WATKINSVILLE, Ga. — Somewhere amid Tim Crowe’s ample storage of Georgia football memorabilia that includes championship trophies, championship rings, his old jersey, helmets and commemorative footballs, there’s a more subtle reminder of the biggest game of Crowe’s life.
A small, 5x7 index card.
“We all wrote down our goals,” Crowe said. “That’s what (coach) Vince (Dooley) and Erk Russell wanted us to do.”
The reason why Crowe is even able to casually call off the names of those mainstays of Georgia football lore is because those larger-than-life Georgia football coaching icons were once his coaches. From 1979 through 1982, Crowe played for Dooley, then Georgia’s head coach, and Russell who served as Dooley’s defensive coordinator before later starting the Georgia Southern football dynasty.
Crowe was on the 1980 Georgia football team — the last to win a national championship. But by then, the four-year starter on the Bulldogs’ defensive line had also toiled on some other, less successful UGA ball clubs during his time there. That didn’t stop him from crafting some pretty lofty goals, though.
“The first thing I wrote down was for us to win the SEC,” said Crowe who sports a pair of SEC championship rings to go along with his national. championship jewelry. “Then I wrote down to be all-SEC. I never made that.”
But Crowe made good on the last goal he penned.
“I wrote down to win a national championship,” he added. “Now understand, this is coming from that 1979 team where we didn’t really have a very good season.”
Crowe attributes that to a lack of leadership on the 1979 squad.
“We had pretty much the same guys on that 1979 team,” Crowe said. “We just didn’t have the kind of senior leadership we had on that 1980 championship team. On that 1980 team, we had some guys who knew how to bring us together.”
Crowe recalls some budding racial tensions between black and white players in between those two seasons. But seniors Frank Ross and Nat Hudson, Crowe recalls, are guys who shored that up quickly.
“We all got on page,” Crowe said. “Frank and Nat pulled everybody together, and said, ‘This crap is gonna stop. We’re not gonna have one group eating over here, another group eating over there. We’re gonna mix this thing up.’ Now, it took a while, but brother, when this thing started working, we all started holding each other accountable.
“We all started to come together, eat together. We all got on the same agenda to win. And that’s the same kind of leadership I’m seeing from these guys this year. Those guys who were seniors and came back to help this team win. That’s huge.”
The team leadership and the chemistry built preceding that 1980 squad was one of the things Crowe most vividly remembers about that championship year. The other thing he remembers is the final three minutes in the 1981 Sugar Bowl — a 17-10 Georgia win over Notre Dame that didn’t come without some drama and anxious moments.
“I don’t remember nothing specific except that it was just a big game, and that those last three minutes,” Crowe said before a pause.
“I remember looking at the clock and saying that those three minutes ain’t never gonna get over. Notre Dame got the ball and it felt like the clock just stops. I remember how that felt, so I can’t imagine how (this year’s team) felt going through two overtimes in that Rose Bowl.”
Crowe is one of those who, after his playing days as a Dawg were over, didn’t move too far from Athens. Sanford Stadium is about a 20 minute drive from Crowe’s Watkinsville home. He’s settled in with his wife Pamela — the mother of Eastside baseball coach Brandon Crumley — in a place that’s full of symbols of Crowe’s allegiance to Georgia football.
While he waxes reminiscent about his bygone days as a Georgia Bulldog, he can’t help but draw interesting parallels regarding the football program’s national title drought. He remembers Bulldog legend, Charlie Trippi — a member of the 1942 Rose Bowl team, also a national champion squad — coming to address Crowe’s team before their Sugar Bowl matchup.
“Charlie was 58 years old then,” Crowe said. “He’s 96 years old now, and he still will tell you that 1942 team was the best ever. I’m 57 years old now, and these guys have a chance to do it again. Whether they win or lose, I hope I won’t be 96 years old when they have another chance at it.”
Crowe doesn’t think he will. When asked if he feels like Georgia coach Kirby Smart is creating something special in Athens beyond just this season, he answers like a football player ready to charge through the tunnel and onto the field for battle.
“Do I think Kirby’s building a dynasty here? Hell yeah,” he said. “We’re sitting with Alabama right now. He’s got the top rated recruiting classes coming. He’s got everybody in the state wanting to come to Georgia now. That’s how Alabama got rolling.”
And he doesn’t believe a Georgia loss in Monday’s national championship game with Alabama will do much to change that.
“Regardless of what happens in that game, they’re going to be fine,” Crowe said.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to see his alma mater make it happen right now. He won’t make the trip to downtown Atlanta for Monday’s game. But he and his family will be sitting at home, watching on his living room television, hoping to see something similar to the kind of postgame celebration he experienced 37 years ago.
“This means the world,” he said. “I remember when that last second ticked off for us, right before, our fans were just right on the wall. When that last second ticked, 10,000 people hit that field. The band couldn’t move. Whoever toted Dooley had to carry him through a bunch of people. It’s just something. It’s a moment I’ll never experience again and it lasts a lifetime. To this day you still have people saying, ‘Oh, he played on the 1980 team,’ or ‘Oh, you played with Herschel. That’s how it’s gonna be with Sony and Chubb and those guys.
“They just don’t know, if they win that game, they just don’t know how their lives are gonna change right here in Georgia.”