It’s about 782 miles from Savannah to Indianapolis, Indiana, but for a few local diehard Georgia Bulldog fans, that distance wasn’t going to keep them from cheering on UGA to its third national football championship—one that took an agonizing 41 years to materialize—the program's first since its undefeated 1980 season.
Redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo intercepted a pass from Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on a defensive effort that lifted No. 3 Georgia to a 33-18 win over No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
This Georgia squad went through the regular season without a loss, only to fall to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4. Georgia bounced back in the Orange Bowl playoff semifinal with a dominating 34-11 win over No. 2 Michigan, and on Monday the Bulldogs outscored Alabama 27-9 in the second half to win the championship.
“Absolutely the most fabulous game I’ve ever had the experience of watching. And—not only that—it was an intensely emotional experience,” said Swann Seiler, considered by many in Georgia circles to be UGA royalty, as her family started and still care for the famous line of English Bulldog mascots (Uga I-X) that represent the University. “Everyone around us felt the same thing. People could not move; we were so excited.”
“My dad (Sonny Seiler) and I happened to be sitting with long-time friends and athletic board emeritus members. For them and him to have the opportunity to see it (a Georgia national championship)—yet again—in their lifetimes was so moving. And people came up to him when we were leaving, and they said ‘Thank you Mr. Seiler!’ Now he didn’t play. He wasn’t down there on that field. But they said ‘Thank you Mr. Seiler.’ And that was so touching that people said that to him. It was incredible! He had a good time. Que (Uga X) was there, and it was wonderful. It was a long way to go, but worth every mile. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else! The whole experience was just priceless!”
Since 1956, Savannah resident Sonny Seiler and his family have owned and maintained the unbroken line of live mascots of the University of Georgia sports teams. The family received the first member of the line (today referred to as Uga I), when Seiler was a second-year student at the UGA School of Law. His wife Cecelia made those first dogs’ original red jerseys out of children’s t-shirts.
Another Coastal Empire resident, local entrepreneur Riki Patel made the trip to Indy with a group of friends and family.
“Damn good Dawgs!” he was proud to bark. “The mailman delivered! (referring to the nickname of Georgia’s quarterback Stetson Bennett) The experience was phenomenal. The Southern hospitality that you’d get in Savannah—we got that in Indy. The only thing we didn’t like is we had to bring up arctic gear because it was VERY cold outside.”
While he wasn’t sure he was making the right decision when planning a trip that far from Savannah, he—like many others who opened their wallets for their diehard cause—felt the end result was worth it for the memories and experience.
“Best thing that could have ever happened was me booking my flight, and saying to myself that we would regret it if I didn’t go,” he said. “The moment was blissful; it was happiness—redemption. It was 41 years of hard work, falling short and finally we took the lightsaber and destroyed the Deathstar!”
Jason Jones, a 2001 UGA graduate and Savannah resident was also there.
“It was a transformational moment. I’ve waited my entire life for this. My brother started crying when Ringo scored. It really means that much to my family. Now, instead of questioning if we will ever win a championship, the question now is how long does our dynasty last!”
Josh Gannam, a 2012 grad, made the trip up from Savannah with some friends, and says he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“The 2021 season just felt different this year,” he noted “Having been at the 2018 championship game, which was so close, I wanted to be there for the redemption game. Nothing will ever beat that fourth quarter feeling when we intercepted for the pick-six. In that moment we all knew. And it was amazing!”
Those within the Georgia program noticed the dedicated fans that came from near and far.
"It's surreal. Look at these fans and the people that traveled," Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart told ESPN's Rece Davis during the trophy presentation, pointing to the huge contingent of Georgia fans that made the trip to Indianapolis. "They came up here with confidence, confidence that we were going to take this thing over.”
Local fans who didn’t get to travel to Indiana to witness the historic game can do some celebrating on Saturday a little closer to home.
The University of Georgia will celebrate the school's first National Championship since 1980 during a ceremony at Sanford Stadium in Athens.
A parade down Lumpkin Street to the stadium will start at 12:30 p.m. culminating in a ‘Dawg Walk’ at 1 p.m. The formal event at the stadium will start at 2 p.m. Gates open at Noon and the campus will be open to visitors starting at 7 a.m.
All tickets are free and will be available to season ticket holders and students starting Tuesday until Thursday through an online request form. Remaining tickets will be available to the general public starting on Thursday. The University said all regular game-day procedures will be enforced.
More information will be made available at georgiadogs.com, the official athletic site of the University.