Darrell Huckaby - Next year is now

It was the first Tuesday in January, and I was making my way out of the Louisiana Superdome, along with 40,000 or so of my closest friends and another 25,000 or 30,000 shocked, awed and dazed Pacific Islanders.

My beloved Georgia Bulldogs had just finished exposing the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors as pretenders to the throne and, in the process, reduced the stock of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan so drastically that, to him, what happened on Wall Street back in 1929 looked like a Bull Market.

It may have been my daughter, Jamie who said it first. Perhaps it was my son Jackson. "I bet we're going to be ranked No. 1 by everybody."

"Not a chance," I explained, still basking in the warm glow of the dominating performance I had just witnessed inside the Cathedral on Poythress Avenue. "We might rise as high as second if the BSC Championship Game is a blowout, but the winner of that game will be recognized as National Champions, even if we do have the better team."

"I'm talking about next year!" he - or she - said, and Bulldog fans from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light and beyond have been talking about "next year" ever since. Wherever two or more Bulldog fans gave gathered, the discussion of "next year" has dominated the conversation.

"Think how good Stafford will be! He'll be a third-year starter and the line will be so much stronger; heck, they were stronger by the end of the season. And he'll have a lot better receivers - they finally got where they could catch the ball this year, and we'll have A.J. Green. He's supposed to be a Randy Moss with a good attitude."

Which always led to "Yeah, and think about the running backs! Knowshon might have broken Herschel's record if he had started before the seventh game of the season."

To which someone would always reply, "Yeah, and I've heard that Caleb King might be as good as Knowshon. I wish Richt would play them both at the same time."

And then there was always that one guy. The one who was wiser than the rest. The one who thought he had inside information because he had talked to a friend who had a friend whose cousin was friends with one of the assistant coach's brother-in-law's baby sitter. He would raise one eyebrow and say, in a quiet voice, like he was letting the crowd in on the biggest secret since the Manhattan Project, "Richard Samuel is a freak of nature. He might be better than Knowshon and King put together."

Then someone would throw in, "But what about the defense? We lost a lot on defense."

"Athletes," would be the response. "We've got more depth and better athletes on that side of the ball than we've had since Richt got here." And then the fans would try to remember the names of all the young defensive players they had heard about. But they always knew the names of linebackers Rennie Curran and Dannell Ellerbe.

And then, after fretting about depth and summer arrests and injuries, they - or we - would always get around to the schedule because, let's face it, y'all, that schedule is a booger bear!

"We'll start out with a cream puff and we end up with a cream puff, but in between there will be 10 dang good football teams."

"Central Michigan? Please!"

"Hey, you can't overlook them. The Chippewas are tough! Don't forget Appalachian State and Michigan last year. Besides, we'll be looking ahead to South Carolina that day."

"Yeah," someone else would chime in. "It's always a total nuclear war when we go to Columbia. Spurrier hates us as much as we hate him. He'll have that defense ready for us."

And then would come the same litany. "And then we have to go all the way to Arizona and play in that desert heat and come back and play Alabama."

"Shoot. That's not the hard part of the schedule. We have to go to Tiger Stadium and play LSU at night and then go to Jacksonville to play Florida the next week."

"Yeah, and Florida will be mad because of that end zone celebration last year."

"That's right, and we'll play at Auburn after being on the road for a whole month; and nobody has even mentioned Tennessee."

"What about Tech," someone will always throw in - to a chorus of derisive laughter.

That's the way it has been for months and months and months. But now the polls are out and the season is a scant week away. My child was a prophet. Georgia is ranked No. 1 in every poll that matters; the AP, the USA Today Coach's Poll, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Sporting News. Fans of jealous opponents are guaranteeing that the Dogs won't stay there and this very minute are formulating their taunts and I-told-you-so's for the day we get beat - and the odds say that they will be right. Seldom does the team ranked at the top in the beginning wind up on top in the end.

But for now, The Georgia Bulldogs are where every other college team in America wishes they were. No. 1. Next year is finally here.

And I'll let you in on a little secret. Richard Samuel is a freak of nature. He might be better than Knowshon and King put together.

Go Dogs!

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.