Florida-Georgia Reflections: Lindsey Scott

Though it may be impossible for those of you who were born within the last 20 years to believe, there actually once was a time when Georgia used to beat Florida on a somewhat regular basis.  Today we will look at one of the most momentous Georgia victories ever.  So come hop into the time machine with me and we will go back…back…back…

Ronald Reagan had just punked Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.  The Iranian hostage crisis had just ended with the release of the 52 Americans.  Honda had just rolled out its first ever American-made car.  LSU had just fired longtime coach Charlie MacLendon and hired a young, up-and-coming rock star named Bo Rein to replace him, only to have him die without ever coaching a down for LSU when his plane crashed under mysterious circumstances.  And at Georgia, a talented freshman tailback named Herschel Walker was making a huge splash.

Yes, that’s right:  The year was 1980.  It was the start of that famous decade which gave us Reaganomics, Iran-Contra, Oliver North, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Chernobyl, Miami Vice, the Exxon Valdez, junk bonds, Rob Lowe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and some of the finest music ever to grace the ears of humanity.

Since this is the 30th anniversary of Florida-Georgia 1980, I felt it appropriate that we should look back at that game.  I did not see this game, but I had the opportunity to watch the replay of it in its entirety (almost) on ESPN Classic a few years back.  We all know about Lindsey Scott, but it was fascinating to watch the game unfold and see the drama that led up to that play.

Georgia had started the season ranked No. 16, but thanks to Herschel Walker they just kept winning and moving up in the polls–all the way to No. 2.  Only Notre Dame was ahead of them, but they had to play Georgia Tech, which up until that point in the season had not won a single game.  That game ended in a 3-3 tie, and that cleared the way for Georgia to move up to No. 1.  All they had to do was beat Florida that afternoon.  This seemed an easily doable task, with Florida in full-on rebuilding mode under second-year coach Charley Pell, who was coming off an 0-10-1 debut season.

But Herschel Walker was not at his best that day, and Florida figured out ways to shut him down.  Still, Georgia had superior talent and it looked for a while that this talent advantage would carry the day as Buck Belue and Amp Arnold lit up Florida en route to a 17-10 halftime advantage.  Though Georgia had not put Florida away, it seemed inevitable that Georgia would seize control as the game wore on.

Until Amp Arnold got hurt.

Amp Arnold left the game right before halftime and never came back.  With him gone, Georgia’s offense came to a screeching halt.  The most telling moment came about midway through the third quarter, when Georgia recovered a fumble deep in Florida territory with a chance to go up by two touchdowns and bust the game wide open.  But the offense couldn’t budge and Georgia had to settle for a field goal and a 20-10 lead.

This turned the momentum of the game completely in Florida’s favor.  Florida drove down the field lightning-quick and scored a touchdown and two-point conversion.  On the ensuing series they forced Georgia to go three-and-out, then kicked a field goal to go up 21-20.

Never in the history of college football had a one-point lead seemed so insurmountable.  Though there was still lots of time left in the game, Georgia could not move the ball at all.  As the clock drained away, so did all the joy and life from the Georgia side.  It truly seemed as if Georgia’s championship hopes were going to die right there on that field.

Finally it came down to 90 seconds left in the game.  Georgia had the ball, facing third and ten from their own 8 yard line.  Buck Belue took the snap, retreated into his own end zone, then rolled out to avoid the rush of Florida defenders and found Lindsey Scott over the middle.  You know what happened next.

The game was not over yet.  Georgia still had to kick off to Florida and play defense for another minute and a half.  But the transition from milking the clock to trying to beat the clock, from having the game in hand to having to chase it down again in the final minute, is a very difficult transition to make and very few teams manage it successfully.  Florida did not.  Georgia got the win, and was clear to move into the top spot.  They held on to it for the rest of the season, then went to the Sugar Bowl where a win over Notre Dame gave them the national championship.

And here, courtesy of Youtube, for the benefit of those of you who have never seen it before, or for those of you who wish to look at something more uplifting than what we have had to watch in the recent years of this rivalry, is the famous Lindsey Scott play, complete with Larry Munson’s audio.  Enjoy.