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Obviously, someone forgot to tell Pat Sullivan that this is the year of the running back. Last week the Auburn quarterback kept right on throwing passes, including four for touchdowns against the best defense in the Southeastern Conference, as the unbeaten Tigers demolished a very good Georgia team 35-20. When the execution was completed, Shug Jordan, the Auburn coach who is about as emotional as Lincoln's statue, snorted when someone suggested that Sullivan might not win the Heisman Trophy. "Maybe not," Jordan drawled, "but if someone else does get it, I'll bet he's Christ reincarnated." Then a look of horror crossed his face, and he held up a restraining hand. "Hold it. I'm a religious man and now I'll be up all night saying Hail Marys. Maybe I had better say that if someone else gets it, he'll have to be, ah, magnificent.'
Which was about what Vince Dooley, the Georgia coach, was saying just a few yards away in the white blockhouse that serves as Georgia's dressing quarters in home-town Athens. A portrait of calmness and composure, Dooley was considerate in this year's first defeat, even going so far as to offer his seat to a late arrival. "I was just saying," he said, "that we were beaten by the best quarterback I've ever seen. Sullivan was a super player having a super day." He grinned and went on, "And if Sullivan is Superman, then Terry Beasley is Boy Wonder. You'd have to prove it to me if there is a better college passing combination. I know the other guy they are talking about, Marinaro. He is good. But Sullivan has got to win the Heisman. Of course, it's not unusual for him to have a great game. You can talk about anything you want, Auburn's receivers, its defense today, its line play, its punter, anything you want. But it all comes back to one thing: Sullivan."
Oddly enough, in view of the outcome, it was Georgia that had exhibited wild optimism during the week, with estimates of victory ranging up to 40 points. The oddsmakers, who apparently failed to note that Sullivan seldom played more than the first three quarters against most rivals this season, saw the Bulldogs as three-point favorites. Which is how coldhearted fortunes are built.
On his wall, Royce Smith, Georgia's All-America candidate at offensive guard, has a blank poster, and each week he invites his fellow Bulldogs to come in and write a bright morale booster for the upcoming game.
"But we don't allow anything trite like 'Get 'em 'Dogs,' " said Smith the day before the game. "It has to be really profound. I think this week we had the best lines we've ever had. Steve Sleek, a reserve linebacker, wrote: 'If the world was ending tomorrow, your one wish should be that we are playing Auburn today.' I really like that."
Georgia's searing optimism boiled over at a Thursday night pep rally, where the players did everything but predict total annihilation of the state of Alabama. Phil Sullivan, a defensive back who the folks at Georgia say is better than that other Sullivan, told a wild crowd of about 1,000, "People have said we haven't played anybody. Well, I'll tell you one thing: We've beat the hell out of everyone we've played this year."
And then Dooley got up and yelled: "You're gonna see the damnedest bunch of 'Dogs getting after their butts that you've ever seen."
"I tell you," said Royce Smith, "that pep rally gave me goose bumps all over."
In a more reflective moment Dooley was wondering how his team could go 9-0 without a few troublemakers among the crew. "We won two conference titles in five years and we had a few boys that were, well, hard to handle. Then the last few years we were down and we had nothing but good kids. I got to the point where I was wondering where all the discipline problems were. I got to thinking, 'Hey, you troublemakers, where are you when I need you?' "
In Auburn, where Jordan's Tigers faced the double challenge of Georgia and then unbeaten Alabama two weeks later, the players worked out with the casual detachment of pros. There was a pep rally, but the players stayed home.