Kirby Smart was a four year letterman for our DAWGS from 1995-1998. I’m pretty sure you already knew that part. What you probably didn’t know is Smart and I shared our time at Georgia until I graduated from Grady in the spring of 1998. Now while I shared an afternoon bus with Mike Bobo three days a week in 1997, I had no such (meaningless) relationship with a young Kirby. Why does any of this matter? Well, 1997 was a nice year for the Georgia football team. It was Jim Donnan’s best Bulldogs team and Kirby was a major contributor to that squad. What’s more, the DAWGS beat Florida and Steve Spurrier that year 37-17 after entering the game as 20 point underdogs. This is relevant because I was at that game, my first Georgia/Florida experience, and it is justifiably my first, greatest first person memory as a DAWGS fan and Kirby played a big role in the win. Therefore, according to my bourbon influenced connectivity chain, Mr. Smart and I are eternally linked.
In 1997 a group of fellow Georgia fans and I headed south to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with more tickets to the game than we knew what to do with and no idea what we were in for. We spent the night before the game partying deep into the night and sleeping on the floor at a friend’s house in Valdosta only to wake early on game day feeling bouncy, bright-eyed and bushy tailed as if we knew it was going to be a great day. As soon as we got to Jacksonville and got parked for some alcohol-based tailgating we ran into some good ole boy strangers from south-Georgia and they readily offered up shot after shot of some libation I remember only as Hot Damn. Needless to say, by the time we wobbled our way to the stadium and found our seats, we were well oiled and wide open.
We cheered and body-surfed and talked trash to every Gator within shouting distance as Bobo threw to Hines and Corey Allen, Robert Edwards ran for touchdown after touchdown and…this is where Kirby comes in…the DAWGS picked three Gator quarterbacks off a total of four times in the game, of which, Kirby had two and should’ve had another. The Georgia defense was great that day coming up with big stop time and again and Mr. Smart played smart and was seemingly always around the action. Kirby would go on to lead the Bulldogs with six interceptions in 1997 and that was while sharing the same field as future NFL Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey.
This is clearly the memory zenith of football fandom during my college daze and while it may not be the first thing I recall about that day, that game, that glorious victory over the HATED Gators or even that trip, Kirby’s contributions to the win absolutely rank as my favorite memory of the current Alabama defensive coordinator’s time as a DAWG.
That was then. This is now. Who knows? There may be a memory or two that have yet to be crafted by Smart at (for) the University of Georgia, just in a different role. I have no idea, but I will be keeping a keen eye on the goings-on in Athens in the coming days…just in case.