop-up duty after victory was secure. 

And suddenly, we had a quarterback controversy at UGA, at least among the Social Media experts. You heard it all. 

“We can’t win with a former walk-on.” “Kirby is just stupid to keep a five-star on the bench.” My personal favorite. “J.T. has a “higher ceiling” than Stetson,” and my least favorite, “We absolutely cannot win a National Championship with Stetson Bennett at quarterback and Kirby is putting his own ego ahead of the team.”

This sentiment reached a crescendo after Georgia was embarrassed by Alabama in the SEC Title game.

But all of that was just noise to Kirby and Todd Monken and the team, and to the team’s credit, none of them let any of that become a distraction.

If you doubted the resolve of this team—and many did, including this scribe after the SEC debacle-- any doubts should have been erased after watching the annihilation of Michigan in the Orange Bowl. But the fact that Stetson Bennett was named the Offensive Player of the Game after completing 20 of 30 passes for 313 yards and 3 TDs against Michigan, QB rating 95.9, made little or no difference to the naysayers. And there were lots of naysayers. 

There were actually people—albeit foolish people—who thought they knew more about what was best for the Georgia football team even though Kirby Smart and Todd Monken had seen every snap of every practice all season long. These people thought that Kirby Smart would rather lose a national championship by playing his pet QB than win one by playing, in their estimation, the one who they thought was better. There were even media types who bought into this narrative.

Luckily for UGA, Kirby Smart knew his football team and did not coach Monday’s game by committee. And what a game it was.

If I live to be a hundred, which isn’t likely, I will never forget Monday night. I was gathered there in section 243, surrounded by my family—my wife, my three kids, all their spouses and one of my best friends—to watch the Dawgs put it all on the line. And they did put it all on the line.  

The offense wasn’t a well-oiled machine through three quarters. There were penalties and mistakes and phantom fumbles, and we did keep shotting ourselves in the foot. But the defense, magnificent as always, kept bailing us out, hunkering in the red zone and holding Alabama to field goal attempts instead of touchdowns. Those were grown men playing football on both sides of the ball.

The contest was epic.

Then the unfortunate play that gave Alabama their only touchdown of the night, quickly answered as the Mailman delivered three quick strikes and a Georgia Touchdown to retake the lead. Then Kelee Ringo’s wild ride and all I remember is the wildest, loudest, longest group hug I have ever experienced as my wife and children and best-football buddy engulfed me. We saw Ringo intercept the ball. We didn’t see him score or much of anything else that happened the rest of the game.

But we stayed for the celebration. Tears flowed, unashamedly. It was our turn to see confetti in our team’s colors shot out of cannons and fall from the sky. It was our players dancing around on the field and the stage wearing brand new hats and T-shirts, proclaiming to the world that they were the undisputed and undenied champions of college football. It was our fans screaming themselves hoarse. It was our quarterback—Stetson Bennett, the former walk-on, the Mailman, reprising his role from the Orange Bowl a week earlier receiving the MVP award for offense. 

And it was Kirby Smart, paying homage to the history of college football, hugging the legendary Coach Vince Dooley on the podium and channeling his inner Larry Munson by predicting that “Property would be destroyed (OK, torn up) in Indianapolis tonight!”

It was a scene 41 years in the making. Kirby Smart was the architect, and he did it his way. God love him for it. 

How ‘bout them Dawgs. National Champions, finally. I bet we don’t have to wait 41 years for the next time.

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist.  Contact him at dhuck008@gmail.com.  


Visit The Dawgbone home page for all your daily Dawg News!